The life of most Christmas trees grown in West Virginia usually begins in Clements State Tree Nursery in Mason County. The state’s only forest tree nursery, Clements Nursery serves all of West Virginia, as well as surrounding states.
“We sell bare-root seedlings to landowners and businesses,” said Jason Huffman, nursery supervisor. “The nursery grows 25 species of forest trees, both native and introduced, proven to grow and thrive in West Virginia.”
The varieties include the white pine, Scotch pine, Norway spruce, oaks, black walnut, tulip poplar, red maple, and West Virginia’s state tree, the sugar maple.
“We raise species that are good for multiple purposes,” said Huffman, who has been with the nursery for 21 years. “The trees are used for reforestation, coal mine reclamation, wildlife cover and Christmas tree production. I would like to emphasize that our seedlings are available for any landowner, not just Christmas tree farms or coal mine land. Seedlings can be used in yards and for windbreaks.”
White Pine seedling bed (Left side); 2 Norway Spruce seedbeds (right side)
Live Christmas trees are years in the making
The nursery grows seedlings for 2 to 4 years, then sells them in quantities as small as 25 trees per order. Tree farmers purchase the bulk of the Christmas tree seedlings grown by Clements State Tree Nursery. The farmers let them grow another 5 to 7 years. The trees are then cut and sold for the holidays.
The nursery’s Christmas tree varieties include white pine, Norway spruce and Scotch pine.
Guide to top tree choices
“The Norway spruce is the most popular of the Christmas trees we sell,” Huffman said. “This dark green tree has short, stiff needles – good for supporting ornaments – and a natural triangular Christmas tree shape.”
Scotch pine trees are among the most popular choices for Christmas trees in the U.S. The tree resists drying and retains its needles better than most.
White pines have long, soft needles. While the needles are too flexible to support heavy decorations, the white pine stands out when decked with lights, garlands, and ribbons. These trees have good needle retention and a slight scent.
The 2019 West Virginia Choose & Cut Christmas Trees guide, published by the West Virginia Tree Growers Association, lists Christmas tree growers throughout the state. It also provides tips to keep your Christmas tree fresh through the holiday season. The guide is available online from the West Virginia Division of Forestry at wvforestry.com.
White Pine transplant bed
Recycle from holiday to habitat
After the holidays, the trees can begin a new life cycle as wildlife habitat. The Christmas Tree Recycling Event accepts donated live trees to be submerged in lakes across the state to create fish habitat. The program is sponsored by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WV DNR) and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WV DEP) Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan (REAP).
“The donated trees must be real, not artificial,” said Terry Fletcher, acting communications director for WV DEP. “Remove all decorations, lights, tinsel, stands, and so on. We’ll accept any size tree, but not individual branches.”
Scotch Pine transplant bed
Post-holiday tree collections
Many Division of Natural Resources District Offices have the capacity to accept a certain number of live post-holiday trees. To find out when and if the office in your area is collecting trees, contact your local WV DNR District Office, Fisheries Section. The district offices are listed at www.wvdnr.gov.
A Christmas tree collection will be held Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, at Capitol Market in Charleston from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“The event is open to anyone who can get their tree to the Capitol Market on that day and time,” Fletcher said.
The trees will be plunged into Beech Fork Lake, Big Ditch Lake, Burnsville Lake, Cheat Lake, East Lynn Lake, Plum Orchard Lake, Stonecoal Lake, and Stonewall Jackson Lake, to name a few.
Jeff Hansbarger, a fisheries biologist with WV DNR, has coordinated with WV DEP on the Christmas tree project for several years.
“We place the trees during winter pool — low water — mostly in United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) reservoirs that lack fish habitat,” he said.
While tree owners can sink trees in their own privately-owned ponds, using public waterways requires coordination with state authorities. If not placed properly, trees can become navigational hazards.
“Instead of taking up space in a landfill, the trees are given a second life as fish attractors in state reservoirs,” Hansbarger said. “If put out in large enough numbers, they improve the overall habitat by adding complexity and wood to the system. Small invertebrates feed and live off the trees, which attract larger invertebrates, and smaller fish, and ultimately larger fish that anglers are targeting. The trees improve angler success by giving them something to target.”
In that way, seedlings sprouted in the nursery can live beyond their brief glory as festival holiday centerpieces, repurposed as wildlife habitat.