Christmas-Tree Farms Face a Tough Season 

As Christmas neared, people even took home over-trimmed pines that resembled "a small tree on top of a stick," she says. So the farm will close until 2007, to give the Hokes time to replant and let the trees grow.

Don't panic — other growers still have trees, although the years of drought have affected Central Virginia farms, says Sue Bostic, president of the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association. The association has 121 members. Overall, Virginia growers sell 1 to 2 million trees annually with a wholesale value of $20 million to $40 million.

Small farms are hit hardest, Bostic says, because it's difficult for them to plan ahead for drought or increased demand. "If they didn't plant eight or ten years ago to plan for this growth," she says, "they're going to have a shortage."

There's a science to farming Christmas trees, Bostic says. "It's all playing around the weather, the climate, what's going to happen and when. It's more than sticking it in the ground and letting it grow."

The hot summer also wasn't kind to the trees, says Hilda Nuckols of Nuckols Christmas Tree Plantation in Cumberland County, but she hastens to add that her farm is still stocked: "They're beautiful. We have lovely trees."

The Hokes will plant about 1,000 seedlings this spring. The decision to close down for the year wasn't easy, the Hokes say. "So many of them have come every single year, and you hate to disappoint the children," Lorraine Hoke says. In the meantime, they're pointing their customers to other area farms: "We want people to go get a real tree," she says, "and not a fake one." — Melissa Scott Sincalir

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