By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
Is demand for the live Christmas tree dead?
Not on your life.
Consumers still pine for trees grown in the ground versus their manufactured counterparts.
In 2012, 24.5 million live trees were sold, compared to 10.9 million artificial trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
However, another needling association statistic shows 83 percent of American homes had artificial trees. The difference? Artificial trees don’t have to be replaced every season.
Another selling point for artificial trees is most of them now come pre-lighted, said Dan Zippie, manager of Kraynak’s in Hermitage which sells both live and artificial trees. And, what’s more he added, artificial trees have become much more realistic looking.
Still, there is a hard-core following of those who demand live trees. But that demand has undergone some trimming here and there when it comes to desires.
Over the last 40 years, Americans’ tastes in live trees have changed sharply. Back in the 1960s and ’70s Scotch pine was king of the forest. These days it’s the Frasier fir that rules, along with other close relatives in the fir family.
“The popularity of the Frazier fir has really skyrocketed,’’ said Tom Swanson, co-manager of Kraynak’s Lawn and Garden Center, where the live trees are sold.
Looks also play a factor, said Tom Kavanagh, co-owner of Cottage Gardens in Hermitage, which sells live trees. Scotch pines often have a wilder look with their main trunk zig-zagging in all directions.
“Firs have a more central leader that grows straighter,’’ Kavanagh said. “Their needles also are softer than a Scotch pine which makes them easier to decorate.’’
A common factor in both live and artificial trees is that the most popular are those in the 7è-foot range – just under the typical 8-foot height of most home ceilings.
One trend that’s gone steadily by the wayside for many homes is having just a single tree. These days it’s common for homes to resemble the deep woods with multiple trees scattered throughout the living quarters.
“I waited on a guy who bought five live trees for his home,’’ Swanson said.
Perhaps the biggest change for Christmas trees – both live and artificial – is the decorating. Just a couple generations ago, the tree typically didn’t get indoors until maybe two weeks before Christmas.
“That’s all gone now,’’ Kavanagh said. “Now trees are put up a couple days after Thanksgiving, if not sooner.’’
In Kavanagh’s case, he put his live tree up before Thanksgiving. Feeding it a steady supply of water is crucial.
“My tree is still drinking up the water and it has all of its needles,’’ he said.
Selling live Christmas trees since the mid-’70s, Kavanagh said tradition is a huge factor in live tree sales.
“We see the same people year after year,’’ he said.
It’s quite common for entire families to come out when picking a tree, Kavanagh said, adding he likes listening to the decision-making process.
“It’s not just the adults who decide,’’ he said. “They actually ask the kids a lot about the choice.’’