Christmas tree farming a labor of love for Cynthiana couple

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By Josh Shepherd, News writer

 When one of Sandy Stoss’s sons developed an allergy to real Christmas trees, they bought an artificial one. Assembly was tedious, but it was a pre-lighted with stout wire branches that could point in any direction and support the weight of any ornament they wished to hang. The second year they used it, the lights went out on one side and that was enough.

She stored the artificial tree away, handed her son a bottle of Benadryl, and fitted the trunk of a stolid Norway Spruce into a tree stand.

Altogether appropriate, one might say, for the owners of Stoss’s Christmas Trees,  Cynthiana’s only Christmas Tree farm just a little over a mile from the roundabout on Wornall Lane along US 62.

Heading into the last week of the holiday season, the weather has been a deterrent for many to get out and view the selection of Christmas Trees the Stoss’s have available.

The ice storm, in particular, created some issues as the coat of ice added several pounds of weight to the trees, said Robert Stoss, co-owner of the tree farm. But, fortunately, the trees that are ready for sale are hardy enough to withstand much of the inclement weather.

On the two-acre plot surrounding the Stoss’s home is an impressive variety of fir, pine, and spruce trees. All are evenly spaced at six feet apart in very regimented rows. All appear to have good straight trunks, blessedly free of lower branches that can interfere with mounting the tree into a stand. 

Stoss has worked hard to keep the trees in the classic Christmas tree shape.

“It takes work to shape the trees in that style people want. It’s not really natural for them to grow in that cone shape,” Stoss said.

Roaming through the symmetrical rows of trees and neatly sawn stumps among the year’s harvest, Stoss can give visitors quite an education on the various species of trees that he grows.

Nearest his home, for instance, are three excellent examples of long needle pine trees. One is a southeastern pine, which is characterized by smaller branches and a soft green appearance of the pine needles.

The other two are southwestern pine trees. Since they are adapted to a slightly warmer climate and different soil chemistry, the needles on a southwestern pine have a slightly yellowish hue to its needles.

“Much of the tree sap has retreated into the trunk, which is why the needles don’t have a tinge of yellow in this winter weather” Sandy Stoss explained, “When customers take it inside their heated homes, the needles will acquire a richer green color.”

The southwestern pine also features larger branches stout enough to hold heavy ornaments and decorations.

There are also Douglas Firs and Turkish Firs, Norwegian Spruce, Concolor Firs among the selection of evergreens on the Stoss farm.

To the ordinary Christmas Tree customer, it’s nice to have the choice of all these different species. But according to Stoss, it’s a minor miracle that he gets so many varieties of evergreens to grow at all in Kentucky.

“This is not an area where firs and pines do well. They prefer a more acidic soil,” he said.

Stoss estimates that out of every new crop of trees that he plants, he loses about 50 percent of them. Periodic droughts, which are becoming more common in Kentucky, have sometimes wiped out up to 80 percent of his young trees.

After roughly 35 years of raising Christmas trees, though, the Stoss’s have developed quite a sense of humor about the losses.

“I don’t suppose we could ever convince people that the brown ones are just an exciting new shade of fir,” Sandy Stoss said.

“The economics of losing that much of an initial investment doesn’t make much sense, I guess. But I’m at the stage in my life where raising these trees is a labor of love rather than profit,” Robert Stoss said.

Of course, he’d like to make a little money, if just to buy new saplings for the next season.

Raising this type of specialized crop takes an unusual level of patience. From the time in which saplings are planted, Stoss said that it takes about seven years to get the first crop.

In all that time, a tree farmer must not only find ways to get an evergreen to thrive in less than optimum growing conditions, but also free of invading pests such as conifer sawflies, whose larvae can quickly damage or destroy a tree if left untreated.

But these days, especially since their seven children have all grown, the couple have plenty of time to roam about their yard checking on the health of their trees. 

Once October arrives, the Stoss’s begin to welcome their regular customers visiting to stake their claim on a tree for  the upcoming holiday.

 “That’s one of the best parts of this farm — catching up with our regular customers. They have been buying trees from us for decades. Its part of their holiday tradition,” Stoss said.