British Columbia

Flocking gives West Coast Christmas trees that snowy look

Landscape designer Cheryl Moore has been spraying down fresh trees with a life-like artificial snow substance called flock at Port Kells Nursery in Surrey every holiday season for the last 24 years

But trees decked in artificial white stuff banned from green bins

Customers can bring in their own pre-cut tree to be flocked. Personalized colours like pink, blue, mauve and even sparkles are favorites. (Port Kells Nurseries)

Every holiday season for the last 24 years, landscape designer Cheryl Moore has been spraying fresh trees with an artificial snow substance called flock at Port Kells Nursery in Surrey, B.C.

It's known as Christmas tree flocking — a process that makes a natural live tree look like it's covered in real snow. "Everybody wants flocked trees now," said Moore.

"The demographic has changed from older people doing flocked trees to the younger people seeing them on Pinterest and social media."

Snow-like spray

Flocking — which involves attaching tiny fibres to tree branches to create the look of snow — became trendy in 1950s and 1960s along with fake aluminum trees and tinsel.

At the Port Kells Nursery, the snowy appearance is achieved by spraying the trees with a substance comprised of wood pulp, corn starch and boron (a natural occurring element with fire retardant properties).

Moore says the garden centre has seen increased interest in the artificially enhanced trees and estimates staff will sell 150 flocked trees this season, up from just over 80 five years ago.

Cheryl Moore, above, often sprays 20 trees in a room at once. (Teri Parker)

Moore has also gained a unique nickname because of her annual Christmas tree artistry.

"My colleagues call me the Motherflocker," she said.

"There's an art to creating that snow — as it comes out of the gun, the powder and water meet under pressure — and you actually get big snowflakes."

Customers often seek out a more personalized style and ask for the white stuff to be coloured pink, blue or mauve. Sparkles are sometimes added to the mix as well.

"Some people like the tree to look like it's been picked off the top of Whistler," said Moore. "We call that Blizzard."

Blizzard, also known as Whiteout is completely covered in a thick layer of the snowy substance, making the branches droop from the weight of extra flocking, just like a Whistler tree looks after a massive snowfall.

We want what we can't have

Flocking isn't unique to the West Coast, but the phenomenon is more popular here because our rain-soaked winters make us want what we can't have, says Miles Hunter, general manager of Hunter Garden Centres.

"We don't tend to get white Christmas' very often, so people like to add a little white Christmas to their home," said Hunter.

Hunter Garden Centres will sell an estimated 200 flocked trees in their Vancouver and Surrey stores this season.

"Everybody wants flocked trees now," says Cheryl Moore. (Port Kells Nurseries)

Bylaw ends green bin practice

In previous years, flocked trees were accepted in Metro Vancouver green waste bins, but a bylaw passed Jan. 1, 2018 put an end to the practice.

A spokesperson for Metro Vancouver said it banned flocked trees from green waste bins because officials can't determine the kind of materials used on the trees. 

"It's impossible to know whether the material being used is compostable or not, so we are on the side of caution," said Greg Valou, media relations officer with Metro Vancouver.

Moore and Hunter maintain their product is non-toxic and biodegradable. The main product used is a powdered paper made from a by-product of the paper industry, with a little glue that Hunter says is "no more toxic than the household glue you ate as a kid."

Hunter disagrees with the ban and is trying to persuade Metro to reconsider.

"For 10 years they agreed that flocking was compostable and this past year they changed their mind," said Hunter.

Valou says flocked tree owners will have no choice but to throw their trees into the garbage rather than the compost bin at the end of this season.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.