Editor's Note: Dec. 3, Merket Farms updated their Facebook page to say that Dec. 3 would be the last day to cut trees out of the field, but they still have some available trees in the green house.
It’s almost time to buy your Christmas tree, and two Panola County farms will have trees galore to choose from starting in the upcoming week.
Merket Christmas Tree Farm began in 1985, and they’ll be starting sales Thanksgiving at noon. Panola Orchards is selling Christmas trees for the first time this year and will be opening for business Monday, Nov. 22.
Merket Christmas Tree Farm
Owner Jackie Merket has always farmed, even before he moved to East Texas.
“I had a friend that he had a Christmas tree farm, and when we moved out here we wanted to do something with the place,” Merket said. “He suggested planting Christmas trees, so we did, and here we are.”
Merket Farm will offer Virginia Pines and Leyland Cyprus that he grows on the farm, as well as precut Fraser Firs imported from North Carolina. Prices start at $35 and go up from there depending on the variety and size. They open Thanksgiving Day at 12 p.m. and will close at 6 p.m. After Thanksgiving, their regular hours will be Friday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Monday to Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m. until they sell out.
Special offerings at Merket Farms include their petting zoo for the kids, which is mainly goats, and on Saturdays, Santa makes a visit to the farm. They also do tree flocking.
The farm does everything to do with the Christmas trees.
“If they’re a new grower, we sell stands, we load the trees for people, tie them on top of their vehicle if they don’t own a truck,” Merket said. “We can pretty well do everything that needs to be done to the tree. When it’s cut, we shake it; we nail it, and like I say we load it and pretty well do it all.”
Merket really enjoys the people who come to the farm.
“The memories that we make, the people that come back year after year. We’ve seen a couple of generations of families come, and it’s neat seeing the memories that are being made,” he said. “We got to carry a tree to Camp David one year. That was a really good experience. It was the same year of 9/11. It was when George Bush was president, and we got to carry it up to Maryland, so it was a good honor. We’ve worked with our state association, and that’s the way we got to carry the tree to Camp David, I was president that year of our state association.”
He didn’t always do the precut trees, thinking no one would come to a tree farm to buy a precut tree.
“A lot of people, they come in, they go right in the greenhouse and they get a tree out of there, don’t even ever walk out in the field,” he said. “The Frasers, even though they’re precut and they’re shipped in, as soon as we get them in off the truck... we’ll recut the butts, we put them in water, put them in stands, and they’re in water all the time that they’re in there. So it’s a lot different than going to Lowe’s or some place where they just stack them out and don’t take care of the trees.”
It takes a lot of hard work to grow Christmas trees, he said.
“It takes four years to start out with,” Merket said. “There’s something to do with the trees year round. A lot of people think that you just plant a tree and go back in four years and you harvest a Christmas tree. They’ve got to be sheared twice a year. There’s insects that like them better than we do sometimes. So there are a lot of things that you do have to do as far as grooming them and making them look like they do.”
Merket’s biggest piece of advice to those buying a Christmas tree is to water it.
“They need to keep watering them,” he said. “That’s very important that they take care of the tree when they carry it home. The main thing is keep plenty of water, and our stands that we sell, they have a water bowl with them, and it’s mainly just keeping the water in the tree and never let it run out. Check it every day.”
In terms of picking a tree, Merket said the Leyland Cyprus is good for people with allergies because it doesn’t have a scent.
Outside of Christmas trees, the farm also has mayhaw trees, muscadines, blackberries, peaches and other fruit. In their farm store, they sell fudge, all different kinds of candy, and jelly made from fruits on the farm. Merket donates proceeds from candy sells to the Panola County Cancer Coalition.
Merket Farm is located at 785 FM 1794 West in Beckville.
Panola Orchards, while new to Christmas trees, has been selling fruit for years.
“We originally did not come over here to sell Christmas trees,” said farm store manager Brenda Martin, daughter of owners John and Judy Alexander. “We started a fruit farm, growing blueberries and all that, but we decided, I guess it was about five years ago I believe that we were looking for some income in the fall, because we were getting the spring and summer, but then we had a huge amount of time between that and the next year, so we were kind of brainstorming with something we can do to give us a little more income during the fall, and we thought about Christmas trees.”
Panola Orchards will offer Leyland Cyprus trees grown on the farm as well as Douglas Firs imported from Oregon. Most of the trees will range between $10 and $12 a foot. The week of Thanksgiving, they will be open Monday to Wednesday and Friday to Sunday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., closed on Thanksgiving Day. After that they will be open Monday through Friday 3 to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until they sell out. They do not allow any pets on the premises.
Special offerings at Panola Orchards include the complementary farm wagon ride to the Christmas trees, as well as Christmas music outside and food trucks on select days, which will be announced on their Facebook page, Panola Orchard and Gardens. Martin updates the page regularly with information and updates.
“When someone comes out here to get their tree, they get to actually go to the back of the Christmas tree field, and on the way to the Christmas tree field they can see our peach orchard, they can see our blueberry field, and they get to go over the dam where the ponds are and kind of experience more of a panoramic view of the farm,” Martin said. “So that kind of makes it a little unique to be able to do that.”
Panola Orchards sells tree stands as well as tablets to put in the Christmas tree water called Forest Fresh. They will assist in carrying trees to people’s vehicles, but they will not be tying down the trees this year, so customers are advised to bring a truck and whatever they need to tie the tree down.
“We’re kind of easing into the Christmas tree business,” Martin said. “This is our first year, so we’re easing into it. As we get more experience and have the basics down, then we’ll start adding things like flocking, different things like that. We’ll start letting photographers come out here before we open. We’ve learned from experience that if something’s new, you ease into it, and you become an expert in the basics, then you start adding to it.”
Martin said they did a lot of research to get ready to sell trees.
“We were very new. We have a lot of experience with fruit. With Christmas trees, we knew nothing about them, so we had to start from scratch,” she said. “One thing we’ve done is a lot of research. We’ve talked to other farmers; we are members of the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association, and that’s been a huge resource just to get information from them. Of course we have to water them regularly. We have to prune them. Of course the Leyland Cyprus that we grow tends to naturally be the shape of a Christmas tree, but you still have to control that to get up the beautiful shape. So a lot of pruning. We’ve had to replant some. You want them to be at least 6 to 10, 11 feet before you open, because most people want between a 6 foot tree and a 10 or 11 foot. So we had to wait until we had enough that size to open. We were almost there last year, but we said we need one more year, so this year it gives us more of a selection of taller trees.”
Martin echoed Merket’s advice about always keeping your tree watered, but added that you should use their forest fresh tablets as well to help keep the tree fresh.
“When they get home, they need to cut about a half inch, inch, just the end of tree, cut a little bit of the trunk off, shave that off, cut that off, and make sure they put it right into water, make sure when they get their tree stand, put water in immediately and check it a few times a day, make sure they keep it full of water,” she said. “If it runs out of water, it will start dying quicker.”
When it comes to picking a tree, Martin said the first thing is you need to make sure it will fit in your house.
“If they’ve got an 8 foot ceiling, they’re gonna have to allow for a star and everything, so make sure they know where they’re gonna put it,” she said. “They wanna get the right size and fullness. If they’re gonna put it in a little corner, they’re going to want a more narrow tree. If they have a huge room, they can get a more full tree. I would definitely look at the trunk of the tree to make sure it’s nice and straight. That’s the main thing. Definitely make sure it’s the right size for wherever you’re gonna put it.”
Outside of the Christmas Trees, Panola Orchards has a lot to offer in their farm store.
“We’re gonna have hot chocolate, cinnamon rolls, homemade pecan pies, a lot of gourmet jarred products,” Martin said. “A lot of mixes, like pancake mixes and biscuit mixes. We have the Amish popcorn, a lot of really unique Christmas gifts, a lot of toys, handmade soups and bath bombs. We have a lot of Christmas themed, like Christmas themed bath bombs and Christmas theme soups and handmade dish soap aprons and bowl cozies, a lot of handmade craft items... home decor. Really really cute wooden reindeer.”
Panola Orchards is located at 1413 FM 1186 in DeBerry.