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State's Christmas Trees Endure Harsh Weather
By Jamie Vickers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A drought, hurricane and fewer growers will not prove to be a problem for Mississippians who appreciate homegrown Christmas trees this holiday season.
"The 1997 production figures were up 6.5 percent from the previous year, and the sales from the choose-and-cut market were up 10 percent," said Dr. Bob Daniels, Extension forestry specialist at Mississippi State University. "This is our third straight year of increases."
Last year 245,000 Christmas trees were sold in Mississippi at a value of $7.6 million.
"Last year was a really good year, and we also expect this one to be OK," said Dr. Steve Dicke, Extension forestry specialist at the Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond.
Dicke said the Mississippi Christmas tree market is experiencing downsizing in the number of growers, mainly as they retire. Almost 15 growers were lost this year, leaving about 135 growers throughout 45 counties in Mississippi.
Although there will be a limited supply of trees, prices for a 6- to 7-foot tree will remain the same at $25 to $35. Dicke said people in Mississippi still should have an excellent choice of trees to buy.
"Two things that hurt our crop this year were the summer drought and tremendous wind damage from Hurricane Georges," Dicke said.
Lee County grower Jim Holowach said the drought was a big factor in this year's harvest. May and June are the critical months when the trees need moisture.
"We lost 40 to 50 percent of our Virginia pine seedlings," Holowach said. "The Leyland cypresses had to be irrigated because fertilization for proper growth is not possible if it is dry. The rain in early October helped us out considerably."
Lloyd Ousterhout, a Rankin County grower, said his larger trees bushed up but grew very little because of the drought.
"I lost about twice as many seedlings set out last year than I usually lose," Ousterhout said. "The moisture that we did get really helped. The trees won't dry out too quickly after they are cut."
After Hurricane Georges passed over southern Mississippi, many Christmas trees were leaning but are still good. Dicke said after the trees are cut and put on a stand, they will look normal.
"The Leyland cypress was affected more than our other trees because of their shallow roots," said grower Howard Thomley of Lamar County. "A lot of the trees were left at almost a 45-degree angle, but we straightened them and packed dirt around them."
Dicke said more than 50 percent of Mississippi's homegrown Christmas trees are Virginia pine. The Leyland cypress is the second most popular type tree. Other species of trees that are beginning to compete with Virginia pine are the Carolina sapphire, which has a lemon-mint fragrance, and the Burkii cedar, which turns purple in the winter.
To find locally grown Christmas trees, and to find the shortest distance to buy a fresh tree, there is a web page at http://www.lams-christmas-trees.org which lists growers across Mississippi. There is also a link to this page from the Extension Service page. Phone numbers, directions and species of trees grown are available through the web page or contact a local county Extension office.