The family-owned tree farm starts spreading cheer November 20
Rows of five- and six-foot ”Carolina Sapphires” grow at Lebanon Christmas Tree Farm.
Every morning, Julianna Velarde rides her golf cart through her family’s tree farm in Ridgeville, inspecting the trunk girth and foliage of species such as lacy Leyland cypress, blue-green “Carolina Sapphires,” and fragrant spruce and Virginia pines. Driving along the neat rows, Velarde is on the lookout for the quintessential Christmas tree—not too skinny, not too wide, always pointy on top. It’s a job she takes seriously as soon hundreds of cars will line up alongside the dirt road leading to Lebanon Christmas Tree Farm filled with families who have “sleigh bells on their brains” and visions of cutting down the perfect holiday evergreen.
Each November since 1985, the Christmas tree farm, one of 15,000 that dot the country, has opened its gates in hopes of spreading good tidings and cheer. The 30 planted acres offer a cut-your-own tree experience‚ a nostalgic wonderland where people are encouraged to don their best (or worst) holiday sweaters, pack a picnic, and stay for a day filled with joyful activities.
The family acquired their land in the idyllic community of Lebanon, outside of Ridgeville, in the 1930s with money earned through a lucrative raccoon fur business. The hides were shipped to California, where many Old Hollywood mavens wore luxury coats made of their pelts.
(Left to right) How lovely are the branches of the evergreens lined up in rows at the Lebanon Christmas Tree Farm in Ridgeville, growing strong and ready to hold twinkling lights, bright stars, colorful orbs, and family ornaments in homes across the Lowcountry; (From left) Caroline Yerich, her late husband Dr. Kim Yerich, their daughter Julianna Velarde, and her husband Cesar Velarde
Velarde’s father, Kim Yerich, who spent his career as a veterinarian, started the tree farm with his late uncle. Yerich was an old-school, pen-and-paper guy until 2013, when Velarde ushered in new technology and more efficient systems to help the farm thrive. Each year, the father-daughter duo would make bets on which tree would be the first to sell. They were rarely right. “One year, we were convinced this one ugly tree would never be chosen, but it was the first one sold!” Velarde recalls. “It goes to show that the best Christmas tree is the one that people love.”
Yerich passed away in August at the age of 65, leaving Velarde with big shoes to fill. “My father was a people person, always happy and bubbly. He was my best friend and business partner. We complemented each other. He knew everything about trees and loved his family so much.”
That commitment drives Velarde to improve on the vision she and her late father shared. In addition to more efficient business practices, Velarde brings warmth and love to the operation, including making sure Santa responds in a timely manner to the letters he receives at the tree farm. “I do that because that is the spirit and joy of Christmas,” she says.
This January, she’ll plant two trees for each one cut down, like her father always did, keeping the tradition alive for generations to come.
“To me, Christmas means happiness and family. And that’s what I try hard to do with the tree farm,” Velarde says.
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
Open November 20 to December 12
Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday & Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Admission is free; Trees are priced by height, starting at $40.
Activities on Saturdays and Sundays: