Spruce tops (or “spruce tips”) are the dominant specialty forest product harvested and distributed by the Timonens. Spruce tops trace their roots back to Duluth, Minnesota, in the 1950s when they were harvested in the black spruce bogs of northern Minnesota and sold as individual table top Christmas trees. By 1960, over a million and a half tops were distributed across the United States and parts of Europe. Today, spruce tops remain a holiday decorating staple and have also become a fall/winter landscaping item. Beginning in early November, buyers of the bundled spruce tops replace flowers in beds and pots with this unique Minnesota greenery and pair them with various boughs, dogwood stems, birch poles and dried flowers. The arrangements remain “planted” until spring arrives and flower season begins once again.
Beyond recreating more vibrant landscapes, the financial benefits of this specialty forest product are noteworthy. For the landscaper, decorating with spruce tops provides a late season option to bolster service revenues and enhance client relationships. For garden center buyers, spruce tops sales serve as a bridge between Halloween and Christmas. Commercial flower growers potting the tops for national retail chains not only benefit financially from the high margin product, but operations promote employment of valued workforces closer to year-end. Finally, spruce tops are a popular addition to fundraising efforts, which historically focused on decorative wreaths.
The Timonens harvest four spruce top sizes ranging from the increasingly popular window box/hanging basket bundle, to two and four foot bundles, and six foot-plus bundles for highly prominent displays. The family works with multiple public agencies and private landowners procuring access to the naturally occurring black spruce bogs. Because each site possesses unique conditions, significant investment in equipment has been made to ensure a highly reproducible process. To harvest spruce tops, the Timonens use their fleet of tracked machines, which include seven Bombardier J-5s, three Bombardier Muskeg Carriers, and two fabricated specialty hydrostatic machines. Distribution is supported by a growing base of 53 foot refrigerated semi-trailers and two semi-tractors. In addition to having the right tools for the job, the family recognized early on it was critical to have redundancies embedded in the operation to ensure high volume needs were met during a compressed selling season.