Local nursery ships Christmas trees across province

 In Business

The trees that will start appearing at Christmas tree lots in the next few weeks represent a long-term commitment on the part of a grower. Fred Somerville of Somerville Nurseries in Everett says trees started from seed will take five years to grow into one-footseedlings, ready to be transplanted. Seedlings which were moved to the fields and spaced six feet apart this spring will not be harvested for another 10 or 11 years.

Somerville is president of the company his father, John, started in 1950 and it is the largest tree grower in Ontario with a total of about 5,000 acres under management. The business has evolved into three divisions: the seedling division, which starts about 20 million trees each year and is a top supplier to the federal government’s Two Billion Trees program; the ornamental division, which provides landscaping plants; and the Kris Kringle division, which ships more than 130,000 Christmas trees this year.

“We ship almost entirely to outlets in Ontario with about 15 per cent of our trees going to the United States,” said Somerville. “We haven’t got enough trees to supply other markets.”

The demand for real Christmas trees has never been greater.

“During COVID, artificial trees from China and Asia couldn’t get through, so people went back to real trees,” said Somerville. “Our research shows that on average, people use an artificial tree for five years, then it lasts forever in a landfill. Real trees are100 per cent biodegradable.”

Fraser Fir has become the most popular choice in recent years. Somerville says they can last indoors for many weeks without dropping needles. While it might seem early to be cutting Christmas trees, Somerville says it actually makes sense.

“Shorter days and cold weather signal the trees to send antifreeze to the roots so moisture content is actually better now than once it gets really cold,” he said. “Trees are pretty well hydrated right now.”

Trees love cool, wet weather according to Somerville. Too much sun is not ideal. Fields where seedlings are started are irrigated, but after the dry conditions in four of the last five years, Somerville says they are being forced to consider expanding irrigation to the fields where seedlings are transplanted. That will be a huge expense. Somerville Nurseries tries to minimize the use of pesticides in their operations for the long term health of the environment. 

The Kris Kringle division employs about 80 people year round , many of them migrant workers from Mexico who come on eight-month work visas.  Somerville says a lot of the same workers have been coming back year after year for the past 30 years. He says they have great relationships with these workers, and the operation could not run without them. For the next couple of months the workforce will swell to about 130 with more drivers and taggers needed to handle the volume of shipments. Cut trees are graded, then shaken and netted to prevent damage during shipping. As well as full trees, Somerville supplies wreaths, boughs and garland popular for seasonal décor. 

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