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Christmas tree farm goes from seedling to success
Robert Wiggins and family have created holiday tradition
Wiggins X-mas tre fro Web
Robert Wiggins stands among his Frasier firs with his granchildren, 4-year-olds Avery Wiggins, left, and Dake Williams, at his home Wednesday. - photo by KATHERINE KENNEDY/Staff

Christmas Tree farm

Robert Wiggins talks about his Christmas tree farm.

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    When Robert Wiggins bought four acres of land fronting Highway 80 in 1978, he wasn't exactly sure what he was going to do with it.
    "It was just a good piece of property," he said.
    So when a friend of his suggested that he grow Virginia Pines on the land and start a Christmas Tree farm, he decided to go for it.
    Wiggins liked the idea, even though he knew absolutely nothing about growing Christmas trees.
    With the help of his friend, he ordered 1,000 seedlings and planted them as the beginning of his tree farm. Unfortunately for him, he used some weed control around the trees and ended up killing almost 700 of them.
    "It was really frustrating to put something out there and you expect it to grow and then to see it die," he said.
    The remaining 300, however, continued to grow and by 1982, they were ready to be sold. He sold some that year, and in 1983, he sold every tree he had ready to be marketed.
    Now, more than 20 years later, Wiggins Christmas Tree Farm sells approximately 500 trees each year, though gone are the Virginia Pines that he first began selling. Now he sells Leyland Cypress trees, which look like a cedars but don't have the branches that stick you.
    "When I started, it was just a hobby," Wiggins said.
    In fact, he said he never expected his hobby to turn into such a lucrative business.
    "I was just doing it for extra fish bait money," he said with a laugh. "But it's given me the opportunity to do some things I wouldn't have otherwise been able to do."
    He now grows Leyland Cypress trees, which he says are easier to grow in this climate, and a several years ago he began bringing in Fraser Fir trees after he had several customers request them.
    "They won't grow here, so we have to import them in from North Carolina," he said.
    He's also cut down on the number of trees he plants each year as his survival rate has increased. When he first started, he'd plant between 700 to 1,000 trees a year. Now he only plants between 200 to 300.
    When he first started, it took the trees four years to reach the desired height of seven feet, but now it takes closer to five years, Wiggins said.
    Julie Kuykendall and her husband were first-time tree buyers from Wiggins Tree farm after hearing about it from some friends.
    "I thought they had a great selection of trees to choose from," she said. "We were able to get it quick and they packed up in our car for us."
    Kuykendall said her husband always had a live tree and they liked the smell of a real tree over that of an artificial one.
    Donna Bradley said she's been buying trees from Wiggins since he started selling.
    "Robert and Anita (his wife) are good friends of ours," she said.
    Bradley said they try to get their tree the Sunday after Thanksgiving to allow themselves as much time as possible to enjoy it.
    He's had people from as far away as Ohio, Miami and Arkansas stop by his farm to buy trees.
    "The family from Arkansas has relatives in the area and he worked for Delta, so he could ship the trees for free. He'd pick one out and ship it and it would be there waiting for him when they got back," Wiggins said.
    Nearly 90 percent of his business is repeat business from  year to year, Wiggins said, with the first two weekends after Thanksgiving typically being the busiest.
    Wiggins said he believes people like real trees as opposed to artificial ones because it just "feels more real."
    "They have a good smell, plus people like to go out and select a tree rather than going into their closet and getting an artificial tree."
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