Local News

There's a Science to Growing Christmas Trees

Posted December 11, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— The idea of breeding a better Christmas Tree has been riveting researchers at NC State for more than 5 years now. They say they still haven't perfected the procedure, but they're getting close.

With North Carolina now the second largest source of Christmas trees in the US, NC State has ramped up its research of the holiday mainstay. In fact, the school has the first training school in the nation for commercial Christmas tree pest scouts, people who, for a fee, regularly inspect tree fields for insects, weeds, diseases, and other things that threaten the quality of the trees.

"Cotton soybeans and corn have been using the pest scouts for years," explains tree expert Craig McKinley. "We're beginning to modify their techniques."

The researchers have also kept a close eye on efforts to breed Western North Carolina's famous Fraser Fir trees north of the Mason Dixon line.

"We've seen some differences in color," McKinley continues, "which may eventually lead to a different type of a needle, say a shorter needle, a less growth, less dense tree."

Tree grower Fred Barick says there are a lot details involved in selecting not just the sources of the stock, but working with it over a period of seven years to develop trees that are superior to those being grown now.

And another thing that the researchers are working on is developing out a cedar Christmas tree that's not so prickly to the touch. You can expect to see those trees for sale in about five years.

Each year North Carolina growers sell between 5.5 and six million Christmas trees. Most tree farms are in Western North Carolina, but there are some in the central part of the state as well.