Cut-your-own Christmas tree farms face challenges from mother nature

Despite the challenges, Whispering Pines Tree farm in Caroline County has plenty of trees this year
Christmas tree growers work on their trees all year to get them ready for the Christmas season.
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 4:06 PM EST
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CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - It’s that time of year when families go out in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

But a lot of work goes into growing those trees and getting them ready for the Christmas season.

On a sunny cold November day, NBC12 went north to Caroline County to visit someone who might be as busy as jolly old Saint Nick himself.

“It’s just a never-ending cycle of planting and harvesting, planting and harvesting,” said Darrell Schwartz.

He and his wife have grown Christmas trees for 40 years, with 20 of those at Whispering Pines Tree Farm in Caroline County.

“I started this business because we would go out in the woods and cut our own tree. And I’ve always loved that part of Christmas,” said Schwartz.

It’s a labor of love for Schwartz, who works year-round to create a perfect tree.

“They don’t just make a Christmas tree. You do. You start them as a little seedling. And after they get knee-high, you’ll have to shape that tree with a knife or a machine of some sort,” he said.

It takes about 8 years to grow a Christmas tree. The key to getting a tree tall enough is surviving mother nature.

“The hardest thing we worry about here is the weather,” explained Schwartz. “An ice storm in the winter really hurts us. It will break and bend the limbs, and the heavy snow will do the same thing.”

Just like wet snow knocks down tree limbs and causes power outages, it damages Christmas trees too.

“If it’s wet, it will just devastate my trees since I’m a white pine tree grower. White pines cannot take any weight on those soft branches,” said Schwartz.

A big problem for young, freshly planted trees is drought.

Schwartz lost about 75% of the trees he planted this year because of an October dry spell.

“It’s because the seedlings are only 12 inches high and only six inches of root. So 30 days without rain will definitely, you know, affect how they’re going to survive,” described Schwartz.

Christmas trees begin as a seedling and take about eight years to grow to full size.
Christmas trees begin as a seedling and take about eight years to grow to full size.(WWBT)

Despite some challenges from mother nature, Schwartz says there’s no shortage of trees at Whispering Pines.

They have plenty, and the joy he sees at the most wonderful time of the year makes all the work worth it.

“The kids and the parents just running around having a great time, you know, that’s what, that’s worth coming out here. That’s worth growing them all year - just to see that,” said Schwartz.

There are several cut-your-own Christmas tree farms around Central Virginia. You can find one near you on the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association website.

It’s highly recommended to call ahead to confirm hours of operation before going to a farm. Note that Olde Church Tree Farm in Powhatan will be closed in 2022 to allow more time for their trees to grow.

All this talk about Christmas trees might have you dreaming of a white Christmas.

Based on historical averages, we have a 7% chance in any given year in Richmond.

Our last one was back in 2009. The odds are against us, but with signs of colder weather toward the end of this month, we can’t rule it out yet!