Homegrown | N.C. Christmas Trees: The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Homegrown | N.C. Christmas Trees: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

The weather is great. It’s perfect for Christmas tree harvest. Nice chilly morning, overcast a little bit,
and we’ve been getting rain about once a week, so couldn’t ask for a better harvest season
for the North Carolina Christmas tree industry. There are about 40,000 acres of Christmas
trees grown in North Carolina, most of that in the mountains. However, we also have choose and cut farms
across the entire state and the choose and cut growers will grow Frasier Fir in the mountains. But as you move into the Piedmont and coastal
plain, we see a different Christmas tree farm where they grow other species like Leyland
Cypress, white pine, Virginia pine, eastern red Cedar, and a couple of varieties of Arizona
Cypress, like Blue Ice or Carolina Sapphire. Another species they grow is Green Giant Arborvitae
and those species don’t have the same shipping characteristics as a Frasier Fir, but they
still make a really nice tree and they allow folks in that part of the state to still go
out to a farm and cut a fresh Christmas tree to have for Christmas. This is where we bring the trees in from the
field to our holding yard. This is where we bring tractor and trailers
in and we reload the trees based on the size that the customer’s looking for. The trees that we raise are probably about
95% Frasier Fir. We do a few other varieties of spruces and
also white pine, but the Cadillac of Christmas trees is Frasier Fir, they held their needles
better than anything, so that’s what 95% of our production is. This is a slow process. Typically a Frasier Fir seedling will be in
a bed for three years and then it’s moved to a different location in a transplant bed
and it’s there for two years. So the Frasier Fir plant is already five years
old when the grower takes it to the field, and Frasier Fir will generally be in a Christmas
tree field for six to 10 years, depending on the size it’s harvested. That tree is fertilized every year. The weeds have to be managed to protect the
lower branches and foliage. Pests need to be managed from the time it’s
a seedling, all the way to the time it’s harvested. One of my favorite things to do working with
Christmas tree growers is seeing them grow beautiful trees. So my position is integrated pest management,
program assistant. What that means is I help tree growers scout
for insects, and a lot of these insects are so tiny, we have to use microscopic lenses
to see them. My job is to go help them find them, and then
help them know whether to treat or sometimes whether to not treat. So that’s the beauty of integrated pest management,
is we don’t just go out and basically have a shotgun approach at insects. We have a target insect and then we go after
that particular insect. NC State Extension has a very long standing
extensive role with the Christmas tree industry. It involves not just county agents and technicians
working with the growers on a county level, but also folks like myself that do Extension
programs across the region and conduct applied research. We also have a team of researchers on campus,
and I think the Christmas tree team at NC State has really been an exemplary group of
folks that have achieved a lot of success working with the farmers as essentially a
partner, moving the industry forward.

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