WASHINGTON – John Hutchison grows two things for the holiday season: Christmas trees and a beard.
Hutchison, 66, has been growing his long white beard since September and will pair it with a Santa Claus hat Friday as he starts selling white pines and Douglas firs at Hutchison’s Christmas Forest, his farm near Cordova in Talbot County.
Like most of the cut-your-own trees farms in Maryland, the Hutchison family marks the day after Thanksgiving as the first day of the Christmas tree season.
With ample rain and minimal disease, growers said the Christmas tree crop did well this year.
“It was a great growing season,” said Bruce Davidson, who has about 30,000 trees — from 1 to 12 feet tall — at his Upperco farm. “No tornadoes or hurricanes like we got last year.”
Dan Blickenstaff, president of the Maryland Christmas Tree Growers Association, agreed.
“They’re a healthy green color,” he said. “They should have plenty of moisture so they shouldn’t have any dry problems as long as they (tree buyers) keep the water fresh every day.”
Blickenstaff, who said he knows evergreens so well that he can identify them by their smell, said Christmas trees might be a dollar or two more expensive this year to compensate for an increase in fuel costs. Growers say an average tree goes for between $35 and $40.
The state had 263 Christmas tree farms in 2002 when about 99,000 trees were cut, according to the most recent numbers from the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The state ranked 23rd in the nation for its number of tree farms.
The tree growers association said people buying already-cut trees should look for trees with needles that bend and don’t break. All tree buyers should make sure to cut about an inch off the bottom of the trunk right before putting the tree in water.
People who buy their trees early should stick to firs or pines — spruce trees don’t usually last as long, growers said.
But it will not be a particularly long season for Christmas trees this year: With a late Thanksgiving and a Christmas that falls on a Saturday just four weekends later, the window for tree buying is narrower than most years.
“We have one less weekend between Christmas and Thanksgiving,” said Mary Ellen Hutchison, of Hutchison’s Christmas Forest.
While some tree farms are open during the week, weekends are typically the busiest days. Growers expect the biggest rush will come on the two weekends after this.
The Hutchisons are prepared — including John, whose beard and hat are ready.
“He tells the kids that he’s Santa’s leprechaun,” said Mary Ellen Hutchison, adding that her husband is on the short side.
-30- CNS 11-24-04