Gathering around a Christmas tree with family to celebrate Christmas together is a tradition dating back to the 1500s. Since 1977, Mississippi Christmas tree growers have provided a large number of the trees used locally each year. In 1997, approximately 245,000 trees were sold with a retail value of $7.5 million. About 95 percent of production is on choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms. These farms are oriented to their local markets. The species of trees grown in Mississippi do not allow growers to market trees in retail lots nor to market trees to other states and countries.
Peak production occurred in Mississippi in 1985. We had 450 Christmas tree farms producing 330,000 trees. In 1997, the total number of farms was down to 170. A national oversupply of trees the past 10+ years drove most of our growers out of business. Surviving growers are very competitive and produce high quality trees at low prices. Production has crept up slightly since 1993 when production hit a low of 200,000 trees.
New species, especially Leyland Cypress, have breathed new life into the Christmas tree industry. Virginia pine has proven itself to be difficult to grow and only marginally profitable. Growers produce a wide variety of species to satisfy customers. For example, a small farm in central Mississippi sells three species choose-and-cut: Virginia Pine, Leyland Cypress, and Eastern Redcedar. In addition, the farm sells several species as living Christmas trees (landscape trees in grow-bags): Leyland Cypress (several varieties), Deodar Cedar, Burkii Cedar, Foster's Holly, Red Leaf Holly Hybrids, and Carolina Sapphire. Future production in Mississippi promises to be even more diverse in species and lean towards the living Christmas tree / landscape tree.
Mississippians pondering ideas for a side business could consider investing in land and planting stem cuttings of Leyland and Murray cypress trees.
Mississippians looking for locally grown Christmas trees have several varieties to choose from but should be prepared to shop early for the best selection.
John Kushla, a Mississippi State University Extension Service specialist and research professor who specializes in agroforestry and Christmas trees, said there are several ways to test for freshness when choosing the perfect tree at a tree farm.
RAYMOND, Miss. -- After two years of drought, Mississippi Christmas tree growers welcomed the extra rain in 2017.
“In a few low-lying areas, excessive rain in May and June waterlogged the soil and killed some trees, but this was not widespread,” said Stephen Dicke, a forestry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “We will always take more rain over less rain.”
SAUCIER, Miss. -- Larry Haley has no problem selling his Christmas trees each November.
In fact, he has to set a limit on how many he can spare and stop once he reaches that number to maintain a steady inventory. His target this year is about 300 choose-and-cut trees before Thanksgiving.
"A couple of years ago, I got in trouble because I sold too many in one season and almost depleted the next year's stock," he said. "Last year, we started holding fields back for a season so that doesn’t happen again."
SAUCIER, Miss. -- Christmas tree growers in Mississippi expect a 7 percent increase in sales this year, but unfavorable spring and fall weather may hurt future supplies.
Stephen Dicke, a forestry professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said growers successfully controlled insect and disease problems this year. However, a wet spring followed by a dry summer and early fall caused some growers to lose up to half of their 1-year-old trees.