Here in the Bayou State, we have a reputation for growing trees. But did you know that here in Louisiana we grow thousands of Christmas trees? Yes, even here, in a region of the country where ice and snow are rarely seen, Christmas tree farmers are working hard to make sure you and yours have real trees and fresh greenery for your holiday season.
So, why should you buy a freshly cut tree instead of putting up that old artificial tree this year? First, you will be supporting local businesses. Most artificial trees come from other countries, where they are mass produced. Second, many of our local tree farms offer a family-friendly experience. Imagine taking the family out to walk through a tree farm and pick out a tree — photo opportunities and memories to be made! Some farms offer additional activities for all age groups. Now imagine taking your family to the big box store. That’s not as picturesque or as memorable, especially with everyone out doing their holiday shopping. Finally, after the holidays, a fresh-cut tree can be used for other things, such as mulch or wildlife habitat, either on your property or when donated to your town or wildlife refuge. The old artificial tree goes back into the attic for the mice to play on, accumulate dust and slowly degrade until you pull it back out next year, a little less nice looking each time until you throw it out.
Search the internet for local tree growers. If the name of the farm is blue with an underline, that is a link to the farm’s website. Click on it for the most current hours and information.
ALWAYS call the farm or store BEFORE YOU GO. Many farms and lots can sell out of trees early in the season. Call to confirm their hours, whether they still have trees, if they have choose-and-cut or just precut trees, and what attractions or winter activities are available. All of these can change during the short Christmas season because of weather, demand and the farmer's business conditions.
DON'T DRIVE OUT THERE IF YOU CAN'T REACH THEM by phone or email or if you cannot find current information on the farm’s website or Facebook page!
Tree farms may be a small family business, a small amusement park, or something in between. Many farms offer additional attractions to make your experience one to remember. These include: hayrides or wagon rides using either horses or tractors, Santa visits (usually on the weekends), refreshments, petting zoos and farm animals, gift shops, other greenery for holiday decoration, and tree accessories such as stands and disposal bags. Be sure to check and see if they have restrooms on site for the public. If you are planning a long trip to get a tree at a farm with no public restroom, a pit stop before heading to the farm may be in order.
Pack for a day trip, bringing snacks, drinks and items to clean up from a fun day. Dress for the activity and the weather. If you are out taking your holiday card photos, you may also want to consider dressing for the occasion. Try to remember that this experience is outdoors and dress in something comfortable. Also, bring an outfit that you are not worried about getting dirty. Layered clothing may be needed if it is a really cold day. Extra socks are always a good idea. Closed-toed shoes are the best choice for this activity. Don't forget the camera. You may want to capture those memories you're making. Most everyone now has a camera built into their phones. So, don’t leave home without it! Bring heavy gloves to protect your hands and a jacket or long-sleeved shirt to protect your arms if you are cutting your own tree and moving it to your vehicle. Bring a blanket along to wrap the kids in if they get cold or have wet feet. They can wrap up in the car and sleep all the way home.
Farms usually provide saws to cut your tree. They may let you cut it yourself, or they may cut it for you (possibly for a small fee). Some will let you choose the tree but not cut it yourself, so be sure to ask when you call. Most farms also provide wheelbarrows or other tools for transport. The trees have been living outside all year and may well have become home to spiders or other insects. Get the farmer to encourage these tenants to leave by shaking the tree on a mechanical shaker. Many farms also will bale (wrap) your tree for transport or bag it for no fee or a small fee. Many will wrap your tree and tie it on your car for you. You should you bring your own rope or bungee cords with you just in case they do not have rope or have run out.
If you are transporting your tree on the roof of your car, protect your car by placing a sheet of plastic or an old blanket over the roof to protect the paint and finish. No matter how you plan to transport the tree home, get the tree shaken and baled (wrapped) before loading it. Always get help if the tree is very large. Be sure to tie the tree down to your car or in the back of your truck and make sure it is secure by pulling on the tree and make sure it is tightly tied. Drive home safely! If you don’t feel comfortable transporting your own tree, check and see if the farm will deliver the tree right to your front door before you go.
A final word about fresh Christmas trees: Be sure to check your tree for wildlife. Louisiana Christmas trees, like all fresh Christmas trees, are grown in fields. Naturally, insects and animals may be found in your tree. Growers inspect the trees and do their best but can occasionally miss some critters. Give the tree a good inspection before cutting it and again before bringing your tree into the house. Look for egg cases, mouse nests and other potential bonuses, paying close attention, especially around the trunk and along the branches. Vigorous shaking usually takes care of these unwanted ornaments but double-checking never hurts.
— Valerie West is an extension agent in the LSU AgCenter Northwest Region.