COCKEYSVILLE, Md. – Holiday shoppers at Valley View Farms recently confronted a difficult Christmas choice: fresh-cut fir or ever-plastic evergreen?
Their decisions were made no easier by the wealth of choices available at this nursery off York Road in Baltimore County: more than 40 types of trees, from sweetly smelling scotch pines to the garlanded plastic firs.
Jeff Schultz, of Glen Burnie, settled on an artificial tree for convenience – an important factor for the new father. “Definitely an artificial tree. It’s easy to put up and there’s no hassle,” he said, while shopping with his 2-month-old son, Trent.
But Jeanne Lynch, 37, of Pasadena, had no patience for the fake foliage. “When I was a kid, we always had an artificial tree. Every year, we had the same silver tree, and it was tedious to pull out of the box and set up,” she said. Chopping down the family tree is now a tradition, she said, as she browsed for holiday decorations.
At Valley View Farms, tree prices vary depending on type and size, but artificial trees range from $20-$600, while fresh-cut ones run between $30-$260, said nursery store manager John Hessler.
Arguments for both kinds of trees are strong, but proponents of the fresh trees say they enjoy the pine smell and authenticity, while proponents of the fake ones focus on the convenience and economic benefits. Although the artificial trees may cost more, they can be used year after year.
A 1996 national Gallup survey of 1,006 adult consumers found that 72 percent celebrated the winter holidays with a Christmas tree. Of those, 32 percent had a real tree and 40 percent an artificial one.
The survey, commissioned by the National Christmas Tree Association, a group of nursery owners, also found people who live in the West or Northeast were more likely to have a fresh- cut tree than those living elsewhere in the country.
Hessler, who has worked at Valley View for 23 years, said it is too early to predict which type of tree will be most popular during the 1998 holidays. But, he said, typically the sales between the fresh-cut and artificial trees are about even.
The Gallup poll also indicated that people over 55 were more likely to have an artificial tree or none at all.
Joyce Furrow, 52, of White Marsh, has not quite made it into that age bracket, but she has already bought her fake fir. She defends the artificial trees, saying they look pretty good once decorated.
“Once you get all the crap on it, there’s not much difference” between the real and artificial, said Furrow, who decorated real trees until this year. She said when she had children living at home, she loved the real ones, but now that she is older the copycat conifers are “easier to deal with” than their organic brethren.
So far, the biggest sellers among the artificial trees at this 10,000-square-foot nursery – which Hessler describes as the largest Christmas shop on the East Coast – have been the big ones.
Nursery employee Eric Fick said the store sold out of more than 40 12- and 9-foot artificial trees, and only a few 10-foot trees remain.
Another popular item among the artificial is the Cedar Bark, nicknamed the “Charlie Brown,” Fick said, because it looks like the sickly tree the cartoon character decorated in his Christmas special. The Charlie Brown stands between 3- and 6-feet tall and has sparse branches averaging about 4 inches in length.
“It’s one of the hottest trees,” he said, a bit puzzled. “I ask [why], and customers just say it’s so adorable.”
On the outdoor lot, the Fraser fir, known for its long needle retention and strong pine fragrance, could be a sellout, said Matt Stromberger, a nursery employee.
But if you’re looking for something hassle-free, employee Brenda Fleishell suggests a ready-made tree. For $800-$1,800, you can purchase an artificial tree complete with all the trimmings, including ornaments, garland and bows, said Fleishell. Or if you’re dreading another holiday with a pine, Hessler suggests a Christmas cactus – a succulent that blooms pink or orange flowers in December. -30-