Unless you are a super early shopper most prefer not to think about Christmas in the middle of summer… or you are associated with a business or company where July marks the month to begin planning for a successful holiday season. At Hiawatha Evergreens, Christmas planning begins on January 2, and continues until production starts in October. This means the harvesting of greens takes place at the end of summer when the temperature outdoors is still quite warm presenting unfavorable conditions that introduce a challenge for maintaining freshness. Hiawatha’s unique cold chain method means that weather will never be an issue when it comes to guaranteeing the delivery of fresh, premium, quality greens. Moreover, the consumer can be confident that the product they purchased will retain prolonged life lasting through the holiday season. The temperate forests in the Pacific Northwest function as a natural air conditioner in the summer months as the canopy of trees provide shade and coolness to the vegetation below. Also, in higher elevation, where much of the Noble Fir and Silver Fir grows and is harvested, it is several degrees cooler than at sea level. When the boughs are cut from the trees they are bundled and brought directly to the Hiawatha plant located in Shelton, Washington. The raw material is placed in wood crates and immersed in a large vat of chilled water to remove the heat. Like all living tissues, harvested vegetation continues to respire throughout its post harvest life. Thus, reducing the rate of respiration extends the post harvest life of the product. Once dipped, the crates are drained, placed inside a huge cooler, and stored until the product is manufactured. All raw materials are kept at a controlled temperature between 34-38 degrees
Fahrenheit throughout the process, which results in a fresh, high-quality product for consumers with a longer shelf life. Storing enough raw materials, as well as the finished decorator items, requires substantial space. Hiawatha has 75,000 square feet of cooler space in the Shelton plant alone, possessing the largest refrigerated warehouse in the industry. Continuing through the cold chain process, the raw greens are removed from the cooler to make decorator items, such as wreaths, garlands, swags and centerpieces. The bulk of the native greens used are Noble Fir and Western Red Cedar, followed by Princess Pine, Douglas Fir, Silver Fir, Juniper, and Hemlock among other varieties. Once the finished products are made and cased they are placed back into the cooler until they are shipped to the customers. Finally, refrigerated semi trucks are backed up to the loading dock, the cased and often non-cased items are Holiday Greens from Forest to Consumer
Greens being helicoptered off Mt. St. Helen. Outdoor hanging basket. A Christmas greens arrangement. Boughs being dipped in chilled water. Assorted cased boughs loaded into the trailers and shipped to various distribution centers across the United States and Canada. A question often asked is does Hiawatha use a preservative solution for dipping their evergreens? The answer is no, No and NO. I think it’s fair to say that a floral greens company that is nearly 80 years old has tested it all when it comes to formulas for preserving the life of evergreens. Hiawatha discovered long ago it was best to avoid them, because in fact, they can have the opposite effect. In a comparison test between two wreaths, one using a preservative dipping process and one which did not the following results were shown. In less than two weeks the treated wreath started to turn brown and dry while the non-treated wreath stayed fresh. The preservative dipped wreath had more needle
drop, less moisture retention and less shelf life. Hiawatha has done much of its own experimentation over the years and found the solutions do actually cause the product to prematurely deteriorate. It makes sense when you understand that a large conifer tree can pull up to 100 gallons of water out of the ground per day. Water sustains trees. not chemicals. Even with all measures taken to ensure the fresh greenery arrives to the distributors and wholesalers in excellent form, the responsibility essentially lies with the customer to sustain the life of the product until it is purchased by the retailer or consumer. Hiawatha’s cased greens are all clearly marked; PERISHABLE PROTECT * PROTECT FROM HEAT AND FROST * KEEP AT 2-4 C (34-38 F). The ideal location to store greens is in a cooler; however once the product is brought out for display it should hold its freshness as long as it is not exposed to elements such as direct sunlight, wind or heat. Centerpieces all have hydrated floral foam, which holds water; therefore does not require watering at store level. Wreaths, swags and garlands do not have a water source and can begin to dry if exposed to harsh elements. They are best stored outdoors in cooler climates and indoors in warmer climates where there may be air conditioning. Misting with water is recommended if turnover is slow where product may sit for a few weeks before it sells. In the Pacific Northwest, where the greens naturally flourish, wreaths made with Noble Fir can be seen hanging on doors as late as February and yet still look as fresh as the day they were purchased. This would not be the situation for the southern states where hanging wreaths outdoors are short lived. Indoor centerpieces are a better choice and the wreaths would probably even do best indoors in warmer climates. Ultimately, if Christmas greens are cared for following the methods discussed the consumer will be pleased with their purchase and be able to enjoy their fresh, fragrant décor throughout the holiday season. They may even wish to purchase bunches of raw materials to create their own designs or as they say, “Deck the Halls” with boughs. Christmas decorations in the US and Canada essentially share similar traditional form such as wreaths, garlands and centerpieces. Yet, there are some differences in fresh décor from one side of the country to the other. For example, many states in the East use branches of fresh Christmas greens to decorate their window boxes and porch urns. It is a great way to remove the remains of brown, expired summer flowers and make those empty containers look alive again with fresh evergreens. The branches are merely inserted into the soil to hold them in place. The array of greens in the planters is generally adorned with balls, bows and cones creating beautiful outdoor holiday centerpieces. Urns are particularly popular with the Canadians from Alberta east, which makes sense in geographical areas with fewer natural evergreens amid mostly barren, deciduous trees. Expired hanging baskets are another outdoor item where Christmas greens can be added to create a lovely hanging arrangement presenting a focal piece for a covered entry. There are numerous ideas that can be found on YouTube videos, giving instructions for creating fresh holiday décor. Hiawatha supplies wholesale florists, garden centers and many grocers who offer their customers assortments of fresh cut Christmas greens, sold either boxed or in single consumer bunches. Just bear in mind, the greens you buy should have nice color without evidence of browning or yellowing. Branches should be pliable and not brittle with minimal needle drop. With all things considered, there are important decisions to take into account when purchasing Christmas greens and in their care and handling. Be your own advocate. Understand the processes and sources so when you choose a supplier you know they have implemented a system that guarantees a fresh, beautiful product that you can offer your customer. Choose a supplier who also values the partnership with their customer and can provide innovative products and programs to help grow a successful
holiday program. So for all you early planners …“Merry Christmas in July”.
BY KIM TOZIER, ASSISTANT SALES MANAGER,
HIAWATHA EVERGREENS, SHELTON, WA