FRENCH CREEK – For many people, the Christmas season isn’t complete without the rich pine scent of a fresh-cut tree wafting through their homes.
And whether your family prefers to purchase an already-cut, live Christmas tree or would rather gather together to select a tree, cut it down and bring home for the holidays, My Buckhannon has whittled down your options so you can pick out the perfect tree in 2018.
‘Oh, Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree?’
For starters, in 2017, folks could pick up their groceries, buy some home staples and cart out a live Christmas tree while shopping at the Buckhannon Walmart.
This year, however, Walmart’s Christmas Land will not feature any live Christmas trees. Associates there said the store would not be selling fresh-cut Christmas trees this year because they hadn’t made enough money on sales in years past.
Buckhannon Walmart did have a sizable display of Norfolk Island Pines – each one measuring about 2 feet tall that could fill in as a tabletop Christmas tree.
Likewise, for many years, the Buckhannon Lions Club sponsored a Christmas tree fundraiser which they staged at Feola’s Flowers in Buckhannon.
But this year, that won’t be happening.
Gary Frush, president of the Buckhannon Lions Club, said the group won’t be selling fresh-cut trees at Feola’s as they have in the past because they don’t have a local place from which to purchase enough trees this year to sell.
Many people who grew up in the area may also have fond memories of going to Lois and French Armstrong’s Farm for fresh-cut Christmas trees; however, those aren’t being sold locally either.
But don’t throw in the towel – there’s good news for those searching to purchase a tree locally: there are still places in Upshur County to purchase a fresh-cut Tannenbaum.
Buckhannon Lowe’s has a varied selection of fresh-cut Christmas trees in stock.
“We got about 90 trees in Thursday of last week,” Lowe’s manager Chad Corley told My Buckhannon recently. “Now we probably have in excess of 120 to 130 trees.”
Lowe’s has many of the most popular types of evergreens, including Douglas fir trees, spruce trees, Scotch pines and Frasier firs in sizes ranging from 6.5 to 7.5 feet.
Pre-cut vs. ‘choose and harvest’
Folks wanting to take in the experience of selecting their Christmas tree, cutting it down, loading it into their vehicle and bringing it home are in luck: French Creek Christmas Trees, owned by Ron and Matilda Fowler is one great option.
“We have been doing this for more than 30 years,” Matilda Fowler said. “We have a Santa event coming up on Saturday, Dec. 8. From 1 to 4 p.m.”
The Santa Event is an annual family-friendly time to visit with Santa, Wuzzy the Elf and Frosty the Snowman.
Matilda Fowler said Wuzzy the Elf will be making balloon animals, Santa Claus will be taking Christmas-morning present requests and Frosty the Snowman will be available for photos. Free hot chocolate and sugar cookies will be served, and children may bring their letters for Santa and share them with him while families select their special tree.
“Our largest selling tree is the Canaan Fir tree. We also have white pines and a few Norway Spruce trees,” she said. “Some people like to come and select their tree when the weather is warm, like this past Sunday. Other people like to experience coming to get their trees in the snow and all that.”
Christmas trees at French Creek Christmas Trees are “choose and harvest,” meaning when people come to select their tree, the Fowlers provide a bow saw and point them in the direction of whichever type and size of tree the customer prefers to purchase.
“They go pick out and cut their tree. We usually have the tractor with the trailer behind it running around the farm on busy days, picking up trees for people if they need that,” Matilda Fowler said. “Some people like to carry their tree out themselves – others appreciate the help.”
Matilda Fowler said growing Christmas trees takes some time and a lot of hard work.
“From the time you plant the seedlings, it takes seven to eight years to get a mature tree, which would be from 6 to 6.5 feet tall,” she said. “We have trees from little ones all the way up to 12 or 14 feet. Our tallest Canaan Fir is about 8 feet tall and our Norway Spruce are the taller trees. Also, the tree at the Upshur County Courthouse is one of our trees.”
Fowler said her favorite tree for Christmas is the Canaan Fir.
“They have a wonderful aroma that reminds me of Christmas. They have short, soft needles. The other trees we carry are the white pine, which has a long needle that is very soft. The Norway Spruce tree has a short needle and it is very sticky or pokey, and the needles are very stiff.”
A shortage of Christmas tree farms
When asked about the availability of live Christmas trees in Upshur County, the Fowlers said they believe there may be a shortage of tree farms – not just here, but statewide and maybe even nationwide.
“The generation of people who got this started (Christmas tree farming), a lot of people in the 1940s and the 1950s, that generation is pretty much gone,” Matilda Fowler said. “The next generation is too busy to have the time or desire to have a tree farm.
“It’s a lot of work for a paycheck once a year,” she added. “You don’t just plant a seedling in the ground and go back [to check on it in] seven years, and there is a tree – they have to be maintained, sheared and mowed around. We try to do some fertilizing and control weeds around them, so they grow better. About the only two months we don’t have something that needs to be done is January and February and that’s the time of year you have to do your bookkeeping and catch up on everything else.”
French Creek Christmas Trees is located on Route 20 just past the French Creek Elementary School. Follow the big green French Creek Christmas Trees sign – they are located one mile down the lane at 943 Beechtown Rd.
The tree farm is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Additional information about French Creek Christmas Trees is available on Facebook, online at http://www.wvchristmastrees.com/ or by calling 304-924-5584.
‘It’s a little bit scary, actually’
Donnie Tenney, who owns Appalachian Acres, Inc., has been in the landscaping business for 40 years and for the last two years, he has been selling Christmas trees from a block of about 500 trees he planted 12 years ago.
He said most of the trees were originally planted in landscaping jobs, but now he’s selling them as Christmas trees because they have become so large.
“We do not do any pre-cutting of our Christmas trees,” Tenney said. “Once the folks pick out their tree, then we cut it down. Most of our trees are too big to dig up for replanting but I have a few that are small enough to dig up.”
Tenney said they have large selection of Norway spruce trees.
“They are short-needled trees with stiff branches and they hold the ornaments very well,” he explained.
When selecting trees, Tenney said people’s tastes in evergreens vary widely.
“Some are looking for a tall tree, and some are looking for one that is wide. Others are looking for skinny trees – it all depends on what kind of space they have for the tree to be displayed. I had a couple who came today, and they found one that the top 5 or 6 feet were slim, and the bottom was kind of deformed, so we were able to get them the tree they wanted,” Tenney said. “I have a pretty nice selection of trees, so we can pretty well fill the bill for whatever people are looking for in their tree.”
Tenney said pre-cut trees tend to lose needles faster than ones that have been in the ground until the time they’re chopped down and set up in people’s homes.
“If they are cut and sit, the needles start dropping off,” he explained. “If they select it and then it is cut, you can assure it is fresh, and the needles won’t drop off early.”
He said the reason he planted Norway Spruce trees is simple: deer don’t destroy them.
“The deer don’t like to eat them because they are short-needled and sticky,” Tenney said. “They prefer the white pine which is softer to eat.”
Tenney chalks up the likelihood that there are fewer Christmas trees now than in years past to generational differences; he thinks many people selling live Christmas trees are getting older.
“I don’t think there are too many young people wanting to get involved in growing Christmas trees,” he said. “It’s that way with a lot of businesses – especially agricultural businesses – it’s difficult for the next generation to want to be involved. I’m not sure what’s going to happen.
“It’s a little bit scary actually,” he added.
Anyone wishing to purchase a tree from Tenney should give him a call or text him at 304-642-4694 because his hours vary. People may also call 304-472-4693 or find him on Facebook.
Appalachian Acres is located at 27 James Tenney Ln. in Tallmansville, which is the first driveway past the Tallmansville Post Office.
Tips for maintaining – and disposing of – live trees
The West Virginia Department of Commerce’s website reminds folks purchasing fresh Christmas trees that they need special attention. It suggests lessening the risk that your tree will become a fire hazard by following these tips:
-Cut at least 1 inch off the main stem and place the tree in a clean pail of warm water. Put the tree in a cool, shaded area where it is protected from the wind and sun.
-Before bringing the tree into the house, cut another inch from the main stem.
-Place the tree in a stand designed to hold water or a bucket of clean sand with water added.
Fresh pines and firs should hold their needles for several weeks when treated in this fashion, and spruces will hold their needles for at least two weeks, according to information on the Department of Commerce’s website.
They ask that the trees are disposed of properly as soon as the holiday season is over and warn never to attempt to burn a live Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove as it can be very dangerous.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers the following ideas for recycling your Christmas tree:
-If you own a pond, sink the tree to improve fish habitat.
-If you own land, place the tree in a wooded area to provide cover for small mammals and birds, and to provide coarse, woody debris for insects and salamanders.
-If you like to feed birds in the winter, stand the tree a few feet from your feeder to add perching sites.
-If you do not have access to land or a pond, contact your local recycling contacts for a list of disposal sites. (http://www.state.wv.us/swmb/contacts.htm)