We see them everywhere — fragrant green trees decorated with glittering ornaments, festive ribbons and bows and angels or stars gracing the pointed tops. Christmas trees are in our homes, in our businesses and even on town squares.
But before the tinsel and lights, what goes into growing a beautiful, perfectly shaped pine, cypress, cedar or fir?
Robert Wiggins can tell you. Wiggins has been growing Christmas trees just outside of Statesboro since 1982.
The Wiggins Christmas Tree farm on U.S. 80 West is a bustling spot during the holidays, but throughout the year, it’s a typical farm. Wiggins plants, fertilizes, shapes, prunes and nurtures his trees in preparation of the holiday season, when families come select the perfect tree for their home.
It takes five years for a tree to mature to the point where it will make a good Christmas tree. Wiggins once grew pines, but now his trees are all Leyland cypress, which are different from cypress trees that grow in the swamps and lakes, he said.
“Pines are hard to grow and get started,” he said. “About 80 percent of growers have switched to the cypress.”
Wiggins has toyed with the idea of not planting more trees, but in the next breath he talks about trying a new hybrid — a Murray Cypress, which is a cross between a cypress and a cedar.
“We have enough trees (planted) to last the next five years,” he said. “As long as I’m able I’ll at least continue to do the Frazier firs.”
Those he does not grow, he travels to North Carolina to get. He brings back a load each year to sell to those who prefer the firs instead of the “choose and cut” cypress trees.
“We sell about half Frazier firs, half Leyland cypress,” he said.
After a tree is planted, it grows about a year before the bottom limbs are cut away. As the tree grows, it is pruned into the conical shape that people expect Christmas trees to have, he said.
When December rolls around, families start coming out to the farm to choose their trees. “Sometimes they are out here for two or three hours,” he said. Children enjoy running through the trees, playing with the Wigginses’ dogs, and their parents usually find someone they know. The adventure turns into a social event, he said.
Growing Christmas trees was not something Wiggins always planned. After a friend looking for land in Bulloch County purchased property on U.S. 80, so did Wiggins. A friend who worked with the state suggested he grow Christmas trees, and the endeavor grew so much that the Wigginses built a house on the property, he said.
“It has been fun, and we have made lots of friends and acquaintances,” he said. “We have the same customers every year, as well as new ones.”
The Wigginses host field trips for school groups, too. Children enjoy learning about the trees, listening to stories, browsing the farm and having hay rides, he said.
“We do a lot of extra stuff to make it more enjoyable,” he said. “The children are elated.”
When it comes time to choose a tree, customers select the one they want. The tree is cut down, measured and charged accordingly. Firs are priced by the foot while the cypress trees are graded by quality and size, he said.
Then, the tree is bundled and placed in (or on top of) the buyer’s vehicle and it goes off to be transformed from a simple green tree into a work of wonder, covered in fancy ornaments and garland, or homemade trinkets and icicles.
As the customer drives away, Wiggins has not only made a sale, but has the satisfaction of knowing his tree farm produces not only Christmas trees, but smiles and good family fun.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.