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HOW DOES MY CHRISTMAS FRAZER FIR GROW?

 

Did you ever wonder how live Fraser fir Christmas trees get to market when we need them to?  And where do they come from?  Do some grow in the wild or do these come from commercial tree farms?  And if they do come from tree farms, how does all this get started?  Do they sprout by themselves, or are they first grown in greenhouses and then replanted in the fields until ready for harvest?

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We wanted the answers to these questions and several others, so we went to North Carolina Fraser fir grower C&G Nursery in Newland, NC to learn more.

They told us that Fraser firs are started from seeds in greenhouses. From the time the seed is first sown in a greenhouse, it is traditionally 5 years before a tree is large enough to transplant into the field.

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This process can be sped up to 3&1/2 years to 4 years by manipulating light, water & fertilizer in a greenhouse setting .  After the seedling has finally been transplanted to the field, it can take 5 or 6 more years for it to reach 6 feet, with each tree growing an average of 10-12 inches per year. This helps insure full trees with no holes.  However, if there is a late frost, the trees may not grow at all that year and another year will may be needed before the trees are ready for harvest.

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Another serious problem is that of the heavy deer browsing during very cold winter months in western NC, which can totally destroy the trees. Deer will actually eat the buds off of conifers when food becomes scarce during winter months, and Fraser firs may need an extra year or two to recover and grow because of that damage.

Then there is the periodic routine care and maintenance that is necessary during the life of the trees to insure that they are healthy and full when ready for harvest.  Each year every tree must be trimmed and fertilized.  Grass & weeds must be removed from around the base of the trees several times each year, and the trees must be treated with safe insecticides. and some trees may need to occasionally be trimmed and topped as well, with the trimming and topping being two distinct processes.

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Typically a grower can count on losing an average of 10% of the seedlings they plant each year. The reasons for these losses include human error, too much water, not enough water, and animal damage, just to name a few.  A 10% loss is typical each year, and in years of extreme drought or excessive rainfall, losses will be more.

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Over the past 5 to10 years, deer eating the small trees have been a huge problem. Many growers lose many thousands of seedlings to deer damage.

 

Trees are usually harvested using chainsaws that have a special curved bar called a bow bar. They are then carried to harvesting roads and run through tree balers which wrap the trees in order to limit breakage during shipping and then the trees are hauled to holding pens.  While in the holding pens, the trees are kept out of the sun to prevent them from drying out.

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C&G Nursery holds its cut trees in a wooded swamp until ready to ship be shipped. Using a wooded swamp for storing necessitates hauling massive amounts of gravel to the site to insure that it can get the loading trucks to the trees later, but this helps ensures a fresher tree for its customers.

Harvesting is not staggered or spread out over time. The trees must be harvested in a short period of time. It takes around 25 men working 10 hour days, 7 days a week to get trees harvested and shipped. Most commercial customers want their trees the week before thanksgiving so they can have their tree lots set up and be selling trees by Thanksgiving. 

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C&G is a midsized wholesaler as well as a retailer. They sell to “mom and pop” tree lots, selling to some of its same customers for more than 25 years.  The number of trees it sells is determined by what customers order each year. Sometimes it can’t supply the numbers that are needed in certain sizes due to the problems mentioned above. Another huge factor is the limiting of expansion to meet the needs of retailers as many of the major tree growing areas in North Carolina are also major tourist areas.  

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We wish to thank C&G Nursery for their generous contributions to this article.

C&G Nursery is a family owned nursery located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. It began in 1961 growing Christmas trees and native ornamentals. Now it is a wholesale grower of over 100 different varieties of trees and shrubs as well as the Fraser fir.

 

Visit C&G at http://www.candgnursery.com/

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