This year, both me and my Christmas tree will be drinking more — Water, that is
Western North Carolina has experienced extreme drought conditions for several months and many wildfires are burning in the mountains. So as we move from singing ‘Smoke gets in your eyes’ to’ ‘Santa Clause is coming to town,’ you may be asking yourself — “What’s happening to all our Christmas trees?”
First, to date, no wildfires are burning close to WNC’s Christmas tree farms. And, second — gratefully, the drought has had little effect on the quality of trees for sale.
According to local growers, Christmas trees are growing slower this year, but thankfully, they are extremely drought tolerant.
That’s because the predominant species of Christmas tree grown throughout the Appalachian Mountains and the Southeastern United States is the Fraser fir.
Did you know? — The ‘F’ in Fraser fir is capitalized because this picture-perfect species of evergreen conifer is named after John Fraser, the Scottish botanist credited for introducing the species to our region.
The Fraser fir is ‘near perfect’ as a Christmas tree.
In addition to the natural drought tolerance, the Fraser fir is much preferred because of its mild fragrance, Christmas tree-like shape, sturdy limbs and soft needles — You know, the ‘friendlier’ needles that don’t bite you when hanging ornaments.
For all those reasons, the Frazer fir (which is the official Christmas tree of North Carolina) has been the White House Christmas tree more times than any other variety.
All of the Christmas tree growers in WNC are raising Fraser firs, and despite the drought conditions, the farms have beautiful trees for sale.
Bill Skelton, executive director of Haywood County Cooperative Extension, points out that our area had rain earlier in the year which has sustained the large trees.
“Regardless of whether you purchase a pre-cut or choose-n-cut tree, make a fresh cut to the bottom of the tree and hydrate it overnight or longer in a large bucket of water, before bringing the tree indoor,” Skelton said.
Skelton also noted, “As dry as it is outside, it is even dryer inside your house.” — This is, even more, reason to make sure your Christmas tree is watered.
According to Mary Mehaffey, of Waynesville’s Mehaffey Tree Farm, they have lost more trees than usual this year because of the drought. The farm’s electronic rain gauge has measured a scant two inches of rain since April. Their trees still look happy and healthy, but she is recommending all customers, “Keep your tree watered at all times.”
Don Nesbitt of Nesbitt Christmas Tree Farm in Clyde, says that his trees are also looking fine, “But we are in uncharted territory, here.”
With more than a 10-inch rain deficit, he is holding off cutting pre-cut trees as long as possible.
“The trees are going to suck up water very quickly, so it’s important to make a fresh base cut on your tree once you get it home,” said Nesbitt. “Otherwise the natural sap layer that forms at the cut will block the tree from taking in water.”
Mike Medford of Dutch Cove Christmas Tree Farm in Canton said, “The mature trees are fine. It’s the small ones we’re worried about. Their root systems are not as well established.”
“The important thing is to make sure your tree is taking up water,” said Medford. “Make a fresh cut, drill holes — do whatever it takes.”
Another tip from Medford is to pull on the trees needles of your Christmas tree daily to check for freshness.
“If they (the needles) are dry or brittle, you need to give that tree a drink,” he said.
Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm spokesman (and founding member of Balsam Range) Darren Nicholson said, “The Fraser fir is the Cadillac of Christmas trees because it is so resilient to a lot of these conditions.”
“The only trees affected are the small ones, and no one wants a small one, ” Nicholson added.
Most importantly, Nicholson said, “Once you cut the tree, it will drink and it'll probably be drinking a lot."
So there you have it, Haywood County’s Fraser firs are alive and well, though parched. I’m feeling a little parched myself, so I’m off to a craft brewery. Cheers, and happy Christmas preparations.
Here’s a round-up of Haywood County Christmas tree farms:
• Dutch Cove Christmas Tree Farm
280 Setzer Dr.
• Nesbitt Christmas Tree Farm
333 Sunset Ridge
828-400-2244 or 828-421-5242
• Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm
445 Boyd Farm Rd.
• Mehaffey Tree Farm
24 Corner Dr.
• Smoky Mountain Christmas Tree Farm
756 Hemphill Rd.
• WNC Landscaping & Christmas Trees
557 Hemphill Rd.