Karen and Richard Lowe closed their Christmas tree farm early this year after selling all of the spruce and fir trees that were ready for cutting, but several other tree farms remain open for folks still looking for a tree to decorate.
The Lowes, along with their daughter, Jessie Baker, and her husband Sean, used to keep the 6-acre Lowelands Farm in Middleburg, Va., open for three to four weeks into the holiday season. This year, they closed after the first weekend in December.
“People are coming earlier and earlier for their trees,” Mrs. Lowe says, adding that the early commercialization of the holiday and people’s busy lives may be reasons. “Long gone are the days of getting your tree on Christmas Eve or a couple of days before Christmas,” she says.
For those who want to purchase a fresh-cut tree, nearly a dozen tree farms in the metropolitan area are open. Tree farmers provide advice for selecting a healthy, good-quality tree and taking care of the tree once it is brought home.
“One of the main things to look for is the overall tidiness and the healthy look of the fields,” Mrs. Lowe says, adding that the fields should be manicured and the trees pruned.
Another thing to check is the tree spacing in the fields, says Joseph Richards, owner of Pines Farm in Brandywine, Md. Anything planted closer than 4 feet is too close, causing the foliage to be thinner and the branches weaker, he says.
“They’re not going to get nourishment and the sun and rain they need,” he says.
The tree’s health can be checked by looking at its needles, which should be plump and green or blue in color and not yellowish, says Roger G. Wolff, owner of Snickers Gap Christmas Tree Farm in Bluemont, Va., on the slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Robert Cory, owner of Hilltop Farm in southern Anne Arundel County, recommends looking at the general shape of the tree, along with the shape of the top for the placement of a star or decoration, and of the trunk, or handle, for placement in a tree stand.
The height and width of space where the tree will be placed also is important.
“Assess what you want out of your tree,” says Beth Walterscheidt, president-elect of the National Christmas Tree Association in Chesterfield, Mo. “The big thing is to make sure you know what height you want. If you go out to a farm, they look a lot smaller.”
The ornaments that will be placed on the tree are another consideration, says Mrs. Walterscheidt. Heavy ornaments require branches strong enough to support their weight, while an open limb structure works well for displaying large ornaments, she says.
Pines tend to have weaker branches and will not hold heavy ornaments, says Sterling King, owner of King Farm, located north of Clarksburg. Firs and spruce have stiffer branches and are able to support the weight, he says. In addition, short-needle trees, like the firs, hold their needles longer after the tree is cut, he says.
Typically, tree farms are of the choose-and-cut variety and provide handsaws for customers to cut their own trees. Some of the farms provide a processing area with a tree shaker, which knocks off loose needles and debris, and a baling machine that wraps the branches of the tree into a netting that later can be removed.
Bill and Lucretia Tanner, with the assistance of their three children and some of their grandchildren, help customers cut their trees if they ask, but otherwise just hand them a saw. A few times, they offered to help those dressed in their Sunday best but were told, “We’re going to cut our own tree,” says Mr. Tanner, owner of Tanner’s Enchanted Forest in Brandywine.
“It’s fun to deal with people during the holidays. The people who come in are in a good mood,” he says.
Once the tree is taken home, the National Christmas Tree Association recommends cutting a quarter-inch to 1 inch off the base of the tree to open up the cells that transport water through the tree. The tree protects itself from the cut wound by producing resin or sap that prevents the intake of water.
Trees can drink up to a gallon of water a day for the first days, says Bruno Seppi, co-owner of Seppi Evergreens in Bowie with his wife, Martha.
“Gradually, the intake of the water will get less and less as the tree is longer in the house,” he says.
The tree should be placed in water either in a tree stand or, if the tree will be decorated at a later date, in a bucket or container in a cool area, such as a garage or in the shade, metropolitan-area tree farmers recommend. They advise against putting any additives into the water, such as sugar, aspirin tablets or milk.
“Research shows none of those are better than just plain water. Trees live on water and like the water the best,” Mr. Wolff says.
Mr. Wolff suggests checking the water level daily and never allowing it to go below the bottom of the trunk and cause the tree to dry.
If it does, the bottom of the tree can be recut, says Mauretta Jacobson, co-owner of Jacobson Tree Farm in Leesburg, Va., with her husband, LeRoy.
In addition, the tree should not be placed near a fireplace or vent, which could dry it out, and if placed in a sunny window, the shades should be drawn during the day, Mrs. Walterscheidt says.
“There’s something about a living tree in your home,” she says. “Real trees really are the real meaning of Christmas as far as the giving of life. It just has that symbol.”
Several Christmas tree farms in the metropolitan area will be open this week.
Butler’s Orchard, 22222 Davis Mill Road, Germantown, 301/972-3299; open through Saturday; sells Douglas fir and white pine.
Homestead Farm, 15604 Sugarland Road, Poolesville; 301/977-3761; open Friday through Sunday; sells Douglas fir.
King Farm, 24601 Spring Town Road, north of Clarksburg, 301/253-4521; open Saturday; sells Douglas and balsam fir.
Pines Farm, 16900 Magruder’s Ferry Road, Brandywine, 301/579-2522; open through Saturday; sells Douglas fir, white and Scotch pine, and Norway spruce.
Seppi Evergreens, 17409 Queen Anne Bridge Road, Bowie, 301/249-7412; open through Sunday; sells Douglas and Fraser fir and Norway spruce.
Tanner’s Enchanted Forest, 14300 Baden Westwood Road, Brandywine, 301/579-2238; open Saturday and Sunday; sells Douglas and Fraser fir, blue and Norway spruce, and Scotch, white and Virginia pine.
Clifton Christmas Tree Plantation, 12360 Henderson Road, Clifton, 703/830-2863; open through Saturday; sells Fraser fir and Scotch and white pine.
Middleburg Christmas Tree Farm, Christmas Tree Lane near Route 630, Middleburg, 540/554-8625; open Saturday and Sunday; sells Douglas fir and blue and Norway spruce.
Milltown Creek Tree Farms, 38757 Householder Road, Lovettsville, 540/822-5428; open through Friday; sells Douglas and concolor fir, Scotch and white pine, and blue and white spruce.
Snickers Gap Christmas Tree Farm, 34350 Williams Gap Road, Bluemont, 540/554-8323; open through Saturday; sells Douglas fir and blue spruce.
Ticonderoga Farms Inc., 26175 Ticonderoga Road, Chantilly, 703/327-4424; open through Saturday; sells cedar, Fraser fir, Norway spruce, and white, Scotch and Weymouth pine.