SANFORD, N.C.–Most people aren’t thinking about Christmas trees at this time of the year, but Christmas tree producers work year round to ensure a good supply of quality trees at the end of each year, without much of a break, as planting new trees begins in early spring and management is ongoing after that. The North Carolina Christmas tree industry is ranked second in the nation, coming in behind Oregon. Growing Christmas trees is economically important but challenging to many dedicated NC agriculture operations. After all, they invest land, equipment, and labor into a project that will take at least six years before they see any return.
Many consumers don’t recognize that it takes more than putting the trees in the ground, then coming back a few years later to harvest them and send them to market. The more unpleasant reality is that producing the perfect, cone-shaped trees that consumers demand requires hard work almost every month of the year. Pruning, sometimes referred to as shearing or shaping, is critical to producing quality Christmas trees. To a large extent, it’s the shape of the tree that determines whether or not it will be sold in December. Most trees will be saleable grade only through pruning and shearing. Pretty much every tree must be pruned to some degree from mid-June to mid-July every year until it is harvested. Although some large commercial growers use gasoline-powered shears, which cut the tree branches in a straight line, most growers prefer shaping the trees by hand to achieve a more natural look.
In fact, much of the normal cultural work, such as irrigation, mowing, shearing, weed and insect pest control, must be done within the growing season, and frequently when the weather is hot or disagreeable. Actually, working on a Christmas tree farm in the summer is hot, dirty, buggy work. In contrast, time and energy dedicated to harvesting and marketing is in late autumn or early winter, sometimes in bitterly cold weather. It’s a lot of work for a once-per-year sales window.
While the popular Fraser Firs are grown in the Western part of our state, there are many varieties of Christmas trees grown here in Eastern NC. Green Giant Arborvitae, Virginia Pine, White Pine, Eastern Red Cedar, Leyland Cypress, Carolina Sapphire Arizona Cypress just to name a few. To find a local grower near you, visit the Eastern NC Christmas Tree Growers Association.
When Christmastime rolls around this year, think back on all the care and effort that took place every day over the past six years to produce that beautiful tree for your family to enjoy over the holidays.
Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.
Minda Daughtry, Lee County Center