BEAUFORT — Now that the Thanksgiving dinner leftovers are gone, many families go in search of the perfect Christmas tree.
The flawless tree appears to be in the eye of the beholder judging by the opinions of shoppers Wednesday who got a head start on selecting their tree at the Beaufort Ole Towne Rotary Christmas tree lot.
Isabella Berrini, 12, of Beaufort, said, “I don’t want it too skinny or bare. But I don’t want it too fat because that makes it look like there aren’t as many presents.”
Adults had a different take on the matter.
“I like a medium size tree, but I like it really round. I just don’t want it too tall,” Sara Graham of Beaufort said.
Tia Yelton of Beaufort had a different taste.
“I like skinny trees that are tall,” she said.
Some county lots set up more than a week ago to catch the first of the tree shoppers, and those on the hunt won’t be disappointed, according to Jeffrey Owen, forestry extension specialist with N.C. State University who specializes in Christmas trees.
“We’ve ended up with a really fine harvest season,” Mr. Owen said in a telephone interview Nov. 20. “We’re getting rain, but not too much, and there’s been a good amount of cold. The cold helps set the needles.”
Unlike last year, when there was concern about a Christmas tree shortage, Mr. Owen said there should be a healthy supply of trees for those shopping early.
“I think there’s going to be plenty (now), but not a lot on the retail lots come Christmas,” he said. “I recommend shoppers go early.”
Mr. Owen cautioned there might be a slight increase in prices in some areas this year, but the cost is still a bargain.
“Growers tend to be conservative and they haven’t increased their prices to keep up with the cost of inflation for quite some time,” he said. “Even with increases, they’re still not where they need to be to make up for inflation. Despite that, buyers are still getting a great price.”
County retailers affirmed the quality of this year’s crop.
Stan Lamb, chairman of the Christmas tree sales committee with Beaufort Ole Towne Rotary, said, “These are beautiful trees this year. We get our trees from Sugar Grove. I would recommend people shop early to get the best trees because we sell out early every year.”
Mr. Lamb said the Rotary received 260 Fraser firs, ranging in size from 4 feet to 10 feet. They also received many wreaths.
The price range is $35 for 4-foot and 5-foot trees, to $100 for 9-foot and 10-foot trees. Wreaths go from $15 for a 16-inch wreath to $50 for a 48-inch wreath.
The tree lot will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Sunday and 2 to 7 p.m. Monday.
Proceeds from the sale of trees at the Rotary lot, set up next to Burger King in Beaufort, benefit scholarships and local charities, according to Mr. Lamb.
Besides supporting local high school seniors with scholarships, the Beaufort Ole Towne Rotary has donated to the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club, Carteret County Public School Foundation, The Bridge Downeast, The Salvation Army, Broad Street Clinic, Martha’s Mission and others.
Rotary volunteers say as much as selling for a good cause, they enjoy seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they purchase trees.
“It is always a blast to see the people make their selections,” Mr. Lamb said.
Rotary member Jeff Vinton agreed.
“We have a lot of return customers each year and that’s part of the fun, seeing the people,” he said.
Ms. Yelton and her husband Dwight were among the repeat customers purchasing a tree Wednesday.
“I come here because it goes to good things for our community,” Ms. Yelton said. “It’s just so wonderful coming here to get a tree.”
Ms. Graham, an employee at First Citizen’s Bank in Beaufort, was shopping for a wreath for the bank. She, too, said she is a repeat customer to the Rotary lot for her personal tree.
“I like to support the Rotary and their trees are always so fresh,” she said.
Retailers at Friendly Market in Morehead City and The Plant Stand in Newport were also busy selling trees, which come from the western part of the state, as well.
Samantha McInerny, an employee at Friendly Market, said she enjoys seeing the joy on people’s faces as they pick out a tree.
“When you see the people come in with their young kids and they’re running all around saying pick that one — that’s fun,” Ms. McInerny said.
Trees at Friendly Market range from $30 for a table top size to $250 for 12-foot trees.
Sue Lawrence, who was overseeing the sale of trees and wreaths at The Plant Stand, said, she too enjoys this time of year.
“It’s just fun helping people pick out their perfect tree,” she said.
Plant Stand trees range from $22.95 for 4-foot trees to $250 for 18-foot trees. Wreaths range from $15.95 for an 8-inch wreath to $59.95 for a 36-inch wreath.
Wherever trees are purchased, there are certain things shoppers should look for to ensure they get a fresh tree that will last through the yuletide season, according to Mr. Owen.
“Pick a tree that’s holding its needles, that means it’s holding moisture well,” he said, adding that trees should be cool to the touch and foliage should be limber.
The most important ingredient for a tree’s freshness is moisture, and Mr. Owen said a good trick to ensure a tree retains adequate moisture is cutting ½ inch off the very end of the trunk and making sure the tree stand has a deep water bowl. Make sure the bowl is constantly filled with water throughout the season.
Another plus to a well-watered tree is it’s less likely to be a fire hazard in the event of an accident. Christmas trees should be placed in cool areas away from direct sunlight and potential sources of warm air. Trees should not be placed near fireplaces, heaters, furnace vents or television sets.
Light cords and connections used on the tree or in other holiday decorations must be in good working order to ensure a safe and joyous holiday season. Lights should always be unplugged when leaving home or going to bed.
While Fraser firs are the most popular Christmas trees, other species to consider are Douglas firs, white pine, spruce, Virginia pine, cypress varieties and red cedars.
North Carolina is the nation’s second-largest producer of natural Christmas trees, with nearly $86 million in annual sales, according to the N.C. Christmas Tree Association. Fraser fir trees represent 94% of all species grown in North Carolina.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 253; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.