Coloring Christmas trees before harvest
Radio interview source: Ralph Nilssen, Owner, Kirk Company
It's not possible to control the natural color of a Christmas tree, so colorants are often used.
Ralph Nilssen is the owner of a Christmas tree products company in Tacoma, Washington. He says in the fall, chlorophyll starts to break down, which can cause foliage to discolor. Tree needles may turn a different shade of green or even a yellowish color. This is very common in all varieties of pines.
To improve marketability and provide the Christmas green color that people desire, growers will often spray the trees with an FDA-approved liquid acrylic colorant.
"Colorants are very safe, they're non-toxic to anybody who were to put it in their mouth," says Nilssen. "They basically are to enhance the color of the tree, and then they offer some protection also in that they seal the needles of the tree so it doesn't lose as much water inside the tree."
Nilssen says colorants are formulated in shades and colors specific to a tree species to make them look as natural as possible. Trees are sprayed anywhere from mid-August through October. The process depends on how large the tree farm is.
"You can have it applied with a tank sprayer or a knapsack sprayer that somebody can put on their back and spray a few trees," says Nilssen. "Or in Wisconsin, where we had hundreds of thousands of trees that we had to do, we actually had large machines that stood about eight-feet tall on wheels. They actually had hoses connected to the top, and this monster would go over the tops of the trees, and we would have eight people that would walk around spraying trees as they went with the colorant."
If a sprayed tree is not cut down, the colorant will eventually wash off. Any residue left over will not affect its growth.
Learn more about Christmas tree colorants and how they are applied
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