Christmas tree hunters converge on Shelton

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON —The first weekend after Thanksgiving begins for many the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. And the city’s White Hills area is right in the crosshairs.

People from throughout Connecticut and entire Tri-State area converge on the city — whether its Jones Family Farms or Fairview Tree Farm or another local seller — in search of the tree that will become the centerpiece of their holiday celebration for the next several weeks.

Like with most items these days, the trees are coming at a higher cost. So sellers are also placing a focus on customer service and special offers to heighten the holiday experience.

“Setting the price is hard this year,” Jamie Jones of Jones Family Farms said.

At Jones, weekday harvest-your-own prices are $82, $87 on weekends with reservations. Without reservations on weekends, buyers pay an additional $10. For fresh pre-cut trees, the price is $85 for 6- to 8-footers. Tom Harbinson, facilities and hospitality manager at Jones Family Farms, said this is a nearly 9 percent increase from last year.

Bradley Wells, owner of Fairview Tree Farm, which is right down the road from Jones, is also feeling the financial pinch.

Wells’ farm offers harvest-your-own and pre-cut tree options, but he also brings in large amounts of fresh, pre-cut trees for the season. He said his orders this year were cut.

“The availability of trees is so low this year, even with my own trees,” Wells said. “I don’t know if it is because of trucking or labor or what, but the amount of available pre-cut trees (is down) across the board. Prices are definitely up, 25 to 30 percent higher than last year.

“It’s upsetting but I can’t do anything about it,” Wells added.

Christmas tree sales at Jones began over the weekend, and Jones said the farm will once again employ a reservation system for weekend customers. Those that reserve their time to harvest their own tree will get a $10 discount.

“We want to give an economic incentive to those who make reservations,” Jones said.

Jones said the reservation system was created last year in response to the pandemic and the need to have customers maintain social distancing.

The reservation system, according to Jones, has also solved most parking and traffic problems, which had become overwhelming on Walnut Tree Hill Road, with massive backups as drivers waited in line to find parking spaces most weekends.

Jones Family Farm has been growing and selling Christmas trees for nearly 75 years. Jones said the farm sells between 10,000 and 12,000 Christmas trees each year.

The farm has 200 acres of trees across Candy Cane Hill and Merry Berry Valley. The farm also offers fresh, pre-cut trees in its Barnyard Village, which features the Wreath Barn, Winery Barn, Holiday Gatherings Gift Pantry, as well as cookies and cider for visitors.

Last year, Wells said he charged $75 for premium 7- to 8-foot trees. Harvest-your-own on his farm this year will be $85, with pre-cut costs $75 and up.

“Tree market has been increasing. There is definitely more demand and less supply,” Wells said.

The 60-acre Fairview Tree Farm has been in Wells family since 1842, and Wells said he has been growing Christmas trees since the early 1980s. He started by planting 2,000 trees on a single acre. He began selling pre-cut trees in 1986, and harvested his first home-grown trees in 1988, six years after first being put into the ground.

Now he has Christmas trees over 19 acres. He has 10,000 trees planted, and though not all survive, every tree that gets cut is replaced the next year.

Wells also brings in fresh, pre-cut trees from South Windsor, Colebrook, N.H., Nashua, N.H., and several from Canada.

Customers can also enjoy a horse-drawn hayride featuring two percheron draft horses beginning Nov. 26 from noon to 4 p.m. and through remaining weekends until the end of the season. Santa will also be available for tractor hayrides on weekends from noon to 3:30 p.m. All proceeds from Santa hayrides are donated to charity, Wells said.

“People come here because we really cater to the customer … it is all about fantastic customer service,” he said. “We try to make sure everyone here has a great time.”

Jones said most people are seeking that perfect 8- to 10-foot tree, but the general public does not know the work that goes into making sure the farm has that to offer each year.

A tree, according to Jones, needs to spend four years growing in a tree nursery before it is placed in the fields to replace one that has been cut.

“We plant 15,000, 20,000 in the fields every year so we can sell 10,000 to 12,000 trees,” Jones said. “And not all that come out of the nursery make it to someone’s living room. Along the way, there is mortality. Some don’t measure up. So it’s probably 1.5 trees planted to get one tree that makes it to the family’s center of Christmas celebration.”

Four years invested in nursery care, then the trees are planted in the fields where they grow a foot a year on average. It takes about 10 years to get an average 7-foot tree, Jones said. The larger trees take more years, and each tree requires year-round care with vegetation control, pruning, and insect and disease control. All the trees are also mulched.

“Trees don’t just appear filled in conical shape,” Jones said. “Each tree has its own style of pruning needed. It is a year-round job.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com