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Tilt heads to select '05 Christmas trees
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's Christmas tree growers were having a great year, and then Hurricane Katrina hit.
Steve Dicke, forestry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said frequent summer rains had trees growing very well until Katrina's heavy rain and strong winds blew many over. The following drought prevented some growers from being able to right affected trees.
"It may end up that people visiting choose-and-cut farms, especially in South Mississippi, will have to tilt their heads when selecting a tree," Dicke said. "The trees themselves will stand straight after cutting. The root systems have been compromised, and the soil has been too hard for growers to straighten some trees back up."
Dicke said Mississippi's choose-and-cut farms have reached annual sales of 100,000 trees in recent years.
Michael May of Chunky thought Hurricane Ivan was bad in 2004 when 40 percent of his trees needed to be straightened. Hurricane Katrina pushed twice that many trees on his Lazy Acres Plantation to an angle.
"Growers really need to straighten trees within a few days of a storm or the soil will get too dry. If the ground is not wet, you will break the roots and kill the trees when you try to straighten them," May said. "After we straightened some trees from Katrina, Hurricane Rita came and blew them over again."
May said the hurricanes have increased his 2005 labor costs. While he expects to lose 5 percent of his trees from the hurricanes, he has concerns for the survival of next year's Christmas trees.
Wesley Bass of Columbia said Katrina was the worst hurricane to impact his farm since he started growing trees in 1989.
"A lot depends on how much rain the farm receives before the hurricane, and we had been getting regular showers before the hurricane this year," Bass said. "I don't think we lost any of the smaller trees, but we did lose about 95 percent of our larger trees in the 20-foot range. The weight of the longer limbs just took them over."
Trees that were trimmed tight were able to withstand winds better. Bass said Leyland cypress held up surprisingly well. Virginia pine suffered much more, losing needles on their north side.
"Overall, growers are optimistic about the market potential for this year. Real trees have been making a comeback in recent years, and we expect people to be even more ready to focus on family traditions this holiday season," Bass said.
To locate the nearest choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm, go online to http://www.southernchristmastrees.org.