Fritsche's Farm near Giddings is one of several good area options for your Christmas tree shopping.
Fritsche's Farm north of Giddings needs only a white blanket of snow on the ground to look like a perfect Christmas wonderland. The neat rows of cone-shaped Virginia pine trees stand like soldiers waiting duty as the centerpiece of someone's holiday decoration.
Rose and Gene Fritsche planted the first seedlings of their Christmas tree farm in 1989 in a field that had been used to raise peanuts. Five years later they had their first trees tall enough to sell. "It was my husband's idea," Rose says. "He wanted to find an alternative to growing peanuts."
Rose readily admits that farming is a sideline business for the couple with three grown children and four grandchildren. She is the county auditor for Lee County, and he works for a local funeral home. "This was supposed to supplement our children's college education fund," she says. But the children grew faster than the trees.
Whether it is goobers or Christmas trees, any kind of farming is hard work. Maintaining the trees is a year-round job. Replacement seedlings are planted in January, and the entire crop is trimmed in the spring and fall. Of course, the capricious Texas weather can make or ruin a crop. "I don't think it's much fun in July when we're trimming and mowing," Rose says.
When the farm opens the day after Thanksgiving, all the hard work and summer heat become a distant memory. "It is very satisfying work when you see how excited the children get as they run through the rows to pick out a tree," she says. The farm also offers free hayrides and hot chocolate to visitors. In addition to the trees, Rose operates a little craft shop at the farm and makes fresh Christmas wreaths.
The Fritsches raise mostly Virginia pines that have a short needle and a fragrant pine smell. They also grow Leyland cypress trees, which are popular with people who have allergies. "The cypress is my personal favorite," Rose says, "because it reminds me of the trees we had when I was growing up." As a child, her father would cut a cedar tree out of the field behind the house for their Christmas tree. They also carry some pre-cut Fraiser pines harvested in North Carolina.
Even though they shake the trees at the farm to remove loose needles and grass, Rose recommends washing the tree before bringing it into the house to remove pollen and dust. If it is more than 30 minutes after being cut before the tree is put in water, she recommends recutting the trunk so the tree can drink better. "A fresh cut tree can drink a gallon of water a day," she says.
The farm has trees ranging from 4 to 12 feet tall. Prices are $4 a foot for the Virginia pine, $5 for the cypress, and the pre-cut trees are $30 to $50. About an hour from Austin, to get to the farm take U.S. 290 to Giddings, then U.S. 77 north for about three miles to CR114, make a right and go another two miles. Visitors are welcome Monday-Friday 3pm-dark, Saturday 9am-dark, and Sunday 1pm-dark. For information, call 979/542-3452 or www.bluebon.net/fritsche.
The Christmas tree tradition probably began in 16th-century Germany. The "choose and cut" tradition of selecting a fresh tree began in Texas when the first commercially grown trees were planted in 1972. Since then, approximately 350 farms in the state produce more than 200,000 trees on 2,500 acres. Virginia pine and Afghan pine are the most commonly grown varieties.
Other Christmas tree farms in the Austin area include:
The Lit'l Christmas Tree Farm at 21612 Cold Spring Dr. west of Cedar Park off FM 1431 is open weekends 10am-5pm. 267-3539.
Evergreen Farms Christmas Trees south of Elgin off U.S. 290 on Monkey Road is open Monday-Friday noon-dark, Saturday and Sunday 9am-dark. 512/281-4833 or www.ever green-farms.com/.
Loma Alta Christmas Tree Farm is one of the oldest tree farms in the state and is east of Bastrop off U.S. 290. They are open daily 9:30am-5:30pm. 512/360-2005.
Nature's Way Christmas Tree Farm off U.S. 290 east of Elgin is another old-timer in the tree-raising business in Central Texas. The farm opens Sunday-Friday noon-5pm and Saturday 10am-5pm. 512/281-5012.
Burnett's Christmas Tree Farm is about two miles west of Salado and I-35 on FM 2484. The small farm with gift shop opens daily 10am-dark. 254/947-4477.
Seiler Christmas Tree Farm south of Seguin off TX 123 on Jakes Colony Road is one of the prettiest tree farms in the area. Open daily 9am-6pm. 830/379-3468.
Vogel's Tannebaum Farms east of New Braunfels off TX 46 is along the river in an old pecan orchard. Open daily 10am-5pm. 830/372-4335.
548th in a series. Day Trips, Vol.2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.