Nov. 29--The numbers of Alabama-grown Christmas trees have
declined within the past decade. Still, there are about 80 Christmas
tree producers throughout the state, generating almost a $1 million
in annual sales.
Left: Russell County Christmas tree producer
Donald Dykes, second from left, presented Alabama Governor Don
Siegelman, left, with a 15-foot Leyland cypress Christmas tree
Wednesday, Nov. 8, on behalf of the Alabama Christmas Tree Growers.
This year, the tree will be displayed in the Alabama Capitol Rotunda
and decorated with ornaments from all of Alabama’s 67 counties.
The Lee County Extension Office plays an important role organizing
this annual event.
"Alabama’s Christmas trees will never compete
with the big producers up North or the mass markets, but Alabama
growers have carved out a small, but profitable niche in the
choose-and-cut market and offer a special alternative," says
Dr. Ken Tilt, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System horticulturist
who assists tree growers throughout the state.
About 95 percent of Alabama Christmas tree growers
operate choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms as part of an emerging
agricultural trend often described as "entertainment
farming." In fact, many producers have established
choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms in combination with other forms
of entertainment farming, such as u-pick vegetables, strawberries,
pumpkins and even daylilies, Tilt says.
"Farmers who remain in Christmas tree
production are all seasoned growers with skills to produce the
highest quality Southern trees," he says. "Most are still
involved in this hard work because they enjoy the Christmas season
and the people who flood their farms every year."
Tilt points out that many Alabama producers also
accommodate growers who still prefer Northern varieties, such as
firs, spruces and scotch pines.
"Many of our growers buy premium Northern trees
to offer customers, along with knowledgeable service to help them
pick the correct stand and load them in their cars," he says.
Leyland cypress remains the most popular Southern
Christmas tree, representing about 50 percent of total production.
Virginia pine is second, at between 30 and 40 percent, followed by
Arizona cypress, red cedar and white pine at about 10 percent. White
pines, however, are grown only in north Alabama.
Widely known as the "Southern Christmas
tree," Leyland cypress trees offer the advantages of freshness
and sparse needle shedding throughout the holiday season.
The Alabama Christmas tree industry’s biggest
competitor remains artificial trees or what Tilt jokingly describes
as "bah, humbug trees."
"These trees have a place, but they aren’t as
environmentally friendly as Alabama-grown trees," he says.
"The advantage of buying your tree from an Alabama farm is
choosing your own tree and knowing that you’re helping your local
One additional advantage is that live trees can be
recycled for mulch or used as fish habitats.
Another advantage associated with Alabama-grown
trees is the way they often evoke a Christmas spirit among buyers,
"Once you visit a choose-and-cut farm and catch
this Christmas spirit, you will have started a tradition with your
family, creating memories that will last a lifetime," he says.
In fact, this phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by
tree producers, who enhance this atmosphere with music, hot dogs and
To gain additional advantages over artificial trees,
Alabama producers also are experimenting with newer, innovative ways
to market their trees. Some farmers, for example, are offering
Leyland cypress trees in 15- and 20-gallon containers. Unlike
Northern tree species, these trees are well suited for planting in
the landscape after Christmas.
Tilts says container trees are a great option for
those who have room in their landscape for a large evergreens and
want to get the most for their money.
Handling is simple, Tilt says. Buyers need only drop
the containers in plastic trash bags while they are displayed in the
home to prevent water from spilling onto the floor.
"The 12- to 15-inch tall containers provide the
perfect place to crowd lots of presents around the tree or to use a
Christmas tree skirt," Tilt says. "Also, be sure to plant
it after about two weeks after purchase, so that it doesn’t become
too acclimated to the warm indoor temperatures."
If, on the other hand, you plan to cut your tree,
Tilt recommends cutting about 1 inch off the base before setting it
in water. That way, you ensure there is no dirt or debris on the
base that may prevent water uptake.
Despite repeated studies, there is no evidence that
amending with commercial products, hot water or other home remedies
enhances the tree’s ability to absorb the water. Therefore, plain,
cold tap water will do nicely, Tilt says.
One added advantage to Alabama-grown Southern
Christmas trees is that they are safe.
Research by Tilt shows that cut Leyland cypress and
Arizona cypress trees will stay fresh between Thanksgiving and
Christmas so long as they receive adequate water. In fact, his
research revealed the moisture content in both trees was actually
more than when the trees were placed in the tree stand a month
Burning tests over an open flame for 20 seconds
showed only charring in the trees that received sufficient amounts
of water during the 30-day period of the research.
(Source: Dr. Ken
Tilt, Extension horticulturist, 334-844-5484)