Cut your own Christmas Tree

By Julie Reardon

Cut your own Christmas Tree

You may notice the cost of a live Christmas tree is a little higher this year. Fewer lots are open for business, and those that are open, have a smaller and pricier selection than in years past. That’s because we’re experiencing a shortage of available trees. This is partly due to severe weather and flooding in some of the major supplier areas of Ga., S.C. and N.C. in the past two years, but it began before that, according to one Christmas tree farm owner in the mountains of western N.C.

Billy Edwards has been growing Christmas trees for over 40 years, and he believes you have to go back further than the recent weather patterns to understand the shortage. “You have to go back 10 or 12 years,” he explained, to when the economic downturn started.  He explained that in the lean years, growers planted no seedlings. If growers had planted trees then, they would be ready now. “For the next five to 10 years there will be shortages,” Edwards said. It takes seven to 10 years for a seedling to grow tall enough to be a marketable 6 to 8 foot tree.

Even in our area, that largely escaped most of the severe weather, many of the “choose and cut” farms will not open this year due to low inventory.  Bill Wright, a retired teacher who has grown and sold Christmas trees on his small farm in Fauquier County for 25 years, said, “Oh, it’s been a terrible year. We lost a lot of trees that died because it was just too wet.”

Wright grows a variety of trees at his Arboria Farm near Marshall. He’s been experimenting for over 30 years with what does well in our area. He explained the three basic types of Christmas trees are pines, firs and spruce (he grows all three). “Pines have the long soft needles and the branches that tend to droop,” he said, adding that they hold their needles the longest. They’re also a fast growing tree that does well in our area. “Firs have short, soft needles, and they’ve become the most popular tree in the past 20 years,” he said, but added they are not natives and tend to be more labor intensive and take longer to grow to market size. “They’re finicky about getting their feet wet,” Wright added, saying root rot from the wet year we’ve had took a toll on them. The third variety is the spruce tree. These used to be everyone’s favorite Christmas tree and they do have a unique beauty but they have the short, prickly needles. “You definitely need gloves to handle them,” Wright said. “They are a very pretty tree, but they drop their needles faster than pines and firs.”  Two popular varieties are Norway and blue spruce; with the Norway variety growing well in our area.

There are several established Christmas tree farms where you can “choose and cut” your own tree in the Middleburg/Warrenton area this year. These farms, most open weekends until Christmas and by appointment, generally have a fairly good selection of trees but expect shortages and plan to go the first week of December; many will be sold out after the first week. Call or email first to check availability.

Arboria Farm, Marshall; has the biggest variety of pines, firs and spruces. It’s located just a few miles off I66 at 10699 Ada Rd., Marshall. Bill Wright says due to the small size of his tree plot, he’s usually sold out the first week of December, but he stays open weekends until inventory is gone. It’s best to call first at (540) 364-3166 or on his cell (coverage in area is sporadic) at (540) 270-8617.

Oak Shade Farm near Rixeyville (15 minutes west of Warrenton) has a good selection of pre-cut as well as choose and cut trees starting at $50. They are a family operation; in addition to the trees, they have a farm store. Different family members make jams and jellies and raise laying hens, sheep, pigs and rabbits bees and grow extensive market gardens. Other family members enjoy various arts and crafts, including oil painting, rug hooking, iron work, weaving and woodworking. Their products are displayed for sale in the farm store. Open Saturdays & Sundays 9-5; plus Wed., Thurs. and Fridays 1 to 5. oakshadefarm.net

Middleburg Christmas Tree Farm, located just outside Middleburg, is open weekends Thanksgiving until Christmas. Their trees start at about $85 for a 6 foot tree; add $10 a foot for larger ones. They provide saws, carts, binding for loading your tree and wreaths for sale. Middleburgxmastrees.com

Lowelands Farm, between Middleburg and Leesburg, has cut your own trees available weekends until Christmas. They also sell wreaths, roping and garlands, and their own herbed honeys and vinegars. LowelandsFarm.com for prices/availability.

Care of Fresh Cut Trees in the Home

Tree freshness is always a concern, as dried out trees present a fire hazard. A visit to a choose-and-cut farm and cutting your own tree is one way to assure freshness. Pre-cut trees on retail lots require a closer inspection. The foliage of a pre-cut tree should be flexible when the needle is bent. And when the tree is shaken, very few needles should drop.

As soon as you get the tree home, make a fresh straight ¼-inch cut across the base of the trunk and place it in a bucket of water. Use a tree stand that will hold a gallon or more of water. A fresh tree may take up three or more quarts of water a day for the first few days after it’s placed in water.

Never place the tree near a source of heat and do not let the water level in the bowl drop below the base of the tree. Make sure light cords are in good working order and are turned off when you go to bed or leave the house. Courtesy of the Virginia Christmas Tree Association.

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