New live Christmas trees coming to Singapore nurseries amid shipping delays

Live Christmas trees can be bought at places such as Far East Flora (above).
Live Christmas trees can be bought at places such as Far East Flora (above).ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
-- PHOTO: ST FILE
-- PHOTO: ST FILE

Home owners fretting about getting a live Christmas tree will be glad to know new shipments are likely to arrive next week and the trees are fresher too

A labour dispute in conifer-filled Washington state in the United States has rippled across the Pacific Ocean, delaying shipments of live Christmas trees to Singapore nurseries.

But there is some good news. Last-minute shoppers can still get their hands on trees from the later shipments which should show up in Singapore next week - and these trees will be fresher too.

Meanwhile, faux trees are more beautiful and abundant, and are a good alternative.

In Seattle and Tacoma, ports on the west coast of America, dock workers negotiating a new labour agreement went on a "work slowdown" early last month. Their action reduced container movement significantly to 10 to 18 containers an hour, down from 25 to 35, according to a Bloomberg report.

Among those who cherish live Christmas trees is Mrs Ayse Davies, 41, a director of a food manufacturing business who has been buying them for the last two years. She had heard from friends it was difficult to get a tree this year and saw a Facebook post about the delayed shipments.

The mother of three children aged between seven and 11 says: "I called Far East Flora early this month to see if I could get one, but they told me they were out of trees by the end of last month. I eventually managed to pre-order one, but it will arrive later than last year."

Her tree usually arrives in the first week of December, but she will get her tree, which is about 1.8m tall, next Wednesday.

She adds: "We have to have a tree because it doesn't feel like Christmas if you don't. The smell of the pines and the feel and look of a real tree bring the outside in and adds festive cheer."

While some nurseries such as Corona Florist & Nursery in Clementi Road and Ikea Singapore have already sold all their stock, some along Upper Thomson Road have put up signs that their last shipments will be in next week.

Nurseries here usually sell the noble and nordmann firs from the US, while Ikea carries the Abies nordmanniana species, which it brings in from Sweden. The Swedish furniture giant started selling the live trees - $49 for the 1.6m tree and $79 for the 2m tree, without the base - in stores in the middle of last month. Its faux trees, which are 1.55m and 1.8m tall, are also sold out.

The arrival of the last lot of trees next week for some nurseries is much later than their usual delivery in the first week of December.

Far East Flora, a big nursery in Thomson Road, expects its last shipment to arrive next week. Its 2.1m to 3.6m trees have already sold out but, with the new shipment, it says shoppers can pre-book smaller trees that start at 1.2m.

Mr Mok Keng Houng, manager of Ji Mei Flower in Joan Road, says his shipment of noble and nordmann Firs from the US has been delayed by about 10 days. The nursery carries trees ranging in height from 0.9m to 3.6m, with prices starting at $48.

"We expect the last of our Christmas trees to come in by Tuesday, but with the delays, we're hesitant to commit to a date until we see the container and the trees.

"Some people who have pre-paid for their trees will be getting them next week, so we have just a few trees left," he adds.

The US slowdown is a "happy problem" for the nurseries, says Madam Sharon Goh, director of Candy Floriculture in Thomson Road.

Her nursery brings in noble fir trees, which range in height from 0.9m ($55) to 6m ($4,600). On sale are also a variety of Christmas plants such as live wreaths (from $40) and boughs (from $20).

"Actually, you could see it as a blessing in disguise because our customers will get fresher trees. We usually start selling the trees in the middle of November and sell out by the first week of December. But as Singapore has pretty hot weather, the trees can dry out by Christmas time."

Nurseries with late shipments are advising those who are still on the hunt to make their orders fast, as the last of the tree stock may be limited.

And it is not just businesses selling live trees which are doing a roaring trade. The faux ones, too, are selling fast.

A check with supermarket Cold Storage showed that bigger artificial trees, ranging in height from 2.4m to 3m, are sold out. The smaller ones, which are 0.6m to 0.9m, are still available in certain outlets.

While Cold Storage is no longer shipping in the popular bigger trees, FairPrice Xtra hypermarkets and FairPrice Finest stores still have options in stock. They range in height from 0.9m to 2.1m.

Wholesale florists at The Verge in Serangoon Road have also seen a steady flow of customers buying faux trees this Christmas. Located at Level 5 of the mall, all five florists brought in shipments of fake trees and ornaments from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan as early as August.

"For corporate events, companies can start to order the trees from August due to the time they take to plan as well as the size of the trees," says Mr Andrew Chua, 42, director of Ming Sing Flowers at The Verge.

Faux trees for commercial purposes run from 6m to 9m, and can cost up to $20,000.

Mr Chua adds: "While it is obvious why companies prefer faux trees, it is also easier for families. Live trees are harder to maintain, while faux trees can be reused for several years. The trees are also easier to take home now since they are foldable."

Most of the trees sold there have now upgraded to a folding system, akin to an umbrella, and can be dismantled into three sections for easier transportation.

Previously, faux Christmas trees were disassembled by removing individual sprigs of pine from the trunk.

On top of that, faux trees now come in a variety of materials to mimic the texture of the live trees.

The trees come in PVC and needle pine, which is thicker and harder than the regular PVC pine, and made to look like the needles from the natural pine tree. There is also cashmere, a new hybrid of two or more materials.

Mr Andy Kok, a salesman at Steve Florists & Gift Centres at The Verge, says: "The foliage hybrid is partly latex. Although it is more expensive, the quality is much better and it can last longer as well.

"There are also many colours available for a more unique tree. The Christmas trees are just to bring a bit of mood for the festive season."

And many, like Mr Howie Wong, 29, art director at an advertising company, stopped to browse and buy.

He was shopping for his first Christmas tree on Thursday and says: "When I used to live with my parents, I didn't have this tradition of having a tree.

"But now that I'm moving into my own place with my wife, I thought of buying one for the festive season.

"I think a faux tree is better because I can reuse it. I just refresh the decorations. And I think I will continue this tradition every year."

natashaz@sph.com.sg

plow@sph.com.sg


 Care for your live tree

Once your tree is home, it should be placed in water quickly and kept indoors away from direct sunlight.

Ensure that the tree is planted in a stand containing enough water. The water should cover the entire tree base. Check the water level daily and replenish the water to cover its bark because the tree tends to absorb water quite quickly.

Make sure the water level does not go below the base of the tree. Add mosquito granules to the water to prevent mosquito breeding.

When decorating, it is advisable to use low heat-producing lights or miniature lights, so the tree does not dry out fast. Mist the tree when you can as Christmas trees need a lot of water to prevent their needles from drying and dropping off, and to keep their boughs from drooping.

Do not let the tree dry out or a seal of dried sap will form over the cut stump, preventing the tree from absorbing water.

Disposal

For a fee, the nursery where you bought the tree will dispose of it. Fees vary, depending on the nursery and the tree's size. For example, those who take their Ikea-bought trees back to the store will receive a 50 per cent rebate - excluding tree base - in the form of a gift card.

Disposed trees are often turned into mulch, a protective cover placed over soil to retain moisture and provide nutrients.

Sources: Far East Flora, ST File, Ikea Singapore