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NC State Extension

Where to Buy Your Real Christmas Tree

Outdoor sign advertising NC Fraser Fir trees

An independent Christmas tree lot, managed by a North Carolina Christmas tree grower, is a good way to get fresh, quality trees locally.

There are many ways to buy a real farm-raised Christmas tree. You can make the purchase as convenient as possible by shopping locally or on the Internet. Or you can make the purchase of a Christmas tree into a unique experience and holiday tradition that your children will remember for a lifetime. You can shop for bargains or pay a premium for service. Regardless of your choice, any avenue to a real tree should provide you with a fresh tree that will hold up well throughout the holiday season. Learn more about: Selecting the Right Tree.

Choose & Cut Farms

Family visiting a choose & cut Christmas tree farm in winter

For the absolute freshest tree and a fun family experience, visit a North Carolina choose & cut farm.

With 300 or more “choose & cut” Christmas tree farms across North Carolina, most residents have access to a Christmas tree farm in a neighboring county if not their own. Coastal plain and Piedmont farms generally grow Leyland cypress, white pine, Virginia pine, and/or Carolina Sapphire Christmas trees and often provide cut Fraser firs for broader choice. Mountain choose & cut farms predominantly grow Fraser fir but may also have white pine, Colorado blue spruce, Concolor fir or other exotic fir species. In addition to Christmas trees, most growers also make Christmas wreaths, roping, and/or other greenery arrangements.

However, on most choose & cut farms the central product is actually the experience of being on a farm. Finding the perfect tree, cutting it (or watching the chainsaw crew go to work), riding a hayride, feeding animals, hiking up a mountainside, buying Christmas ornaments or crafts, and/or sipping hot chocolate make it a unique and treasured memory. If you are willing to travel, you can find a touch of winter in the mountains or capture one more Indian summer day by visiting a coastal or Piedmont farm. Rather than the object of a quick shopping trip, the Christmas tree can become justification for a weekend getaway to mark the advent of the holiday season.

Independent Retail Lots

Christmas trees for sale at a farmer's market

North Carolina has many state and county farmers markets where fresh trees and greenery are readily available.

Perhaps the most traditional way for Christmas trees to be sold in most towns and cities, independent retail lots spring up at key intersections and parking lots across the country around Thanksgiving. Many have operated in the same location for generations. Retail lots can be run by the Christmas tree grower, the owner of the open lot or business, independent entrepreneurs, or local civic groups or charities. Tree quality is often superior but will vary from lot to lot. Care will vary as well — especially if a lot does not have access to water. As with a Christmas tree purchase at any venue, careful observation and a question or two can help you to make the right purchase. If you are in a warm climate where November days are often in the high 70s, look for tents and other forms of shade or trees displayed in water bowls. Many retailers offer special services such as tree delivery or pick up and even decoration.

Garden Centers

Many garden centers sell Christmas trees to stretch their season and better serve loyal customers. Used to handling plant material, garden centers usually sell the highest quality of Christmas tree and go the extra mile to keep them fresh. Indoor retail shops often provide a unique blend of Christmas ornaments and garden gifts. Garden centers usually stock a wider supply of live Christmas trees — either field-grown “balled & burlapped” or container-grown trees. If you trust a local garden center for your ornamental plants, they will likely be a reliable choice for fresh Christmas trees and wreaths as well. While a good choice for top quality, they probably offer competitive bargain-priced trees too.

Workers tying a Christmas tree to a car roof

Different businesses provide different services to their customers.

Chain Stores/Grocery Stores

The most competitive priced Christmas trees are usually found at the national retail chains where volume leads to a lower price. While tree quality is seldom as uniform as that found at independent lots, garden centers, or ‘choose & cut’ farms, good trees can still be found. With greater turnover and multiple deliveries of new Christmas trees through the holiday shopping season, the trees can be fresh from the farm. Asking questions and observing the general care and condition of trees can help you distinguish between a good bargain and a ‘bargain’ that you should walk away from.

Charity or Civic Group Fundraiser

In the past, the only way a civic group could raise money with Christmas trees was to open a retail lot over four or five weeks. Many charities or clubs now rely on alternative fundraising strategies that aren’t so labor intensive. Pre-sold Christmas trees, wreaths, and or roping can be delivered on one or two days without the expense involved in operating a retail lot. Very often the sales start in October or early November so that all the checks have cleared before the order is made. This takes much of the risk and guesswork out of the operation. Incidentally, this is the best way to get fresh trees aside from going to the farm yourself. If you are member of a civic club, school, or church that used to operate a retail lot, this is an easy alternative that depends less on a willing volunteer base. If you are affiliated with a group using this kind of fundraiser, support them by ordering a fresh tree or wreath.

Farmers Markets

Fresh Christmas tree on a sales lot

A Christmas tree displayed in the shade and in water on the tree lot will stay fresh throughout the holiday season if properly cared for in your home.

Farmers markets sell fresh produce throughout the year. Many also sell Christmas trees during the holidays. In North Carolina, there 5 farmers markets administered by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture in Asheville, Greensboro, Raleigh, Charlotte, and Lumberton. Some county farmers markets will also have Christmas trees for sale. With direct sales from Christmas tree growers, this is another good way to get fresh trees while comparing different styles of trees at one location

Internet/Catalog/Mail Order Services

Mail order Christmas trees and wreaths have been available for decades. The advent of the Internet has streamlined the ordering process and proliferated opportunities to buy boxed Christmas trees, wreaths or other greenery. Generally only the freshest products of the highest quality are boxed and shipped to your door. With rising cost of transportation, you can expect to pay a premium price for the convenience. Look for ads in magazines, catalogues, or simply look up “mail order North Carolina Fraser fir” in your favorite web browser.

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Written by Jeff Owen, October, 2011