Holiday greenery is a $50 million dollar industry in Washington. Evergreen foliage is harvested by hand and made into some 5 million finished wreaths and holiday centerpieces. Florists across the nation will be using Washington greenery until the end of March when trees come out of their dormant season.


Middle aged stands of timber grow the best tips for producing beautiful boughs. Boughs are often harvested from the higher elevation stands of private and public timber. For harvesters who find high quality raw materials, the price is good.

The best trees for these uses are noble fir, various kinds of cedars and white pines. 

When temperatures drop, evergreen trees growth activity slows and eventually goes dormant. Needles stay on better when boughs are harvested from dormant trees. This year El Nino brought warm fall temperatures, prolonging the growing season. WSU Extension helps keep producers up to date about market conditions for Washington greenery.

With a boom from internet sales, small businessmen employ workers year-round taking orders, planning and preparing for the holiday season. Holiday items made from Washington-grown boughs are shipped all over the world.Some as far away as Dubai.One grower estimates 65% of his sales come from the Eastern US. 


With the increase in urban growth, holly orchards are becoming a rare thing these days. In the past, holly grown in Washington was shipped by carloads on what growers called The Holly Train to the rest of the US. Holly was an important Christmas decoration in homes throughout the country. The Stuhr Museum in Nebraska features Washington-grown holly in commemorating prairie Christmases past. (photo courtesy Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer)

Did you know? 95% of all holly in the US is grown in the Pacific Northwest!

Click below to meet a grower who maintains his own "bough orchard".

Some landowners have a stewardship lease with a harvester.  This maintains forest health through pruning and thinning, produces income for the timber landowner and provides a reliable source of raw materials for harvesters. A win for everyone!

Photos courtesy of Lynch Creek Farms

Noble fir can carry the same fungus that causes Sudden Oak Death, so before the boughs are shipped out of the state, they must be inspected and certified disease-free by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. 

Landowners can learn more about non-timber forest products at WSU Forest Owners Winter School.

According to records, English holly (Ilex aquifolium) was planted in Puyallup, Washington and commercial sales began in 1898. The berries are a favorite food of birds, especially in the winter when the freezing temperatures make the berries more palatable. Although holly seeds can be spread by birds, holly cannot grow to maturity in the shade of a northwest forest. The Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board monitors the spread of holly.

Holly has separate male and female plants. Only the female plants will make berries. Bees pollinate holly in the spring when the flower buds first break open. It is at this time of year  crops are threatened by insect damage from sucking insects. Mold and mildews can cause the leaves to turn black. Because of these tough pests, holly is difficult to grow organically.

Photos courtesy of Holly Hill Orchards

Beginning in November, holly is clipped by hand and tossed into harvest baskets. Each sprig is treated to preserve its freshness.  It is then quickly packaged and shipped across the country to floral markets or retail customers. Fresh holly is usually sold in bulk, but specialty wreaths can be ordered from some growers.

Workers at Holly HIll  

Holly that is packed with layers of thin foam and paper can avoid freezing and better withstand the trip to icy climates.

Happy Holidays from Washington State!


When customers open a box in Hawaii and smell the fresh evergreen scent of boughs, their minds are immediately transported to the Pacific Northwest.