Published on 12/16/96

The Latest Thing: Georgians Decorating Cypress Trees

Georgians will buy close to a million Christmas trees this year. Many are choosing a new kind of tree that can make the holidays easier for everyone.

"About 40 percent of the trees grown in Georgia this year are Leyland cypress," said Dave Moorhead, a forest regeneration specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

Tree breeders crossed Alaskan cedar with Monterey cypress and got the best of both trees in one.

This is the first year these trees are widely available. Moorhead said farmers have grown a few of the delicate, lacy trees for about 10 years. But consumers have just "found" them. Leyland cypresses are gaining in popularity for many reasons.

"Leylands have a nice, soft foliage that's easy to decorate," Moorhead said.

The new cypresses have some advantages other Christmas trees. They don't have a very noticeable odor. And they don't hold dust or pollen that could cause problems for allergy sufferers. They don't shed needles, either.

"It's a very clean tree to take in and out of the house as long as you keep plenty of water in the stand throughout the season," Moorhead said.

Farmers like Leyland cypresses, too. They grow fast and are ready for market in three to four years. Many other trees grown in Georgia, including the Virginia pine and red cedar, may take four to six years to reach marketable size.

They're also more disease- and insect-resistant. "Farmers don't have to spend a lot of extra dollars or time trying to keep the trees in good shape," Moorhead said. Without insects, farmers don't have to spray costly pesticides on the trees.

Fewer insects on the tree in the field means holiday buyers take fewer insects into their homes, too. Homeowners choosing Leyland cypresses won't likely be bugged by aphids living on the tree they pick.

Like other fresh trees, Leyland cypresses do gulp down water. Moorhead said most trees will drink more than a quart of water every day.

"No matter what kind of fresh tree you choose, check the water level in the stand several times every day," he said. "And keep it filled with fresh water."

Trees with plenty of moisture stay fresh longer and are more fire-resistant.

Moorhead said Georgia farmers provide about a third of the trees Georgia families buy for their holiday decorating. Most Georgia tree farms sell their trees on a choose-and-cut basis.

Choosing a Christmas tree is an important part of the holidays for many families, said Don Bower, an extension family and consumer scientist.

"Families keep going out and choosing and cutting a tree because it=s a tie to the past," he said. "It=s a time for them to be together as a family during the holidays."

"It's a sure way to get a fresh tree," Moorhead said.

Whether you choose and cut your tree or buy it at the market, prepare it carefully before you set it up in your stand. Cut off about a half-inch of the trunk just before taking it inside. That opens up the tree's vascular system, allowing it to easily take up water.

When you take the tree inside, choose a place away from heater vents and fireplaces.

With all these advantages, it seems that Leyland cypress trees would be more expensive than other trees. But they aren't. "Leyland cypress prices fall right between Virginia pines and Fraser firs," Moorhead said.

Expect to pay $4 to $7 per foot for a six-foot Leyland cypress.