You might think that two weekends of snowstorms would equal slower Christmas tree sales, but Washington County tree growers say the opposite is true.
Covered Bridge Farm in Forest Lake and Krueger's Christmas Tree Farm in Lake Elmo both said last week they would be winding sales down as early as this weekend because they had nearly sold out their stock for the season.
"Sales will be down this year, but we'll do it on purpose so we can retain good-enough-size trees for next year," said Mary Larsen, who with her husband, Pete, owns Covered Bridge Farm. "Otherwise, we will put ourselves out of business."
Likewise, Deb Krueger said she and her husband, Neil, go out every fall and tag a certain percentage of their mature tree crop for sale. When the tagged trees are gone, they won't sell any more until the following season. Limiting the sale of mature trees year to year is key to running a sustainable tree farm, Krueger said.
Krueger's Christmas Tree Farm is one of the larger operations in the county, while Larsen described her business as a small farm, selling anywhere from 500 to 900 trees per season.
Some farmers had mixed feelings about the snowfall before Thanksgiving and last weekend. While the snow "did lift the spirits of people coming out," Charles Wilson, owner of Stillwater Christmas Tree Farm in Stillwater, said last Saturday's snowstorm may have deterred some customers.
"We did better in other years without all the snow," Wilson said. So far, he said sales are down this year, "but we've still got another weekend here."
Wilson said he does not keep track of how many trees they sell each year, but described his as a small farm in business since 1999.
"I think it's going to be a good Christmas for retailers in general," said Jerry Knutson, owner of Arbor Hill Tree Farm in Cottage Grove, which grows nursery stock trees but gets its Christmas trees from a retailer in Wisconsin. The snow "kind of got people in the Christmas spirit early," he said.
Knutson said his business usually sells 100 to 120 Christmas trees per year, and sales so far have been about even with last year.
Bigger trees have been selling better this year, Knutson said. "We're mostly sold out of our bigger stuff," he said.
The same is true elsewhere. Jan Donelson, executive director of the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association, said she has seen a similar trend at her Clear Lake farm. In 2009, Donelson said she saw more customers buying Christmas trees, but they bought smaller trees. This year they are back to buying big trees.
Customers have seemed more interested in doing good for the environment and supporting locally grown trees, she said.
Donelson said more people are seeing the local impact and value of Christmas tree farming.
"If you visualize Christmas, and you're just plugging in the same tree with the same lights, that's not creating a memory," she said. "It's just stamping."
Emma L. Carew • 651-735-9749