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December 02, 2005

Christmas trees fresh, despite drought

photo of Fraser fir

North Carolina Christmas tree growers shipped a fresh crop of trees in 2005 despite a dry fall, said a tree expert at North Carolina State University.

The North Carolina mountains, where most of the state's trees are grown, were extremely dry from August until mid-November, says Jeff Owen, an area Christmas tree specialist with North Carolina Cooperative Extension. It had been expected that a tree moisture content survey conducted by N.C. State would indicate that trees were dryer this year than in 2004. But Owen said the survey of cut Fraser fir Christmas trees indicated more than 96 percent were fresh.

"This means families looking for the perfect North Carolina Fraser fir Christmas tree will have a wide selection of fresh, high-quality trees," Owen said.

Fresh Fraser fir Christmas trees have soft pliable branches and needles, and all the needles adhere to the stem when brushed. Fresh bark is smooth rather than wrinkled. A fresh tree will feel cool to the touch even on a warm day compared to a dry tree under the same conditions.

To preserve freshness in the home, Owen suggested that tree buyers always get their retailer to make a fresh cut off the bottom of the tree. This improves water uptake. Trees should be stored and displayed at home with the trunk in water, Owen added.

The freshness survey is one way the quality of this valuable crop is monitored. This year, foliage samples from 488 Christmas trees in storage yards were evaluated for moisture content. Foliage samples were collected the week before Thanksgiving as Christmas trees were being shipped from North Carolina farms. Moisture content is a measure of freshness and a cut tree's ability to rehydrate when displayed in water. Out of nearly 500 trees sampled, only two (0.4 percent) were dry and 16 (3.3 percent) somewhat dry.

Owen said growers did get rain before most trees were shipped, which benefited the entire crop. Yet trees stored before it rained contained almost as much water as those cut after the rain. In fact, the 2005 results are almost identical to survey results from 2004, a very wet harvest season.

Owen said the similarity between 2004 and 2005 survey data is a testament to the care North Carolina growers provide to a perishable crop of more than 4.5 million trees. During this year's dry harvest season, growers delayed cutting as long as possible. They managed cut trees more carefully to reduce exposure to sun and wind. Most growers cooled their trees off under natural shade or elaborate shade structures. Most irrigated their storage yards and trees to minimize moisture loss. Most North Carolina growers are going the extra mile to ensure fresh trees are shipped year after year regardless of the weather, Owen said.

Twenty-six Fraser fir growers in Avery, Alleghany, Ashe and Jackson counties participated in this year's survey, most of them for the third consecutive year. The Fraser fir freshness surveys conducted over the last three years have been a joint effort of College of Natural Resources faculty and county Cooperative Extension agents at N.C. State University and Fraser fir Christmas tree growers across the North Carolina mountains.

Along with the farm survey, retail Christmas tree lots in North Carolina and Florida are surveyed for freshness and care practices each year. It takes an industry-wide effort to ensure consumers have fresh, high quality trees from which to choose.

Posted by Natalie at December 2, 2005 02:25 PM