|Tony Sandone crouches among future Christmas trees at Lone Star Pines east of Terrell. Sandone harvests his trees from farms in Michigan, North Carolina, and Oregon.
photography by Elizabeth Lavin
Tony the Tree Guy
Need a Christmas tree painted taxicab yellow and shipped to New York? Want a 55- or 60-foot blue spruce for the yard? Tony Sandone has been making it happen for well-heeled Dallas customers for 22 years.
Tony Sandone’s customers are used to getting what they want most days of the year, so why should Christmas be any different? Like the one who moved from Dallas to Manhattan and asked Sandone to find and harvest a 7-foot tall, cone-shaped blue spruce and ship it to New York—but not before painting it a symbolic taxicab yellow. Another wanted a whopping 55- or 60-foot blue spruce to decorate the entrance of his building. Despite the fact that it takes more than a half-century to grow a tree that size, (not to mention constant fertilizing, monitoring, and protecting), Sandone located one growing in Cadillac, Mich. The giant tree needed to be hardy enough to survive being hoisted by crane, trucked to Dallas, and exposed to six weeks of widely fluctuating Texas temperatures. But this is Tony the Tree Guy. No problem.
Much more routinely, clients request private tours of the Michigan tree farm in order to tag their personal picks—months and months ahead of other buyers and the harvest.
Sandone has taken the art of growing, harvesting, and merchandising holiday trees to a new level. Although the 7- to 9-foot firs sold off the tree lot (behind Keller’s Drive-In at Northwest Highway and Abrams Road) are his bread and butter, about 50 percent of Sandone’s sales come from private customers. And, while most lot owners are working other jobs in August, Sandone is preselling half of his annual inventory to long-established customers. “Christmas trees are commodities. You need to grow what you can sell,” says Sandone, who has been in the business for 22 years. “If you grow and cut your own, you really need to know what you are doing. High-quality trees require practically a year-round time commitment and lots of attention.”
Sandone’s White-Glove Services
To that point, Sandone will deliver, setup, flock, light, and fetch your tree after the holidays. Any needles or mess will be vacuumed away. He’ll bring the tree over in a stand or deliver it in your stand, if you prefer. He’s even been known to make house calls to customers who become nervous about the health of their tree.
For the average folk who shop the lots, the experience is an oasis of serenity during the stressful holiday season. Trees are cut in Michigan, North Carolina, or Oregon as close to Christmas as possible, stored under a large tent, and kept in buckets of fresh water. Each is hosed down daily and fed fortified fluids. Customers are offered a cappuccino or a latte, and a plate of cookies is always on hand. Last year, Sandone began giving candles away with every purchase. Of course, these greens come with a slightly above average price tag—10-foot trees can range from $200 to $600. Basic delivery fees start at $25, and additional white-glove service costs extra. But what’s a few extra dollars for this wonderland experience?
“Bottom line: My business is all about service,” Sandone says.
Tony’s Tree-Care Tips
|photography by Getty|
• Buy from a lot that appears to be well maintained. If trees are exposed to the sun and not frequently watered, they won’t last the season.
• Store your tree in a cool place until you are ready to set it up, and hose it down thoroughly to reduce the amount of pollen entering your home.
• Set your tree up in a cool area, away from sunny windows or heating vents.
• Immediately place your tree in a mixture of water and floral crystals. Keep a premixed container of fortified water on hand. Water daily until your tree stops drinking.
• If your tree isn’t taking up water, you need to make a fresh cut to break the seal formed by sap.
• It is normal for trees to drop needles, but if the branches become brittle, it’s an indication that the tree is dying.
• If you’re counting on a glorious tree for a party or otherwise, buy a backup and store it in a shady, cool outdoor area. Then, if the first dies, you’ll have a spare on hand.
• If trees are always dying on you, go with a Fraser fir this year. They are better suited for Dallas temperatures.