Jul. 27—AUBURN — Paul Shealer, owner of Evergreen Acres Tree Farm, will compete against tree growers across the country to supply this year's White House Christmas tree.
"It's the highest honor in the tree business," Shealer said.
This year will not be Shealer's first competition, as he won in 2000 and was runner-up in 2008. To qualify for the national competition, he had to win at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
"You don't just go to this competition," Shealer said. "It's an invitational."
In 2020, Shealer won both grand and reserve champion, having the best and second best trees in the competition.
"That was the third time that's ever happened, and I've done it twice," Shealer said.
His secret to success, Shealer said, is "attention to detail."
At 8 p.m. Aug. 4, Shealer will leave for West Jefferson, North Carolina, over 400 miles away, and drive through the night with a tree in the back of his truck.
"The tree is cut, so we have to travel through the night to keep it cool," Shealer said.
To preserve the tree during the trip, Shealer said he will soak a piece of plywood for two days and place it in the truck. He will then staple a flannel sheet to the plywood and lay the tree on top. The butt of the tree will be wrapped in wet rags, and the top of the tree will be propped up so it does not shake. Another wet flannel sheet will lay on top of the tree, followed by a tarp to protect from the wind.
"If you break a branch along the way, that will be a deduction," Shealer said.
The competition hall will open at 8 a.m. Aug. 5 for the trees to be set up. Shealer said farmers will then have until 11 a.m. to groom the trees before they are judged.
"It's a like a dog show," Shealer said.
The trees are judged on color, density, straightness of the trunk, uniformity and freedom from insects and disease.
Shealer plans to enter a Douglas fir, and he will need to win in the Douglas fir class before moving on to go against other tree varieties.
The event will be held in North Carolina, the top producer of Fraser firs, which Shealer said would make competition in the true firs class tougher.
"It's a two-pronged approach," Shealer said. "You want to pick the tree with the best chance of winning in its class, but you also want your best tree overall."
Shealer spent the last year and a half assessing 5,000 trees to decide which might be the best competitors. He said he watches them grow and flags the ones he likes so they do not get cut and sold.
"I know my trees," Shealer said. "I take mental notes of where they are. I almost memorize them. Then I go back and do some fine tuning."
On Monday, Shealer said he has narrowed down his options to three trees after monitoring their growth.
One stands out, though, as it has the right color, density and growth pattern. It is around 7 foot, 11 inches tall, coming in at the higher end of the 6- to 8-foot requirement.
"They change from year to year," Shealer said. "That one got better."
Shealer said there are a few other Pennsylvania growers in the competition this year, all of whom are good friends.
"We're stiff competition, but also best friends," Shealer said. "We'll be just has happy if one of us wins, as we all represent Pennsylvania."
If Shealer wins the competition, he will send a 20-foot concolor fir, which has been growing for around 20 years, to the White House.
Whether he wins or not, Shealer said the competition is a "great way to promote the real tree industry, as opposed to artificial trees." He said while artificial trees will eventually end up in landfills, real trees are a natural, biodegradable product.
"It puts an American made product in the forefront," Shealer said.