For many years, most of the commercial Christmas trees sold in West Virginia came from Maine or Canada, but that changed following World War II when the Christmas tree industry began shifting southward. Since then, West Virginia Christmas tree growers, retailers, and brokers have turned tree farming into a sizable business. More than 300 Christmas tree farms operated in the Mountain State in the 1990s with yearly sales approaching $2.5 million. According to the 2002 U.S. Department of Agriculture census, by 1997 the number of tree farms had dropped to 239 and tree sales totaled $2.2 million. In 2007, 173 farms produced trees valued at $935,000.
The Christmas tree season begins early in the year when thousands of seedlings go into the ground. It can take up to 10 years to grow a harvestable tree, six to nine feet tall. Insect control, weeding, and mowing are year-round activities. The summer months are set aside for shearing and shaping the trees, and in early fall some trees receive artificial coloring to make them more appealing to the eye. Many Christmas tree farmers bring their trees to retail sales lots or farmers markets in towns and cities during the holidays, or sell their trees to retailers, but ‘‘choose and cut’’ farms also represent a sizable part of the Christmas tree industry.
Scotch pine and white pine are the most popular trees, but farmers also grow more expensive varieties such as Norway and blue spruces and Fraser and Douglas firs. In recent years, a Canaan balsam fir has been added to West Virginia tree farms. The seed, originally collected as a wild specimen in Canaan Valley, can be grown in a wide range of sites. Tree farmers are banded together in the West Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association.
This Article was written by Deborah J. Sonis