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‘Fun time’ of year for Christmas tree farmers

With the countdown to Christmas well under way, families are flocking to area farms and lots to pick the perfect tree.

“It’s a family tradition,” said Chelsey Williamson. “We come out every year to one of the tree farms to get a tree.”

Williamson visited Dietz Christmas Tree Farm at Green Bluff on Saturday with her husband, Ryan, and their children, Jayden, 12, and Ethan, 8.

“It’s something to do with the family,” she said. “They’ve been coming since they were babies.”

The small, family-owned farm has been operating for 30 years. Owner Jim Dietz said business has been steady over the years, thanks in part to a loyal customer base.

“It’s been a tradition for many of my customers,” he said. “We’ve watched kids grow up here. It’s pretty amazing.”

About 31 percent of people who opt for real trees purchase from a farm, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Overall, the Christmas tree business is a $1.07 billion industry in the U.S.

Dietz took over when his parents, Marguerite and Vic Dietz, retired. Although the farm is open from the day after Thanksgiving to mid-December, it’s a year-round job for Dietz.

The planting phase begins in March, when the snow melts and the ground thaws. Pruning starts in July: “The hardest work takes place during the driest and hottest time of the year,” he said.

Dietz starts prepping for the busy Christmas tree sale season in September and making wreaths beginning Nov. 1.

It’s hard work, but it pays off, he said.

“If you look around, you can see why it’s so enjoyable,” he said. “Just seeing all the happy people makes it all worth it. This is the fun time of year.”

The first two weekends of December are the busiest for Dietz. He said the experience offered at his choose-and-cut farm is a big draw.

“It’s something a family can do together and not spend a lot of money and have a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s nice to come to a farm. It’s just a much more memorable experience.”

Down the road at Walter’s Fruit Ranch, owners Mark and Arlene Morrell are selling Christmas trees for the first time this year.

“We’re kind of rookies,” Mark Morrell said. “We’re trying to diversify our business. That’s why we got into this.”

They’ve owned the ranch for about 20 years and are best known for their peaches and apples.

“Trying to get a Christmas tree to grow is harder than getting a fruit tree to grow,” he said. “Christmas trees are a little bit more temperamental.”

The family has about 3,000 Christmas trees growing on their farm.

The grand fir “emanates the most Christmas smell,” he said, while the white fir keeps its needles the best. The Fraser fir – which has branches that turn slightly upward – looks most like what many people envision when they think of a Christmas tree.

In 2011, U.S. consumers purchased slightly less than 31 million farm-grown Christmas trees and about 9.5 million new artificial trees.

“They smell delicious,” employee Morghan Morrell said about fresh versus artificial trees. “It’s a fresh Christmas tree smell. I think that’s the best thing about it.”