Green Trees and White Houses

North Carolina’s Christmas tree industry produces enough “green” to make even The Grinch smile.

The latest numbers from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture report 2011 Christmas tree sales totaled more than $75 million. The state’s 300 growers produce about 20% of the Christmas trees grown in the U.S.

2012 White House Christmas Tree from Peak Farms in NCAnd there’s no doubt the local industry got a boost in 2012, when the White House Christmas tree came from North Carolina. Rusty and Beau Estes, who own Peak Farms in Ashe County, grew the 19 foot Fraser fir. The farm grows about 300,000 trees total.

And it’s not that easy to grow a Christmas tree, no matter if it is destined for The White House or a house on Main Street.

It takes about 12 years to grow a Christmas tree to the height of six to seven feet. That’s the average height of most retail trees. That means if you’re a farmer, you will need to be growing some other crops to pay the bills while the trees are growing. That’s why most Christmas tree farmers grow other crops as well as thousands of Christmas trees. That allows the trees to be rotated, with only a section of trees being cut and replanted every year so there are always trees ready for harvest. 

Farmers also tend to each tree about 100 times during its life before it is cut; pruning it, spraying it for pests, fertilizing, or other services. Many farmers also allow the grass to grow around the trees to cut down on weeds. The grass needs to be cut occasionally as well.

The top five Christmas tree-producing counties in the state are Ashe, Avery, Alleghany, Watauga and Jackson.

As for the White House, this is the 12th time a North Carolina Frasier fir was chosen as the White House Christmas tree — more than any other species. To be chosen for the honor, a grower must enter the National Christmas Tree Association’s National Christmas Tree Contest and win their state/regional competition in the previous 12 months. Then, the winner enters the national competition.

As for the White House Christmas Tree, the White House Historical Association credits President Benjamin Harrison with having the first Christmas tree in the Executive Mansion in 1889. It was decorated with candles and toys and sat in a second floor oval room, which was used as a library and parlor. In 1894, three years after electricity was introduced in the White House, there were electric lights on the tree, which no doubt thrilled President Grover Cleveland’s three daughters. I wonder if the wires got tangled up?

Finally, President William Howard Taft started the tradition of the Blue Room Christmas tree in 1909. It’s a holiday tradition that continues today.
- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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