- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

Ticonderoga Farms, a Chantilly Christmas tree farm, gives children and adults — otherwise busy shopping and attending holiday parties — a chance to enjoy the outdoors together while finding and cutting down their own Christmas tree.

“A lot of families come out together with other families. The children run around, go on hayrides. The dads help each other cut down the tree, and the women stand around and chat,” says Kristen Kalina, a farm spokeswoman, who previously was a client. “It’s a lot of fun, and I think it helps get you in the holiday spirit.”

Ticonderoga Farms, a fourth-generation, family-owned Christmas tree farm, consists of about 1,000 acres of rolling fields and forest. It’s one of dozens of Christmas tree farms that offer choose-and-cut trees within a one-hour drive from the District.

For extensive lists of choose-and-cut farms, click on the National Christmas Tree Association’s Web site (www.christmastree.org) and the Christmas Tree Farm Network’s Web site (www.christmas-tree.com).

The main draw for Ticonderoga Farms, whose Indian name means “land among the waters,” is the choose-and-cut experience, says Douglas Johnston, general manager.

But visitors also come to buy the pre-cut trees, and enjoy the hayrides, hot cider, roasted marshmallows and the opportunity to be outdoors and get a break from shopping malls, he says.

“We also expect Santa Claus to pay a visit,” Mr. Johnston says.

The farm provides saws, measuring poles and twine to customers who opt for the choose-and-cut experience, and staff will help load the tree onto the car, he says.

Popular choose-and-cut trees include white pine, Scotch pine and Norway spruce.

“The Norway spruce has become very popular in recent years. It has a nice natural shape and stiff branches for hanging ornaments,” Mr. Johnston says.

The downside with the Norway spruce is that it doesn’t retain its needles very well, he says. In fact, farmers recommend that it’s cut no more than 15 days before Christmas.

The Scotch pine, however, retains its needles, which are pricklier, for up to two months. It has a fuller look than the Norway spruce.

“If you have a lot of traditional, heavy ornaments, the Scotch pine is a good choice because it has firm branches that can handle the weight,” Mr. Johnston says.

The white pine, which has softer needles, also lasts for months, but its branches are not quite as strong.

Colorado spruce, white spruce and Weymouth pine are also available for choose-and-cut. All the choose-and-cut species, except for the Norway spruce, are available as pre-cut varieties, Mr. Johnston says.

Among the pre-cut varieties, the Fraser fir is the most popular. It can’t be grown on Ticonderoga Farms because the farm’s elevation is too low, he says.

“This tree is known for its lovely fragrance, excellent needle retention, full and natural shape,” he says. It’s also popular for its two-colored needles — forest-green on top and silvery white underneath.

All trees, choose-and-cut and pre-cut, are guaranteed to hold their needles through Jan. 1, 2005, except for Norway spruce cut before Dec. 12.

The regular-sized trees (from below 5 feet up to 12 feet tall) range in price from $24, including tax, to $250, depending on size and species. Trees that are extra large — 15 or 20 feet tall — can cost $500 or more, Mr. Johnston says.

“We sell quite a few of those to businesses, churches and McMansions,” he says.

The farm also sells handmade wreaths and holiday poinsettias. Greens, with which to make homemade wreaths, are free to customers.

More than 15,000 visitors are expected during the Christmas tree season, from Thanksgiving through Dec. 24, Mr. Johnston says.

“The weekends of Dec. 4 and Dec. 11 are going to be the busiest. We’ll have several thousand people each day unless it rains. Rain is a killer,” he says. “But snow — a light dusting — just adds to the Christmas feeling.”

Ms. Kalina agrees.

“Going out there, cutting down a tree and pulling it back on a sled through the snow — I think it’s a real nostalgic, family-friendly event,” she says.

When you go:

What: Ticonderoga Farms

Location: 26175 Ticonderoga Road, Chantilly.

Directions: Take Interstate 66 west to Route 50. Take Route 50 west for about 12 miles. Make a left onto Gum Springs Road and go about three miles. Make a left onto Ticonderoga Road.

Hours: Open from 8 a.m. to dark Mondays through Saturdays and from 9 a.m. to dark Sundays, through Dec. 24.

Parking: Parking lots available throughout the farm.

Admission: Free. Tree prices range from $24 (for trees shorter than 5 feet) to $250 (for 12-foot trees). For trees taller than 12 feet, Ticonderoga charges per foot. An oversized Fraser fir, one of the most popular trees, costs $56 per foot. Prices include tax.

Information: Phone: 703/327-4424 or click on www.ticonderoga.com

Miscellaneous: Wear sturdy, mud-proof shoes, as choosing and cutting a tree can involve getting a little muddy, particularly if it’s raining or snowing.

Dozens of Christmas tree farms can be found within an hour’s drive of the District. Some of them offer choose-and-cut. For a long list of farms, check the Web sites of the National Christmas Tree Association (www.christmastree.org) and the Christmas Tree Farm Network (www.christmas-tree.com).

The following is a small, random selection from those lists:

Virginia:

• Cedar Forest, 6501 Little River Turnpike, Alexandria, 703/866-9494.

• May Tree Enterprises, 7809 Sudley Road, Manassas, 304/257-8887.

• The Christmas Tree Place, 37601 Allder School Road, Purcellville, 540/338-2947.

Maryland:

• Butler’s Orchard, 22200 David Mill Road, Germantown, 301/972-3299.

• Rocky Top Tree Farm, 26010 Long Corner Road, Gaithersburg, 301/253-4750.

• Tanner’s Enchanted Forest, 14300 Baden-Westwood Road, Brandywine, 301/579-2238.

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