Branching out in holiday cheer
Plant it and they will come. Or, order it from Michigan in exotic varieties, and they will come.
Either way, if a telltale green cone looms on the horizon, or if a sign printed with those magic words: "Christmas Trees," hangs near the roadside, then it appears this year, at least, they have come.
For both the House and Crawford families in Eudora, selling Christmas trees has become a holiday tradition.
The Crawfords grow their own Christmas trees throughout the year while the Houses order from elsewhere in the country.
"They come from Michigan," Rose House said. "In fact when they came in this year they were covered in snow."
The Michigan trees, Balsam pine, offer an alternative to Kansas' native Scotch pine, House said.
The Houses' adventure in Christmas sales evolved from a passion for Christmas lights several years ago.
The family decided to bring their personal joy in the holiday to more people.
"It's just kind of fun. I'm a social person and we just kind of enjoy it," Rose House said.
The Houses set up their tree lot, Holiday Hill, in the front of their home along Kansas Highway 10.
There, the Houses set the trees up in rows under a net of lights.
Rose said she is more of a one-to-one salesperson, while her husband, Dave, was the merchandise and display maven.
"He does all the physical labor," Rose said.
Set up near the symmetrical rows of trees, the Houses offer a campfire and a heated tent for their customers.
The setup has drawn customers to take their Christmas pictures near the scenic trees, House said.
To further the holiday spirit, the Houses pass out cups of hot chocolate and offer customers candy canes as they search for their trees.
"Most people when they come they have a pretty definite idea of what they want," House said.
Sometimes people's tastes change every year.
"Probably the thing that's a constant in this business is that nothing is constant," House said. "Last year people wanted really big trees, so we had to order more big trees.
"This year we've got a lot of big trees and we're getting lower on the six- to seven-foot trees," House said.
House said big trees have a relative advantage.
"The big trees scream 'Merry Christmas' at you," House said.
The Houses keep records of trees their return customers buy every year to help them always find what they need.
Patrons come to Holiday Hill from Lawrence, Overland Park and as far away as Mission Hills, House said.
Seeing the variety of people helps the House family maintains connections with their customers.
"We had three first babies that were here this year. People have been coming and they're back with their babies," House said.
Eudora High School freshman Michael White helps his family maintain the lot on weeknights. He said sales this year we're going well.
The lot sold around 40 trees over the weekend, Rose said.
For Evening Star Pines owners Cris and Sherry Crawford, cultivating Christmas trees is a yearlong process.
"My husband does most of the work. It's a year-round job," Sherry said. "You plant seedlings in the spring and the fall. If there's a drought, you have to water them.
"You have to walk the fields looking for bugs, and starting in June, you sheer the trees, and, of course, there's constant mowing in between them."
The Crawfords have been working on the process of raising pine trees for nearly a decade. With their experience, this year may not have been bad.
"I would say it's pretty good. It was a pretty good summer," Sherry said. "They had some rain and had a lot of drinks. You didn't have to do a lot of watering."
Both the Houses and the Crawfords suggested first-time buyers bring the entire family along to look at trees.
Rose has seen it help the selection process.
"The kids are the ones that make the final decision," House said.
Holiday Hills is at 1727 Oak Street, Evening Star Pines is north of Kansas Highway 10 on Evening Star Road.