Thanks to impressive live Christmas tree sales last year, customers seeking the best Christmas trees may need to buy early this year.
Stephen Dicke, Mississippi State University Extension Service professor, said Christmas tree farms experienced a 15 percent increase in sales in 2012 and expect an additional 7 percent increase in this year's sales.
"The inventory of Christmas trees will be tight because sales last year were so good that producers had to sell part of this year's crop," Dicke said. "The best-looking trees are going to go faster than usual, so waiting to purchase a Christmas tree until the last minute is not recommended."
Dicke said many Mississippians are trying to return to traditional Christmas celebrations, which include live Christmas trees. He said producers are trying to meet this increase in demand, but because it takes about four years to grow a Christmas tree, they are struggling to respond quickly enough.
"Producers are trying to shorten rotations and plant more trees, but it's going to take a while to catch up to the demand because of growth time," he said. "Christmas tree sales aren't hurt by the economy because even when people stay home, they are going to buy a tree."
Dicke said most Mississippi Christmas tree growers open the Friday after Thanksgiving and will sell out the week before Christmas. Dicke said some growers will allow early pre-tagging for customers who want a special size or type of tree.
"The average customer is looking for a 7-foot tall tree that is 5 to 6 feet wide, but not everyone is average," Dicke said. "Therefore, most Christmas tree producers provide both larger and smaller trees, ranging from 5 to 10 feet tall, to fit the needs of the customer."
Dicke said allergies can affect which trees people should buy. Customers with special tree requirements should purchase their trees early to ensure availability.
"Leyland cypress and related hybrids have very little smell and are a favorite for customers with sensitivities," Dicke said.
Bob Shearer of Purvis, produces Christmas trees on 2.5 acres in Lamar County, and his Leighton Green Cypress tree won grand champion for the three-state Southern Christmas Tree Association in 2013. Shearer said the weather cooperated to help this year's tree crop succeed, which is crucial because the increase in demand makes every tree count.
"We had adequate rain when we needed it, but we had enough time between rainfall for fungicide applications to make sure we got disease-free trees," Shearer said. "It has really been one of our best years in regards to weather."
Shearer said the Christmas spirit can be hard to find while working on the trees year-round, especially in summer heat. He said the hard work pays off, though, when he sees the impact his trees have on others' Christmas season.
"What makes it worthwhile is when we have groups of children with special needs from local schools come out and choose a tree for their classroom," he said. "Some of them are in wheelchairs or on crutches and some have mental disabilities, and it tugs at my heartstrings because I can tell they are going to face a lot of challenges in life. But they light up like it's Christmas day when they see the Christmas trees, and that's kind of the high point of my whole season."
Christmas tree farm tree prices vary based on the size of the tree, but expect to pay between $5 and $8 per foot.