Cut your own tree farms attract millions each holiday season

By Greg Gelpi

The onslaught of frenzied holiday shopping marks the beginning of the Christmas season for some. For others, a trek to chop down a tree marks the beginning.

After a number of years decorating an artificial Christmas tree, Tim and Tammy Cruz recently decided to "try something different" and cut down a live tree at a Hampton farm.

Although Tim Cruz had cut down his own tree several times before when he lived up north, it was the first time for his wife.

"When the temperature starts dropping, you start sawing a little faster," she said.

The cold weather aside, they both said the toughest part was choosing from about 8,000 trees.

The average Christmas tree is about 7 ? to 8-feet tall and costs $20 to $45, said Adrian Fourakre, the owner of Fourakre Tree Farm. In comparison, an artificial tree of the same size costs from $60 to $120.

In general, live trees at area farms cost from $2 a foot to $10 a foot depending on the type of tree with Virginia pines usually the least expensive and Fraser firs the most expensive.

The prices of live trees have stayed steady for the most part with some prices slightly lower because of overstocking and others, such as cypress trees, slightly higher because of availability.

Fourakre said he began the farm in 1977 to help send his daughter to college.

"I haven't stopped since," he said. "It just gets in your blood."

The busiest time for tree farmers is now, he said.

"Right now, we just don't stop," Fourakre said.

Bethany Christmas Tree Farm in McDonough also offers a full-service tree experience, owner Cary Ahrano said. Tree farm visitors can select and cut down their own trees, and farm workers will shake loose pine needles, bail the tree and load it up.

Although different families prefer different shapes, sizes and types of trees, Ahrano said the perfect shape tree is considered to have a 70-degree taper.

Ahrano planted his tree farm on 20 acres in 1980 and began selling trees four years later.

He grows a variety of Christmas trees, including the Fraser fir, what he called the "Cadillac" of Christmas trees.

According to the Georgia Christmas Tree Association, more than 37 million families carry on the Christmas tree tradition with a live tree, a tradition that spans more than 400 years.