While navigating the winding roads of the High Country, before long you might notice a trend — rows and rows of Fraser firs dotted across the hilltops. Christmas tree farming is one of the largest industries in the area, and for those looking to bring a piece of the High Country home with them during the holidays, many farms allow you to do just that.
Contributing upwards of $85 million to the economy of Ashe County alone, Christmas tree farmers across Ashe, Watauga and Avery counties work diligently throughout the year to produce some of the finest Fraser firs in the nation. According to the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association, the state is home to around 1,300 Fraser fir growers across 40,000 acres.
Of these growers, many can be found nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the climate is particularly suitable for Fraser firs, according to the NCCTA. Currently, Ashe County leads the nation in Fraser fir production, according to Ashe County Cooperative Extension Director Travis Birdsell.
With so many Christmas trees rooted in the High Country, choose-and-cut farms — where families can visit, pick out a tree and take it home — are a popular destination for many visitors in the area.
Joey Clawson, owner of Clawson’s Christmas Tree Farm and Panoramic View Christmas Tree Farm in Boone, has worked in the Christmas tree industry for more than three decades. Both of his farms are choose-and-cut with a selection about 95,000 trees, and he said seeing families come up to the area to find the perfect tree for their home is always a pleasure.
“A lot of times, you’ll have two carloads of families coming up — the grandparents, mom and dad and their kids — so you’ll have three generations coming up to spend time together during the holidays,” Clawson said.
Clawson added that with how busy families are these days, visiting a choose-and-cut farm is a great way to slow down and make memories.
“That’s very powerful,” Clawson said.
Before taking root on the farm, a Fraser fir typically spends its first five years growing in a nursery from seed to a height suitable for transplant, Clawson said. Once reaching that height, trees are transplanted to a farm and left to grow. If left alone, the tree can reach heights of up to 80 feet, but for the most commonly used trees during the holidays, Clawson said it takes another 8 years on average for a tree to reach its ideal height of 7 to 8 feet.
“It’s a long-term investment,” Clawson said. “Most farming is like a year-long investment or a six-month investment, but this is a eight-, nine-, 10-year investment.”
Though the process can be difficult and time-consuming, Christmas tree growers agree that the return on investment is worth it when their tree becomes the centerpiece of a family’s home during the holidays, the NCCTA says.
Christmas tree season lasts all year long in the High Country, with events such as the Christmas in July Festival in West Jefferson serving as proud celebrations of the Fraser fir Christmas tree industry.
In September 2018, the White House visited Ashe County to take part in the choose-and-cut experience, selecting a Fraser fir to display in the nation’s capital from Smith’s Mountain Top Fraser Fir Farm in Newland.
For a list of choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms according to the NCCTA, visit http://www.ncchristmastrees.com/choose-cut.