News & Features Home

Keep it real this holiday season with a Virginia-grown Christmas tree

Keep it real this holiday season with a Virginia-grown Christmas tree

Choosing, cutting and decorating a real Christmas tree is a nostalgic ritual at the core of many family holiday traditions. This custom can be sustained for years since more than 10,000 acres of pine, spruce and firs are grown on 500 Virginia Christmas tree farms.

A crop that requires more than five years of cultivation is often harvested in a single weekend, thanks to families dedicated to the choose-and-cut Christmas tree tradition.

Clouse’s Pine Hill Farm in Frederick County was established in 1977 when Ron and Roberta Clouse, allowed FFA students to plant pine trees on their property for a project. The first crop of pines was harvested in 1984, and the family continues to plant 1,000 seedlings a year.

About 15,000 spruce, fir and pine trees currently grow on 20 acres.

“We like to see families coming back—sometimes generations of the same families—who are really plugged into the Christmas tradition,” said Ryan Clouse, who also operates Clouse’s Pine Hill Farm and is president of the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association.

“What I love is when they open the car, and kids are running that way and this way, going across the farm two or three times, spending hours out here.”

The effort of lying on a blanket and hand-sawing through a 12-inch trunk is all part of the experience, Clouse said. The farm provides saws, a tree-shaking service and baler twine for easy rooftop transport.

“We want to make sure we shake out the squirrels to avoid a Griswold-style Christmas,” he joked.

Growers agree that while modern artificial trees closely resemble real Christmas trees, there’s no substitute for the real tree experience.

Selecting a tree and extending the season

Christmas trees often are the centerpiece of most families’ holiday décor, so bringing home any old tree just won’t do.

When selecting a tree, it’s best to first determine where it will be placed inside your home, with careful consideration of its height and width. Trees should be placed away from fireplaces, vents or other heating sources.

Once a size has been decided, it’s important to then determine which tree species will meet your decorating needs. Some pines and spruces provide touches of blue and silver, while most firs are darker hues of green.

Firs generally have strong branches that can accommodate heavy decorations, and finding a tree with slightly sparse branches will allow more space for hanging ornaments.

Finally, it’s advisable to take a few steps back and inspect a tree from multiple angles to ensure it is visually appealing from every viewpoint before cutting.

If you’re buying a pre-cut tree, you can test its freshness by inspecting the needles.
A fresh pine’s needles shouldn’t break if bent, whereas needles on a fresh fir should snap when bent. You may also test a tree’s freshness by gently grabbing a branch, pulling it and running your hand through the needles. If the tree is fresh, the needles should remain intact.

Once you’ve brought your Christmas tree home, the following tips from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services can keep it safe and fresh throughout the holiday season:

  • Hydration: Slice the bottom off the trunk, and use a tree stand that will hold a gallon or more of water. A fresh tree may take up three or more quarts of water a day for the first few days. Never let the water level drop too low.

  • Safety: Keep trees away from major heat sources. Ensure low-heat light cords are in good condition and are turned off when you’re gone.

  • Replant or recycle: Move the live tree to a sheltered area a few days before introduction to freezing temperatures. Re-plant when the ground is unfrozen, and mulch heavily over the top of the planted root ball to prevent it from freezing. Or search for tree recycling programs near you if disposing of a cut tree.