With less than a month to go, Mississippi’s Christmas tree growers are counting down the days to what may shape up as a great year.
The trees mature enough for sale have good color and have filled out nicely, despite periods of dry weather statewide and too much rain in some areas of the state. Most species of Christmas trees grown in Mississippi take five years to mature, which makes one-fifth of a grower’s crop marketable each year if new seedlings are planted after the holiday season.
"The drought did not adversely affect the older trees that will be sold this year," said Mississippi State University Extension Service forestry specialist John Kushla of the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center. "The extreme heat and lack of rain did kill some seedlings planted this year, and some growers reported they lost 20 percent of those seedlings."
Although growers will replant the seedlings, the state could experience a shortage of Christmas trees four years from now, he said.
Mississippi has about two dozen choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms, said Michael May, executive secretary of the Southern Christmas Tree Association. May’s Lazy Acres farm is located in Chunky, and two of the more popular varieties he sells are the Leyland cypress and the Carolina blue sapphire.
"Most farms plant one or several of these varieties: blue ice, Leyland cypress, Virginia pine, Carolina blue sapphire or eastern red cedar," May said. "Growers have indicated to me that their crop looks very good this year."
Robert Foster, manager of Cedar Hill Farm in Hernando, will offer precut Fraser fir trees from North Carolina, along with the typical choose-and-cut varieties the farm features.
"There are people who like the look and smell of a live fir," he said. "Our farm-grown trees will be hard to pass up, though, because they are looking good."
Many growers say their customers like Leyland cypress because of its dark green color and resistance to shedding. Leyland cypress, like many varieties of Christmas trees, requires twice-daily watering to retain its good looks.
"Leyland cypress is just a wonderful tree to have in the house if people will take the time to water it in the morning and in the evening," said Norma Doles, co-owner of Merry Christmas Tree Farm in Nesbit, 30 miles from Memphis.
Terry Pigott, owner of Christmas Memories Tree Farm in Magnolia, said he sees a steady stream of customers from New Orleans.
"I’m just 100 miles from New Orleans, so it is not unusual to have customers from Louisiana as well as my regular customers in south Mississippi come buy a tree," he said.
Pigott said he thinks many families are returning to the familiar tradition of cutting a tree because of the excitement in visiting a farm and choosing a tree.
"Going to a Christmas tree farm is a family event," he said. "Everybody is involved and takes a turn with the saw and gets a little exercise dragging the tree so we can wrap it for them."