For many people, picking out the Christmas tree is a family ritual that really kick-starts the holiday season. But whether you like to browse through freshly cut firs or prefer to cut your own, you don’t have to worry about having one of those Charlie Brown Christmas tree disasters. In Waterford, there are plenty of places to find that perfect tree.
Scott’s farm stand hasn’t been in Waterford for long but the Scott family has been in the business of selling fresh produce grown on the family farm in Old Lyme since 1904. Webster Scott, one of seven brothers whose great-grandfather Michael and grandfather Walter founded the family business, now runs the farm stall on the Post Road in Waterford helped by his five daughters.
With hands sticky from sap after spending the day cutting firs from along the power lines (with permission from CL&P, of course!) Webster Scott is trying not to look as his 15-year-old daughter Anna makes a fresh cut to a fir with a chainsaw. Meanwhile, his daughter Lydia, a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut with a degree in horticulture, is explaining how to keep the tree fresh to Katie Smolenski.
“Ever since I was a child, I’ve been going to Scott’s,” says Smolenski, who went to Scott’s in Old Saybrook to get her Christmas trees until the family opened the farm stand in her hometown of Waterford. “We’ve never had a bad year with a tree. Now I’m a grandmother, I’m bringing my grandchildren here!”
Scott’s has about 450 Balsam and Frasier fir trees, from table top sizes to upward of 10 foot. The most popular are the six- to eight-foot Frasier firs, which hold their needles well, have an aromatic smell, and have needles that are both silver and green. Prices range from $49.95 for the five- to seven-foot trees to $89.95 for the eight- to ten-foot trees. The Balsam, however, are a less expensive option.
“That’s the main reason we carry them,” says Webster Scott. “We’re really aware of how bad the economy is.”
Scott’s trees come from a number of different sources including the family farm, a tree farm in Brooklyn, tree farms in New Hampshire, and trees cut from along the power lines locally. “It’s a small circle of farmers. It’s like a family, in Connecticut especially,” says Webster Scott.
Indeed, if you prefer to cut your own, there are at least three Christmas tree farms tucked away in the residential neighborhoods of Waterford, all family owned and operated, which have also been serving the same families for generations.
at 81 Old Colchester Road in Quaker Hill is perhaps the best known, but for the past 30 years, Edmond Sitty has been selling Christmas trees that he grows in his backyard at 50 Oswegatchie Road. The larger Lane’s Grove Christmas Tree Farm at 71 Oil Mill Road has also been in business for three decades.
Given that it takes a tree about 12 years to grow to a height of seven feet, it’s perhaps no surprise that these local tree farms have been around for a while. “It’s not a get rich quick scheme,” Lane’s Grove owner Jack Lane says with a smile.
With chickens and guinea fowl pecking in the yard and a couple of old sheep in the shed, Lane’s Grove offers a farm atmosphere and 6,000 trees to choose from of varying sizes up to about 12 feet tall. “We have Colorado Spruce, White Spruce, Serbian Spruce, and Grand Fir,” says Lane. “We have others too, Frasier Fir and Cannan--but they won’t be ready for another 10 years!”
Some Christmas tree vendors charge different prices for different trees, with slower growing evergreens costing a little more. Lane’s Grove, however, charges by the foot and it’s the same basic price per foot no matter which tree you choose. White spruce is the most popular, Lane says, because it holds its needles particularly well.
Lane’s Grove opens for business the first weekend of November, at which point people come and tag the trees they want. Lane says about 150 trees have been tagged so far but there are thousands more to choose from and now’s the time to take them. The farm provides the saws but the cutting is something customers do themselves, although Lane and his wife Sue and their grandchildren help with the bundling.
Lane says he used to advertise but he doesn’t need to anymore. Indeed, for Lane’s Grove's many repeat customers, a trip to the Christmas tree farm is as much a part of their holiday tradition as going to church on Christmas Eve or kissing under the mistletoe. “We see the same people year after year,” says Lane. “My best advertisement is a satisfied customer.”
Compared to the farm on Oil Mill Road, Oswegatchie Road seems an unlikely location for a tree farm but Edmond Sitty has been growing trees on his land about 35 years.
“I bought the property and thought, gee, I might was well grow something,” says Sitty. “My son when he was little said he wanted an evergreen forest so I said, Okay, we’ll plant one.”
Although Sitty has grown as many as 4,000 trees at one time, today he’s got about 2,000, all sizes up to about 9 feet. He typically charges about $40 a tree, less for smaller ones. People cut the trees themselves and, although someone is always home, a sign suggests that people use the honor system and leave the money in an envelope if no one is around. In this day and age, it’s nice to see a business built on trust.
“It’s a labor of love. It’s not a very profitable business but look at how pretty they look,” Sitty says smiling as he points to the evergreen forest that now grows in his backyard.
Tips to Keep Your Christmas Tree Looking Trim
Always get a fresh cut before you bring the tree home.
Put the tree in water as soon as possible, ideally within an hour or two. If you don’t do this, a ring of sap will develop over the cut. “Once it seals over, you may as well be putting a two by four in,” says Webster Scott.
Water the tree with warm water the first time. Adding soda or sugar to the water over time provides additional nutrients (ginger ale works particularly well).
The most important thing is to keep the tree well-watered. “The main thing is to get it drinking,” says Webster Scott. “My father-in-law gets new growth. He keeps his tree up until February!”