CLEMSON — It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas on television commercials, in department stores and on Christmas tree farms across South Carolina.
South Carolina Christmas tree sales were up 15 percent in 2011, and growers are expecting another strong year, according to Steve Penland, York County Christmas tree grower and executive secretary of the S.C. Christmas Tree Association.
“Last year’s excellent weather got people outdoors to go tree shopping,” said Penland.
George Kessler was a Clemson University forestry professor for 32 years and has been growing Christmas trees in the Central area since 1971. He operates Hilltop Christmas Trees and is chairman of the S.C. Tree Farm Committee.
“The weather is certainly a factor. But I also think people are getting back to the traditions they remember from childhood. The experience of taking the family out to a tree farm and choosing the perfect tree harkens back to simpler times,” Kessler said.
He also thinks more people are realizing that buying a fresh-cut locally grown tree is a smarter consumer choice and better for the environment than buying an artificial tree or a tree that is shipped to a big box store from a distance.
“When you buy a local tree that’s standing on the stump, that’s as fresh as you can get. It’s full of water and it will look beautiful the entire Christmas season. And when you meet the grower eye-to-eye, you learn a little bit about how the tree was cared for,” said Kessler.
“And when you buy a tree that’s standing out in the field, you can see that tree exactly as it will look in your house because it hasn’t been misshapen by shipping and bundling,” he said.
Buying a fresh-cut or live tree is better for the environment because they are a renewable resource that absorbs carbon dioxide, emits oxygen and provides a wildlife habitat in the field. Christmas tree farms also stabilize soil, preserve water supplies and provide scenic green space.
According to the most recent data collected by the National Christmas Tree Association, South Carolina has nearly 2,000 acres devoted to Christmas tree production and harvests approximately 30,000 trees per year. That’s no small contribution to the state’s $17 billion dollar forestry industry.
“People think buying a locally grown fresh-cut Christmas tree only has an economic impact during the Christmas season, but Christmas tree farms are year-round small businesses that buy supplies and employ local people,” Kessler said.