Fir trees going fast

December 09, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

Christmas tree buyers should shop now, especially if they want a fir.

That's the advice choose-and-cut farmers have after a late frost last April affected the fir crop for some local farmers and farmers farther south who sell precut trees to area groups.

For the most part, there should be plenty of trees that are fresher than last year's crop, according to farmers and Washington County Agricultural Extension Agent Don Schwartz.

The late moisture this fall left mature trees lush, said Gary Cline, owner of South Mountain Plantation on Clevelandtown Road.

Last year, the lingering drought often left trees with needles dried and ready to drop, Schwartz said.

This year, the drought was harder on the seedlings, Cline said. The drought pounded his seedlings so much Cline said he will have to replace about half of them.


Half of the seedlings he lost could have been saved if the late rains this fall had arrived a couple of weeks earlier, Cline said.

The drought didn't affect more mature trees as much, but some farmers suffered losses from last spring's late frost.

Danny Blickenstaff, who co-owns Mount Hope Farms west of Hagerstown, said many of his Douglas firs and white firs grown in McConnellsburg, Pa., looked "like somebody burned them with a torch."

"The crop available for this year is kind of wiped out. I'll be lucky to get 20 percent of the trees," Blickenstaff said.

The rest of Blickenstaff's Christmas trees did pretty well, he said. That includes Scotch pines, white pines and Fraser firs.

North Carolina's Fraser fir crop took a hit from the late frost last spring, affecting groups that buy and sell that state's precut trees, farming officials said.

Last week, Cline said he'd sold three-quarters of his Fraser fir crop.

"Every hour we're open they're disappearing," Cline said. "If they want Fraser, get out early. It's going to be a real commodity."

Schwartz said last week's snow may drive some consumers to precut lots because they don't want to trudge through the snow to cut down a tree.

Cline and Blickenstaff said consumers may see higher tree prices at some farms and precut lots this year because the frost knocked out so many trees in North Carolina and Virginia.

Lee Greiner said his trees at Ridgefield Farm and Orchard between Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Halltown, W.Va. were protected by a wind machine he uses to keep the orchard and nearby trees warm when it frosts.

Fog protected Mehrl Mayne's Douglas firs and Fraser firs from frost, the Frederick County tree farmer said.

When Mayne irrigates his nearby strawberries and frost arrives, the steam rising from the irrigation creates a blanket of fog and frost protection for his trees.

Cline's farm was protected because it's on a hillside. Frost tends to settle in low-lying pockets because it flows downhill like water, Cline said.

Darius Kesecker said the frost didn't burn his trees at the DeHaven Christmas Tree Farm west of Hedgesville, W.Va., but it did stop their growth. Kesecker said he expects his tree crop to be much better next year.

The mixed conditions led to different crop results, so Schwartz said consumers should call their local choose-and-cut farm before heading out to see what kind of selection is available.

With the freezing temperatures it's important to get the tree in the house quicker than most people usually do, Schwartz said. Instead of leaving it on the porch for a week, bring it in immediately, he said. If the tree is left outside too long, the capillaries on the end of the trunk will freeze shut.

If it's a precut tree, be sure to cut a few inches off the trunk so the water can reach live capillaries, Schwartz said.

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