Volume 12, Issue 50 ~ December 9 - December 15, 2004

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Bay Life

Oh, Tannenbaum! Oh, Tannenbaum!
Local Farms Are Growing Your Perfect Christmas Tree
by Carrie Steele

Our National Christmas Tree, a red spruce from a Virginia national forest, arrived by flatbed truck in D.C. last week with fanfare. Though your Christmas tree won’t be a giant like the 5,500-pound 70-footer in the Capitol’s west lawn, you too can cut a tree locally — perhaps even closer by than you think — for your home.

To find a tree that suits your tastes you can choose from a variety of species, says Cindy Stacy of the Maryland Christmas Tree Association, who’s grown trees on her farm in Western Maryland since 1970.

Fraiser and Douglas firs are traditional Christmas trees with shorter, not-so-prickly needles and piney fragrance. Fraisers have larger spaces between branches, good for hanging ornaments; Douglas firs have branches just a little tighter together.

White pines bear long, soft needles, but their softer, pliable branches make this evergreen sometimes hard to decorate. Red and Austrian pine have long needles but stiffer branches.

Scotch pine — the country’s favorite Christmas tree, according to the National Christmas Tree Association — bears medium-length needles. Watch your hands: This classic arms itself with prickly needles.

Blue spruces may also prick bare hands, but people love the classic, layered look with plenty of room to decorate. Get these trees closer to Christmas: They only last in the home for two to three weeks before they shed needles.

As you’re tree-hunting, the Maryland Christmas Tree Association offers some tree-finding pointers to help you navigate through mini-forests: Trees full of moisture will last longer. Needles from moist trees will bend in your fingers, not snap. To help retain that moisture, cut an inch off the trunk before submerging in warm water and then keep it in cold or room-temperature water the rest of its stay.

“Watering the tree is critical to keeping it fresh,” Stacy says. “It could last a couple months when watered.”
Water, in the form of high rainfall, has made this a good growing year, according to the Maryland Christmas Tree Association’s president Danny Blickenstaff.

That’s good news for the 3,200 acres of Christmas trees growing in Maryland, as calculated by Maryland Department of Agriculture’s latest census in 2002. Growing these trees, which take six or seven years to reach harvest size, are 263 farms. Of these growers, 188 farms harvested trees in 2002, when 99,000 trees were cut for the Yuletide, according to Maryland Department of Agriculture.

“Ninety-eight percent of bought trees are grown on farms these days,” Stacy says. “There’s not many grown wild, unless they come from Canada.”

Most Christmas tree farms invite you — and a sturdy saw — to browse and buy. Earlier this fall, you may have picked your own pumpkin. Now tradition calls for tromping through the tree field, surrounded by feathery evergreens and becoming reacquainted with the chilly air of December.

Traditions aside, there are a forest-full of reasons to buy a local tree. You can boast a certain pride by displaying a local tree in your home. Your support of local farmers keeps money in the community. Thus farms stay in business, and new ones sprout to meet opportunity.

“Christmas is about helping your neighboring farmer,” said Christine Bergmark, director of Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission.

Ecologically, tree farms do us good, as well, holding soil in place and preventing erosion.

“These trees can grow in cruddy, rocky land where other things won’t grow,” Stacy says. Christmas trees are a surprisingly stable crop; they grow for years before you cut them down; then new trees are replanted. While they’re growing, they also create habitat for wildlife. That’s native wildlife; buying local also helps prevent accidentally transporting invasive insect species into our communities.

After New Year’s, your tree can still be ecologically sound. Recycle it for mulch and compost with your county.

Buying local is practical, too: fresh trees are more moist than trees that have trekked hundreds or thousands of miles, costing fuel for transportation all along the way.

If you don’t choose a Maryland tree, Pennsylvania is likely your default choice, as our neighbor to the north is the biggest Christmas tree producer in the country. Most of our imported trees come from there, but surrounding states also ship in trees. Home Depot gets its trees from as close as Virginia and from as far away as Canada.

If you do buy a pre-cut tree, take caution.

“People should ask when was the tree cut and where it’s from,” Stacy advises. “Some trees out of Canada were cut in September.”

When you buy a tree from a local farm, you know you’re getting it fresh. That fresh tree should last longer, so you can keep your evergreen up past New Year’s and enjoy it into the new year.

Nancy and Roger Lavoie of Evergreen Acres specialize in home-grown Christmas trees.

Tree Farms
Dent Creek Farm: A variety of firs, pine and spruce. Bring a saw. noon-5pm Su @ 1266 Deep Cove Rd., Churchton (Anne Arundel County): 410-867-2438.

Evergreen Acres: Scotch, White pines, Fraser & Douglas firs and spruce, plus other items. Noon-dusk until Dec. 19. Off Queentree Rd. From Rt. 235 south between Mechanicsville and Hollywood, turn left onto Oakville Rd. to Queentree Rd., Mechanicsville (St. Mary’s County): 301-862-1597.

Friendship Forest: Scotch, Austrian and white pine; white, Norway and blue spruce; Fraizer fir. 9am-4pm SaSu @ Friendship Forest; from Rt. 235 turn onto Friendship School Rd. in Oakville, turn right onto Friendship Ct., Mechanicsville (St. Mary’s County): 301-373-8184.

Friendship Trees: Firs, spruce and pine trees plus roping and wreaths. 1-4:30pm daily; weekends 9am-4:30pm @ 6950 Rt. 2, between Friendship and Owings (Anne Arundel County): 410-741-5712.

Hill Top Farm: Long-needled white pines and Douglas firs. noon-4:30pm WThF; 9am-4:30pm SaSu @ Rt. 4 to Lower Pindell Rd. to stop sign, Lothian (Anne Arundel County): 301-855-8431.

Mas-Que Christmas Trees: 9am-4pm SaSu @ Forest Drive east, right onto Spa Rd., right onto Masque Farm Rd., Annapolis: 410-224-4233.

Nicholson Tree Farms: Cut your own Douglas firs, or take home a pre-cut Fraiser fir from their West Virginia farm. 9am-dark weekdays; 8am-dark weekends @ Nicholson Tree Farms, Rt. 258 to Little Rd., Bristol (Anne Arundel County):

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