Extension@YourService: Christmas Trees: a Valued Holiday Tradition, and Economic Driver to NC

Christmas trees are one of the most visible symbols of the holiday season in the United States. The Fraser Fir is a popular tree variety used as a Christmas tree, with its wonderful smell and branches with short needles that make decorating easy. North Carolina growers produce over 20% of the Christmas trees grown in the United States, and NC is ranked second in the nation, behind Oregon, in Christmas tree production. Many years it is a stately North Carolina tree that is chosen for the honor of being the White House Christmas tree. It may take up to 12 years to grow a tree that is retail ready. Fraser firs aren’t the only tree species grown as Christmas trees in NC, however. White Pines, Leyland Cypress, and Red Cedar are also part of North Carolina’s Christmas tree industry.

 Many people consider the option of purchasing an artificial Christmas tree that can be used year after year, rather than buying a live one every year. The NC Christmas Tree Association encourages purchasing live trees, and offers some reasons why it is a better choice. A real tree is grown on a farm, and is a great example of “buy local”, as it directly supports a North Carolina farm family, and is a $250 million dollar industry in NC. Artificial Christmas trees are typically made in China or other far away country. A real tree is a “carbon sink” while in production, benefiting the environment by absorbing greenhouse gases, as well as producing oxygen. An artificial tree is made from non-renewable, petroleum based plastics. They are not bio-degradable, and the average life span of an artificial tree is 10 years or less, so they ultimately end up taking up space in a landfill. A real tree is recyclable. Most communities have tree recycling programs, where trees are ground up for mulch. Recycled live trees are also used in beach reclamation projects and sunk into area lakes and ponds, where they provide valuable habitat for fish. To ensure that your live Christmas tree stays as lush, beautiful, and safe as possible, always have plenty of water in the stand. It is difficult to re-hydrate a tree once it is allowed to run out of water, which causes the vascular tissues which carry the water throughout the tree to dry up and close. Of course, be sure to keep your tree away from heat vents, fireplaces, or other sources of heat that can dry up the tree and create a fire risk. Turn off lights at night and when leaving the house.

 Some people who want a real Christmas trees go a different route: purchasing a B&B tree that can be planted in the yard and enjoyed for years to come. B&B means “balled and burlapped”, which refers to the digging of the tree so that roots are contained and wrapped in burlap. B&B trees are typically smaller than a cut tree, as digging enough roots to enable a 6’ tree to survive make it difficult to transport. If you are interested in following this tradition, keep in mind a few tips to make it successful. If you live in the Sandhills, a Fraser fir, Norway, or Spruce tree will not perform well in the landscape – our summer temperatures are just too hot. Instead, choose an Eastern Red Cedar, a Leyland Cypress, Virginia Pine, or Arizona Cypress, which will do well if planted with care. Make sure the root ball does not dry out while the tree is inside and keep the time the tree spends indoors as short as possible, such as a week to 10 days. A live tree that spends from Thanksgiving to January 1 indoors will suffer shock when it is once again planted outside in winter temperatures. When it comes time to plant, dig a hole twice the width of the root ball and the same depth, and give the tree plenty of room to grow, as all of these species get to be quite large in the landscape.

 Whatever your holiday traditions, all the best from your friends at Richmond County Cooperative Extension!

Paige Burns is an Extension agent, Horticulture, with NC Cooperative Extension in Richmond County.  To contact Paige:  paige_burns@ncsu.edu or 910.997.8255.

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