For a real Virginia grown Christmas tree, a delightful day in the country and a great start to the holidays, make plans now to visit one of the state’s many Christmas tree farms this year.

Get all the information you need from the new 2003-2004 Virginia Grown Guide to Choose-and-Cut, Fresh-Cut, and Live Christmas Trees, available free from the Virginia department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It provides information on more than 55 Christmas tree growers who sell cut-your-own, pre-cut and live Virginia Christmas trees.

In the guide, growers are listed alphabetically by county. Each listing includes the varieties of trees for sale, services offered such as providing saws and tree baling, the hours of operation, and direction. In addition to location and phone numbers, many growers also provide e-mail and Web site addresses.

The Services section of the listings includes the holiday specialties each farm offers. Along with their trees, many sell tree stands, wreaths, garlands and roping, as well as a variety of decorations. Several farms have gift shops featuring unique and handmade creations.

Farm guests might find extras such as hot chocolate, cider or candy canes and at some farms, visitors can enjoy hayrides, marshmallow roasting and animals to pet.

Special touches like these can turn the search for the perfect Christmas tree into a memorable family outing.

When it comes to picking the perfect Virginia grown tree, buyers have a wide variety of choices. Selections include white or Scotch pines with their long, slender needles; Norway or blue spruce trees, both very full with bristly needles; and Douglas, Fraser and Concolor firs featuring longer, softer needles and blue-green color.

Freshness is an important feature of every locally-grown Virginia Christmas tree. Freshly cut trees retain their needles longer and are less flammable than trees brought in from out of state, which may be cut as much as a month or more in advance.

In Virginia, Christmas tree farming is a major agricultural industry with more than a million trees harvested and sold annually by hundreds of farms throughout the state. As mature trees are cut, new seedlings are planted each year, making Christmas trees one of our most renewable resources.

Virginia’s Christmas tree industry is a participant in the Virginia’s Finest trademark program. Growers whose trees meet standards set by the industry and approved by the Virginia department of Agriculture and Consumer Services may apply to use the well-known blue check/red "A" trademark. In the Guide, the trademark is shown next to the listing of growers who have earned the Virginia’s Finest designation.

For a free copy of the 2003-2004 Virginia Grown Guide to Choose-and-Cut, Fresh-Cut, and Live Christmas Trees, send the request to "Christmas Tree Guide," Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, P.O. Box 1163, Richmond, Va. 23218, or cal 1-804-786-3951. The guide is also available at www.vdacs.state.va.us/trees/index.html on the Internet.