Henderberg’s Christmas Tree Farm offering variety of colors

Published Nov 19, 2017 at 9:00am

Those who have driven by Henderberg’s Christmas Tree Farm may have noticed a spectacle of color not typical of the average evergreen.

For the first time, owner Jay Henderberg has offered his customers the opportunity to purchase a Christmas tree for the holidays in colors not made by Mother Nature. And all have already been tagged and are sold out.

Using a non-toxic food grade colorant, Henderberg has created trees of pink, magenta, light blue, purple, red, white and turquoise. He said the array of hues has helped attract customers who for years have traditionally chosen artificial trees over the real deal.

“My suspicion is that we’ve brought the artificial customer back because now they can get exotic colors on a real tree, and they also have the fragrance of a real tree,” Henderberg said. “Now they don’t have to go to a tree made in China to get that color, and we’re seeing results with that.”

Customers came out last Saturday to tag the colored trees and right now they’ve been sold and reserved for those who came and tagged them in advance.

“A lot of people who came out said they never had a real tree before or in X-amount of years, and they’re going back because they want it colored,” the tree farm owner said. “This season we’ve offered the colored trees for the first time. The color is applied in the fall when temperatures are at least in the mid-40s and it’s dry. The color was sprayed on and now it’s permanent.”

Henderberg said he didn’t bother advertising his unique colored trees, but that a buzz on social media, or perhaps from passers-by, got the word out on its own.

“I didn’t advertise, but it’s been on social media and the response has been high,” he said. “For the first time ever, I opened the farm prior to Black Friday because of the colored trees. It’s the second year the spray has been on the market, so the colors are relatively new on the scene, but very popular. The response has been phenomenal.”

Trees occupy about 14 acres at Henderberg’s Tree Farm at 6579 Henderberg Road S., which was started about 32 years ago by Jay’s father, Gary. Henderberg admits that his dad had quite a different definition of what a U-cut tree farm should be.

When customers came to the farm, “they’d get on our wagon behind our tractor — we’d run two — drive them out into the field, they’d get off the wagon, select their tree, we’d cut it with our saw, then we’d carry it back to the wagon and bring it back with the people on the wagon,” Henderberg said. “Then we’d wrap the tree and nine times out of 10, we’d carry it to the car for them. Offering so much service has increased our customer base and in doing things that way, I believe we’re offering people who probably couldn’t otherwise go out in the field to select their own tree, the opportunity to do so. Otherwise they would need to go to a retail lot and choose what’s there.”

However, Henderberg’s farm does still offer already cut trees in the lot as well.

Jay recalled being age 10 or 11 when he started to help his father with the tree farm. He has memories of getting off the school bus and then changing into his “work clothes” so that he could go out into the field and cut trees that would be brought back to the farm. It would be dark before he and his dad even entered the woods, but they were at charge of bringing back a truck load of Christmas trees, he said.

“I worked side-by-side with my dad because he had the farm and I was out harvesting crops or tiling the ground out in the fields, doing whatever needed to be done, even running tractors when I was 9 or 10,” Henderberg said. “As far as the Christmas trees, there was a guy in the New London area who had some overgrown white spruce that were about 15-feet tall. A lot of times we had to cut the trees down and then cut off the tops for what we needed and then drag them out of the woods. It was wet and swampy where we dragged them through, and back then we’d have traditional winters with lots of snow. So there was the snow to walk through or sometimes you’d accidentally stick your boot in 8-10 inches of water and get a wet boot.”

Over time Jay said his father recruited his cousins and other family members or neighbors to go out and help harvest the trees. During the farm’s first year of operation, Jay said the family brought back and sold about 100 trees. At that time, Gary Henderberg bought the trees for $5 and sold them for $10.

“At that time (when the tree farm was started), dad was dairy farming and because that was his livelihood and in those days dairy farming wasn’t doing very well, I think he started the tree farm so he could get some extra money for us kids at Christmas,” said Henderberg, who also has two younger sisters. Gary passed away in 2015.

It wasn’t until Jay purchased some land in 1994, a year after graduating high school, that the Henderbergs started growing their own trees. A full-time electrician, Jay runs the tree farm on evenings and weekends.

“And things just took off from there,” Henderberg said. “Dad used to do a lot with wreaths too, which we still offer — we make our own. He would even enter them in the state fair.”

While income for the Christmas trees is “seasonal,” Henderberg said running the farm is a year-long operation, including work and expenses.

“Starting in the spring, we plant new trees so every one that is harvested, a new one is planted in its place,” he said. “That process this past spring took me four weekends in a row...Then not only do you have the plantings done, you have the mulling and upkeep all season long.”

“You also have to keep track of pests and be mindful of that,” the owner continued. “I’m thankful I haven’t had to use sprays recently, other than fertilizers. Timing is of the importance when you go to fertilize throughout the year — you can do a spring and fall application — for proper growth and color. Once you roll around into the fall as you’re trying to finish that, it’s time to go trim and shear the trees. That’s done a few weeks before Labor Day up to Halloween, getting it done evenings after work and weekends. Every tree, from the time it’s about 3-feet tall, it needs to be sheared and trimmed.”

Henderberg said tree transplants are about 4-years-old when he purchases them for planting and it takes anywhere between 8-10 years for the trees to reach maturity — the standard 8-foot height for harvest size. His farm offers Fraser Firs, Canaan Firs, white spruce, blue spruce and some balsam. The majority, however, are Frasers and Canaans.

“Dad had a big customer base of regular customers and they have been very loyal to us over the years, and continue to come even though he has passed,” Henderberg said.

Hours, starting Black Friday, are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then every weekend, Saturday and Sunday until Christmas, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Henderberg’s is also open Monday through Friday, after Black Friday, from noon to 5 p.m.

The colored 7-8 foot trees went for $70 each, but regular trees from the field are about $40. Pre-cut trees go from $25 and up.