MINERAL WELLS - Bernie Dowler has been growing Christmas trees on his seven-acre site since the 1970s.
"When I got out of forestry school in 1965 and finished my biology degrees in 1968 I learned a little bit about growing Christmas trees," he said. "I started planting in 1968 and we've been selling trees since the middle of the 1970s."
Dowler said growing the trees is a labor-intensive business.
Photo by Jeffrey Saulton
Bernie Dowler has been growing and selling Christmas trees at his farm near Mineral Wells since the mid-1970s.
"I do it all by hand. It's not so much that I enjoy the exercise," he said. "I like to be able to hear the hornets, if there are any in the tree, before they come out. That hasn't happened for several years."
To keep the traditional conical shape of the tree, Dowler said the trimming is necessary, usually starting in late June or early July. That's the time when the buds for new growth start to appear.
"That is the period of time to let the buds form for the next year's growth," he said. "If you go too late you don't get any new buds. It's a balance between leaving enough new growth yet keeping the tree from getting out of hand."
Dowler said leaving too much growth will result in a lot of gaps in the Christmas tree. Growing the perfect Christmas tree takes a lot of work and it amounts to more than just planting trees, he said.
"It's a science," he said. "These trees have to be sheared or shaped with a knife once a year. A Christmas tree is really nothing more than a glorified hedge."
Dowler, who is retired from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, said the site in Mineral Wells allows individuals to cut their own trees and they sell them wholesale to organizations that sell the trees as fundraisers.
"We've had a variety of different places sell them," he said. "We've had many go to Charleston over the years. But we focus pretty much on this area."
The Wood County Christmas tree choose and cut operation attracts 200 to 300 customers each year.
"We're an established business and we get the same customers each year, mostly choose and cut and some wholesale," Dowler said. "Right now we have about 1,000 marketable trees."
Dowler said the business for live trees has stabilized because there are fewer growers.
"Many of the growers have simply gotten older and not been able to keep their farms going," he said. "They've gone out of business. There are probably fewer growers in West Virginia today than there were 15 years ago, so the business has shifted to those who stayed."
Dowler said some of his customers will stop by in the next few days to tag the tree they want. They will cut the tree during the Thanksgiving weekend or from early to mid-December
Dowler said the demand for real trees versus artificial trees runs in cycles.
"When it appears the trend may be going toward artificial trees, all of a sudden it seems like people decide they like the odor of a fresh, naturally grown tree," he said. "It's been pretty stable over the years. I haven't seen a big change."