12/2/2013 6:30 AM
By Marla Pisciotta West Virginia Correspondent
The aroma of a fresh-cut Christmas tree permeating through the house sets the mood for a wonderful holiday. Add the trimmings of glowing lights and decorations and the tree takes on a whole new life.
There are literally thousands of hardworking tree farmers who are instrumental in growing all kinds of trees.
Little Mountain Tree Farm is located in Hampshire County, W.Va. One can hear the giggles of children as they run in and out of rows of different kinds of trees looking for that special one. And there are plenty of trees to choose from at Little Mountain.
Owner Phil Wygal began his tree farm by planting 1,000 Douglas fir trees in 1982.
“Douglas fir is an easy tree to grow. They have a good survival rate,” Wygal said.
Wygal also grows Canaan fir and Meyer spruce.
“A real Christmas tree has an environmental impact. Growing it keeps the air clean and it’s a benefit to wildlife,” Wygal said. “You can see a deer and a fawn standing beside a real tree, a rabbit’s nest under it and a bird’s nest in the limbs.”
Wygal said you can’t see that in an artificial tree.
Retired from the Forestry Department, Wygal has a great deal of education on growing trees.
He definitely promotes recycling of cut trees.
“Even the Division of Natural Resources is using the trees to make fisheries habitats. They sink the whole tree in ponds and weight them down with cinder blocks,” he said.
Arnold Spitzen has a 108-acre Christmas tree farm in Jefferson County, W.Va.
“I’ve been growing Christmas trees since 1979. Currently I am reduced to a few acres of Blue Spruce,” Spitzen said. “Growing Christmas trees has been an iffy proposition with weather, disease and customer preferences. Regardless, I’d do it all over again.”
Spitzen said the greatest pleasure has come from giving happy memories to so many families over the years that have come to his farm and to select their perfect Christmas tree.
Just across the West Virginia state line is Clouse’s Pine Hill Farm in Winchester, Va.
Owner Roberta Clouse said she’s been in the business since 1977.
“We purchased our chose-and-cut 133-acre choose-and-cut farm in 1985,” Clouse said.
Clouse said 2,000 trees were planted the first year. Additional leased property would withstand another 20,000 white and Scotch pine trees.
Now retired, Clouse said the tree farm is a full-time job for the family — her husband Ronald and their two sons.
“I just love it when kids come to choose a tree. They are out in the wide open spaces and just run lose,” she said. “A couple years ago we had 4 inches of snow. I was standing in the sales office looking down at the kids laying down and making snow angels. What a heartwarming experience.”
Most Christmas tree farmers make wreaths from the trimmings of trees and strings of garland for decorations. Many farmers are also growing trees called “grow bag,” which are grown in burlap and are used for re-planting after the holidays.
According to the most recent Ag Census, there are 173 Christmas tree farms in West Virginia covering 2,260 acres.
Spitzen said most are family farms with as little as two acres and up to 300 acres or more.
Tree growing is considered a minor commodity in West Virginia, according to the state Agriculture Department.
Pennsylvania ranks second in the nation in the number of Christmas tree farms and fourth in the number of trees cut each year. More 1,200 farms covering 35,000 acres produce nearly 1.2 million cut trees annually.
In neighboring Maryland, the tree association currently has approximately 100 members. The primary species of Christmas trees grown in Maryland are Scotch pine, white pine, Blue Spruce, Douglas fir and Fraser fir.
Top selling Christmas trees in Virginia are Balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, Noble fir, Scotch pine and Virginia pines.
Narrowing down the economic impact of the Christmas tree industry is difficult. Agriculture departments add Christmas tree production in with other forestry products, such as logging.
Generally, trees begin to sell after Thanksgiving.
However, one tree farmer said he sold his first tree in mid-November. He said the family was decking out the house so the visiting family could enjoy Christmas when they came for Thanksgiving dinner.
Here are some tips for taking care of cut trees:
Store the tree in a cool place until ready to decorate.
Make sure the stand is the correct size and holds at least 1 gallon of water.
Cut a thin slice off the base of the trunk before putting in the stand. This helps the tree take up the water.
Put the tree in a stand or container with plenty of water as soon as possible after getting it home.
Keep the tree away from heat.
Check the water level every day and more often the first few days. The tree will take up a lot of water the first few days.
Carefully check light strings for signs of wear before using them to decorate the tree. Miniature lights won’t dry the tree out like big ones.
Never leave the Christmas tree lights on when you leave the house.
Don’t burn the tree in your fireplace or wood stove.
Recycle the tree after Christmas.