Campbell Vaughn: Select the perfect Christmas tree

The day after Thanksgiving is the unofficial first day of the Christmas season. Most traditions would have us put up the Christmas tree on the Friday after the fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving). After you have stuffed yourself with turkey and dressing, and watched the Cowboys and Lions play football, it is time to deck the halls. Some prefer to decorate the artificial tree from storage, while others would rather have a live tree that fills the house with a wonderful scent. How do you choose your Christmas tree?


Ninety-eight percent of all Christmas trees are grown on farms, while only 2 percent are cut from the wild. It is fun to go out and find a tree in the wild, but we are very limited on which trees we can find. If you are lucky, you can find an Eastern Red Cedar, our most common native Christmas tree found in the woods of our area. Farm raised Christmas trees are generally grown in cooler climates. Most of the trees found on retail lots come from the South Carolina’s brother to the North, the Tar Heel State.


The most commonly purchased Christmas tree in our area is the Fraser Fir. A Fraser fir takes 6-8 years to head to market, from seedling to harvest. The average cost for the farmer, from planting to harvest, is about $9-$13 thousand dollars per acre. The average price of a Christmas tree is $46, depending on height.

Almost all trees require shearing to attain the Christmas tree shape. Trees are ready to harvest once they reach six to seven feet. I have spent a day shearing trees and it is hard work. It is a lot like a full day training to be a samurai warrior with lots of blisters.

Some other popular types of trees used in the Southeast for decorating during the Christmas season are:

Leyland Cypress is one of the most popular trees grown in the south. This tree is a hybrid of Monterey cypress and Alaskan cedar. Six seedlings were discovered in 1888 by C.J. Leyland at Leighton Hall in the South of Wales. The two parent trees were growing on the Leighton Hall Estate and cross bred purely by accident. Leyland cypress is a sterile hybrid and must be propagated by individual cutting. The foliage varies somewhat, but in general it tends to be arranged in irregularly flat planes with a dark green. This particular tree has little aroma.

Virginia pine has been the staple for the Christmas tree industry in the south since its inception. The branches are stout and woody. The bark is typical for most pines.

White pine is considered to be the largest pine in the United States. The Leaves (needles) are soft, flexible and bluish-green to silver green in color and are regularly arranged in bundles of five. Needles are 2 1/2-5 inches long and are usually shed at the end of the second growing season. Needle retention is good to excellent, which means less mess on your floor. White pine has very little aroma, but, conversely, is reported to result in fewer allergic reactions than do some of the more aromatic species.

The Arizona cypress is a steeple shaped tree with a pale-green to gray-green color. It is almost a silver color at times. This desert cypress has a pleasing aroma that some describe as a cross between lemon and mint. This plant would also be a good plant to buy in a nursery pot and plant it in the yard after the Christmas season is over. My mother bought a Foster Holly in a container that we used as a Christmas tree and it turned out great. The berries made for natural decoration. We planted the holly in the yard after the ornaments made it back into the boxes and into the attic. It made for a great evergreen in the landscape to this day. We have also used a potted Meyer Lemon and a Norfolk Island Pine with great success.

Christmas trees need a lot of water. It is important to keep them hydrated thoroughly when they reach your home. In the first week, a Christmas tree will consume as much as a quart of water per day. Try to keep the tree away from heating vents when you place them in your home. The warm, dry air will have your yuletide greenery wilted and shedding before the six geese a-laying turn the pond over to the seven swans a-swimming.

The Christmas tree has a lot of history as well.

• The first decorated Christmas tree was in Riga, Latvia in 1510.

• In 1856 Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was the first President to place a Christmas tree in the White House.

• Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees in 1882. Christmas tree lights were first mass-produced in 1890.

• Every year since 1947, the people of Oslo, Norway have given a Christmas tree to the city of Westminster, England. The gift is an expression of good will and gratitude for Britain’s help to Norway during World War II.

• Christmas trees are grown and harvested in all 50 states.

• The official Christmas tree tradition at New York City’s Rockefeller Center began in 1931. Since 2004 the tree has been topped with a 550-pound Swarovski Crystal star, and since 2007, the tree has been lit with 30,000 energy-efficient LEDs which are powered by solar panels. This year’s tree will be a Norway spruce cut from the backyard of Angie and Craig Eichler in Oneonta, NY. The 90 year old spruce is 94 feet tall and weighs 14 tons.

Reach Campbell Vaughn, the agriculture and natural resources coo erative extension agent for Richmond County, by e-mailing