Christmas tree crop weathers drought

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By Greg Summers

When the members of Boy Scout Troop 180 headed out to Honeycutt's Tree Farm in West Jefferson, N.C., on Nov. 21, scoutmaster Larry Cauthen said he didn't know what to expect.

In light of this year's drought, Cauthen said he wasn't sure what kind of shape the Fraser fir trees that the troop sells at its Christmas tree lot would be in.

But what they found was a wide selection of mature, robust trees.

The key word, Cauthen said, is mature.

"The young trees had been hurt a lot," Cauthen said. "That means that a few years down the road, there could be a shortage in this area of the country. But, if the mature trees were hurt, you couldn't tell it."

According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, that state's Christmas tree harvest should top 5 million trees this year. The state ranks second nationally in overall Christmas tree production and first in Fraser fir production.

Since many growers didn't lose many mature trees, Cauthen said the price of Fraser firs stayed in line.

"There was a slight price increase in the cost of wreaths, but the price of trees are the same as they've been for about the last nine years.

Trees range from $40 up to $160, depending on the size.

Now in its 15th year, the Scouts in Troop 180 hold the sale to cover the cost of a 21-day high adventure trip they take every four years rather than hit their parents up for the money.

Each Scout is a salesman, hawking Christmas trees, wreaths and real garland at the lot, beside the Scout hut in the Elgin community, between Elgin Volunteer Fire Department and St. Luke United Methodist Church, on U.S. 521 South.

The Scouts get 100 percent of the commission for pre-selling trees and 50 percent for lot sales. The money is deposited into each Scout's account. With four years between each trip, Scouts have enough time to raise the money on their own.

The Scouts' Christmas tree lot is open weeknights from 5 to 8 p.m. through mid-December and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

"Right now, we've moved about half of our inventory and we hope this is going to be a busy weekend for us," Cauthen said. "The next two weekends will tell the tale."

Tips for choosing a Christmas tree

–Make sure the tree you choose will fit in your tree stand. If you aren't sure, take the stand with you when you pick out the tree. Make sure the base of the trunk is straight and 6 to 8 inches long so it can be placed in the tree stand.

–Remember most homes have 8-foot ceilings and can't handle trees much larger than 7 feet tall.

–Be sure to look at the trunk. If you can see splits in the trunk, the tree most likely has dried to a point where it will not take up water.

–Do a freshness test by holding a branch about 6 inches from the tip and pulling your hand toward the tip, allowing the branch to slip through your fingers. The needles should adhere to the branch and pop back into shape, not fall off into your hand.

–Tap the tree lightly on the ground. Green needles shouldn't fall out in number.

–If it smells good and looks good, buy it. Be careful of trees that have been sprayed green to improve their appearance.