‘Tis the season!
Published 10:04 am Monday, November 9, 2015
MENOLA – If you want an old fashioned Christmas experience, the place to start is Dawson’s Christmas Tree Farm near Menola.
It’s a unique business for Eastern North Carolina, the only one of its kind, which takes great patience and care. The grower, Gene Dawson, said it took five years to make any money from his initial investment.
Local people he’s spoken with who were thinking about getting into this business immediately dismissed the notion when they heard that.
Dawson was a retiree who found it impossible to sit down for any length of time. He worked as a longshoreman as a young man, a tool and die maker at the Norfolk Shipyard, and as a contractor to build houses before coming to the tiny, but quaint, Hertford County community of Menola to retire.
He and his wife, Shirley, had some land and plenty of time. He had seen “choose and cut” Christmas tree businesses in the mountains, but noted there were none in Eastern NC, so he started one.
This is not a half-baked operation to relieve boredom. He joined professional organizations, started working with forestry and tree experts, did extensive homework and not only learned about the trees he’d grow, but how successful businesses operated.
The major thing that has made the business work, however, has been the hard work of protecting the trees and making them grow.
He battles insects and disease daily, checking each of the more than 2,000 individual trees at least every other day. He culls the ones with infestations that threaten other trees.
He shears every tree in June and in September to make sure they are Christmas tree quality in appearance, and also grows all of his own trees from seedlings.
He has two greenhouses to care for, a small plot behind his home to make sure the trees are ready to transplant into the “forest.” He has set up an elaborate irrigation system, and removes stumps from the trees claimed by families or culled for whatever reason.
It’s a successful business because of his love and care for each tree growing on his property and the hard work he puts in to keep everything going.
Dawson and his wife have also created a thriving business that gives families the full experience of an old fashioned Christmas experience.
The business was originally conceived as a “choose and cut” operation where families would select their tree, cut it down, and take it home.
Starting Saturday, Nov. 21 until Christmas, Gene and Shirley Dawson will be open every day for a fun family tradition of going into a small, aromatic, perfectly molded evergreen “forest” of trees and picking the one you like best and that perfectly fits your home, cutting it down (no axes or power saws), and taking it home.
If you prefer not to cut it down yourself, staff will be on hand to perform that chore, as well as preparing it for transport home.
Dawson is an expert on the characteristics of each type of tree and will advise buyers on how best to care for them. He also has printed instructions.
Dawson is very family oriented and especially enjoys seeing small children play amongst the trees with their siblings and parents.
He also will have Santa and Mrs. Claus at the farm from 1-5 every Saturday and Sunday starting Nov. 21. There will be train rides for the small children available for a small fee.
The trees range from 10-foot tall to saplings and there are multiple varieties to choose from that cost about the same as the dried out trees you buy at the store.
Gene Dawson, the grower, said Thursday that his fresh-cut trees will last for three months inside a home before they start shedding.
He has been growing cedar trees, but is cutting them out this year because they shed so much once inside the home.
Dawson said he wants families to have a great experience with his trees, so he wants to eliminate the unsightly mess these trees make, saving families the hassle of cleaning up the mess, and protecting them from fire hazards.
The trees he has on hand will be mess-free and greatly reduce any potential fire hazard.
The varieties of Christmas trees Dawson grows include Leland Cyprus, Green Giant, Carolina Sapphire Cyprus, Blue Ice Cyprus, Variegated Leland, and White Pine.
With over 2,000 trees ready for Christmas, Dawson keeps busy almost every day of the year.
He and his wife also make real, living wreaths, skirts for the trees, and “kissing balls,” naturally made objects the replace the poisonous mistletoe once used.
Families who want to get a jump on things can come out to preorder a specific trees (like layaway) that will be spared the saw until you’re ready to come claim it.
Even if you don’t think you’re ready, come on out for a unique experience in a beautiful, aromatic local “forest.”
For more information or directions to the Christmas Tree Farm, contact Dawson at 252-587-3655 or 757-641-9314. The business is also online at www.dawsonschristmastreefarm.weebely.com