Louisiana Christmas tree farmers get into the season

But Pulliam’s preparations didn’t include cooking and cleaning for dinner guests. Instead, he was busy getting his Christmas tree farm near Zachary ready for the throngs of visitors who travel to the country to select the perfect Christmas tree after eating their turkey and dressing.

“Every year at this time about 100 Louisiana Christmas tree growers open their gates to families searching for a tree to decorate their home for the holidays,” says Bob Odom, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of agriculture and Forestry in Baton Rouge.

“There is no part of the state that is not within a 30-minute drive of a Christmas tree farm, and the farmers are reporting an abundance of healthy, fragrant trees this year.”

Trees that are available for sale this year were not affected by bad weather early in the fall, but Pulliam and some other growers did sustain damage to smaller trees that would have been sold in future years.

The small trees, which are top heavy and have short root systems, were knocked over by the strong winds of Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili and had to be staked up in soggy ground. As rains continued after the storms, many of the stakes were unable to remain upright causing the trees to fall again.

“Before the storms, all we could do to prepare was say a lot of prayers,” Pulliam said. “Afterward, we spent a lot of time in the fields staking up the little trees.”

Many Louisiana Christmas tree farms opened the weekend before Thanksgiving and will remain open through Christmas. There were 171 Christmas tree growers in Louisiana in 2001 producing a wide variety of trees on 755 acres.

About half of the growers operate choose-and-cut businesses. The remainder grow trees for the retail trade, which are marketed through local home and garden stores and supermarkets. In 2001, the 171 growers produced 66,387 trees for a gross farm value of $2.5 million.

A listing of Louisiana Christmas tree farms can be found on the Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s Web site at www.ldaf.state.la.us. The site also offers statistics about the Louisiana Christmas tree industry and helpful hints for maintaining the freshness of a tree throughout the season.

“I hope families will use the site to locate a tree farm near them, and then make a day of going to the country. Visiting a Christmas tree farm as a family is a special treat, especially for those from urban areas of the state,” Odom said.

“For many people it’s their first opportunity to visit a working farm. It makes for a special annual family outing where the entire family can walk the rows of trees looking for just the right one to fit the spot they have in their home for the Christmas tree. Once the tree is selected the family can cut it down or the farm will have personnel on site available to do the cutting.”

Many of the farms will net the tree for transporting home and some offer special services like flocking. A number of farms have gift shops on site for purchasing ornaments, other decorations, and holiday gifts.

The most popular trees grown in Louisiana are the Leyland cypress and the Virginia pine. Other exotic species available on some farms include the Carolina Sapphire, Deodar cedar, King Williams’ pine and Eastern Red cedar.

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