by Crissy Neville | Photography by Diana Matthews
North Carolina — the Tarheel State, First in Flight, North Cackalacky; all refer to this land we love, but missing from the list is the moniker more in sync with the season: Christmas tree capital. Not the capital, mind you, butas first runner-up, North Carolina is the second-largest producer of Christmas trees in the nation and proudly hangs its hat on this title for the love of agriculture, tourism, family traditions, and all things Christmas. And what outing more combines these favored sons of our state than one to choose-and-cut your own Christmas tree at a North Carolina Christmas tree farm?
Just after Thanksgiving each year, barely before the turkey and dressing or the final football scores have settled, families begin the traditional trek to the attic for the holiday decorations and to town for the tree. While some make a short trip to a road-side stand for a pre-cut real tree or a local retailer for one of the artificial assortment, more and more people choose to pilgrimage to a Christmas tree farm for the experience just as much as the purchase.
The scene could be one from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Everyone bundles up in warm winter clothes and hits the road in the family car or truck for some farm fun, a thermos of hot cocoa or coffee in tow. The Christmas carols that have been playing since nearly the first of fall are suddenly tuned in and turned up on the radio. While in search of this year’s perfect evergreen edition, you roam row after row of fragrant white pine, Frasier Fir, and Leyland Cypress to name a few of the most popular cultivars. The sight is familiar: small heads stretching upward to see the treetop, dad getting tangled up with badly behaving branches, and mom sizing-up the specimen. Mom’s “is that spine straight” inquiry countered by pop’s pondering of the tree’s strength and stamina: “Will this baby hold an ornament? And, how am I going to get this giant in the house?” The kids want big, beautiful, and a blazing fire back home.
Banter and bartering follow, but once the conifer is chosen, measured, complimented or argued over, and this year’s perfect photo preserved, along come the larger-than-usual farm “elves” to bind and tether the tree to said transportation. Now the fun begins. Depending on the location, according to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, tourism division, Christmas tree farms entertain their guests, too. Hop on to take a train or hayride, covered wagon tour or horse-drawn sleigh spin around the tree grove, visit with Santa, drink hot cider or cocoa, roast a marshmallow or eat a meal, hear a story, choose decor to deck the halls back home, buy candy at the gift shop, see lavish light displays, and even stay the night or weekend at one of the many farms offering accommodations and Christmas tree getaways. The experience is a memory in the making, every time. And more than likely, the trophy tree is a Fraser fir. Over 50 million Fraser firs are grown in North Carolina, representing over 94% of all the trees grown as Christmas trees in our state. Known for their cone shape, sturdy branches, high needle retention and long-lasting aroma, the Fraser Fir did not always strike the Christmas chord. First known as a landscape tree, it was not until the 1950s did North Carolina experiment with the Fraser as a holiday tree variety, or any tree farms for that matter. People in the past, up until the 1940s and 50s, cut trees down from the woods, mostly from the cedar family. Christmas tree farmers started with Scotch pine, balsam fir, Douglas fir, and red cedar and soon turned to Frasers after seeing the success of sales from a federal forest on Asheville’s Roan Mountain.
If you are going on a road-trip for farm fun reverie, you will find the most choice in our state’s top five tree-producing counties: Ashe, Avery, Alleghany and Watauga in the High Country and Jackson County in the Great Smoky Mountains. The North Carolina Christmas Tree Association provides a list of some 40 growers in the choose-and-cut category, including those in the town of Newland in Avery County, home to Mountain Top Fraser Fir Farm, and the 2018 official White House Christmas tree. Ashe County has a claim to fame, too, having provided the official White House tree a record seven times. North Carolina Fraser Firs have delivered in this department 13 times, the most from any state and of any tree species. The 2019 White House tree, however, is a Douglas Fir out of Pittman, Pennsylvania. Plan your tree-finding trip at http://www.ncchristmastrees.com/.
In addition to commercial growth, Christmas tree varieties grow naturally in the North Carolina mountains, but all of the trees grown east of the mountains are on choose-and-cut farms. The Fraser fir grows naturally only in the southern Appalachians, above 3,000 feet. The cool temperatures and plentiful rainfall of the North Carolina High Country are what causes the Fraser fir to keep its needles throughout the Christmas season. Frasers do not grow well in eastern North Carolina, so farmers here grow Leyland Cypress, Blue Ice, Carolina Sapphire, Eastern Red Cedar, white pine, Norway Spruce, Virginia pine, Scotch pine, and the white cedar cultivar Green Giant Arborvitae instead, and buy Frasers from mountain growers to resell. Search for eastern North Carolina Christmas tree farms at http://www.nc-chooseandcut.com/ or https://ncfarmfresh.com.
Ready to find the perfect tree? Below is a partial list of nearby choose-and-cut tree farms, but be sure to research further-away options. Always call before heading out. For details, visit http://www.pickyourownchristmastree.org/.
Doby Christmas Tree Farm
150 Doby Road, Cameron
1823 Broadway Road, Sanford
The Tree Patch
1746 Henley Road, Sanford
B & D Christmas Tree Farm
1206 Elliott Farm Road, Fayetteville
Jordan Lake Christmas Tree Farm
2170 Martha’s Chapel Road, Apex
Northlake Christmas Tree Farm
7326 Meadowcreek Road, Benson
Once you get the tree home, remember these tips for safety and the preservation of your tree.
- Keep displayed trees away from point sources of heat such as fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, or in direct sunlight.
- Keep the stand full of water at all times. Lowering the room temperature will slow drying, resulting in less water consumption.
- Keep pets away from the tree and use only UL-approved lights, electrical cords, and devices on trees.
- Check electrical cords and lights for damage before placement on the tree.
- Avoid using artificial snow sprays, to which some people are allergic and may cause lung irritation if inhaled.
- Turn off tree lightswhen you go to bed or leave the house.
- Recycle your tree when the season is over by taking it to a drop-off recycling center: Most counties have free drop-off locations. For yard waste pickup, be sure to cut the tree up into smaller pieces.
Convinced? Have fun this season in what might become a new family tradition – selecting a choose-and-cut fresh Christmas tree.