By Ryan Cornell
FRONT ROYAL -- Two Christmas tree farmers in Warren County are getting ready to hang up the hacksaws.
Robert Cupp, owner of Calamus Creek Christmas Trees, and Tom Lacombe, owner of O.J. Rudacille General Merchandise and Christmas Tree Farm, stopped replanting their Christmas trees years ago and are eagerly waiting until they sell the remainder of the trees.
At 74 years old, Cupp said the labor required to maintain his 10-acre patch of Colorado blue spruce has become quite a chore. The Front Royal resident began planting his trees in 1977 and could rely on his wife and six children to lend a helping hand. But after his wife died and their kids left to start their own families, taking care of the tree farm rested solely on his shoulders. He said next year probably will be his final winter selling trees.
"There are less and less cut-your-own tree farms than there used to be," he said, noting that others are likely facing the same situation. "Now there's only a handful left."
Lacombe is another farmer on his way out of the evergreen business as well. Lacombe owns a five-acre farm by his Browntown general store that grows Colorado blue spruce, Norway spruce, white pine and a few Scotch pine trees. He said he still has a couple years left to sell his trees, which are priced at $22.
"With land values as high as they are now, returns from Christmas trees aren't going to be enough," he said. He said he eventually plans to replace those trees with cattle.
Lacombe is gearing up for this weekend, which he said is the busiest of the year. He said he discourages people from putting up a Norway spruce too early, as they tend to drop their needles, and warns others from hanging heavy ornaments on white pine trees, which cause the branches to droop.
Check the trunk to make sure it's straight, he said, and try to get a tree that's not too large for the room -- it helps to measure the room and bring along a tape measure before heading out to the farm.
He said tree owners should cut the tree at the farm and then cut it again before placing it in the stand, which keeps the sap from blocking the water.
"I would keep it away from heat vents and keep the room that it's in a little bit cooler," he said. "Make sure to keep the tree in the tree stand and don't let it run out in between waterings."
Charles Welch, a Front Royal resident who's been coming to Calamus Creek farm for the past decade, said he usually looks for a seven-footer to fit his living room.
"He [Cupp] usually has pretty trees and they're fresh," said Welch, who added that he's thought about buying an artificial tree, but "wouldn't know what to do with it the rest of the year."
Last year, the Main Street Gazebo in Front Royal showcased one of Cupp's trees, a 12-foot Colorado blue spruce that took nearly 15 years to grow. Cupp said these blue spruce, which take their name after their frost-colored needles, might take longer to grow, but are naturally shaped like a Christmas tree and don't require yearly shearing like a white or Scotch pine.
He said another benefit of the tree variety is that they're left alone by family pets.
"I've been told that cats don't get on the Colorado blue spruce because it's too sharp," he said.
The Douglas fir and Fraser fir might be the varieties in high demand this time of the year, but don't expect to see them at any of the area's cut-your-own farms. Lacombe said the Fraser fir, sometimes referred to as the "Cadillac of Christmas trees," requires a higher elevation while Douglas fir trees are shipped here from the West.
Calamus Creek Christmas Trees is located at 1162 Rocky Lane in Front Royal and is open daily from 9 a.m. to dusk until Christmas. Lacombe's Christmas tree farm is adjacent to his general store at 5590 Bentonville Road in Browntown and is open on Monday to Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.
For more information about the two farms, contact Cupp at 540-635-7763 or Lacombe at 540-636-2149.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org