It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and you know what that means? Yes, Christmas Trees! We love to pick them, decorate them, and some even like to grow them. If this is something that interests you, I hope the tips below help you figure out how you can get started.
Growing & Harvesting
- Start with accessible land: Not too steep, easy to get to, well-drained; an old field usually works well.
- Conduct a soil analysis: To determine if any nutrients need to be added or if the pH needs to be changed. Additional fertilizer will be needed as the trees grow. Soil test kits can be purchased through your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office. Conducting a soil test every three years is recommended.
- Choose tree species that are hardy in your area: There are many different types. Popular trees are Douglas-fir, balsam fir, Fraser fir, Canaan fir, blue spruce, Norway spruce, Serbian spruce, and white spruce.
- Spring is planting time: You can either plant by hand, or rent a planter attachment for a tractor. Seedling care before and during planting is crucial. Two types of stock are available, bare root and plugs. Bare root are field grown and come completely free of soil, often dipped in hydrogel and packed in moisture holding materials. Plugs are grown in tall, small-diameter containers, and are shipped in them; soil media and all. Plugs can be more expensive than bare root, but can be planted later in the season. Both require special attention. Be sure the roots do not dry out and are planted at the correct depth. The top of the root system should be just below the surface of the ground, and the roots should be pointed down in the planting hole, laid out as the grew naturally, not bent or broken. Make sure the soil is lightly tamped to remove air pockets and help ensure survival.
- Trees should be planted in rows with adequate spacing: You do not want the growing trees to touch or crowd each other. Plant within rows 5-8 feet apart, and leave at least 5-8 or so feet between rows, depending on the size of equipment you will need to move through the plantation. You will need access to all sides of every tree.
- Consider using a ground cover: This will help cut down on weeds and soil erosion.
- Seedlings: They may need watering to keep them alive, but once the trees are established, little watering should be needed.
- Christmas trees can have insect and disease problems: Be on the lookout for them; It is easier to prevent them from getting out of hand if they are caught early. If using chemical controls, be sure to follow the label directions exactly. If you find an insect or disease problem, contact your local CCE office, the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, http://plantclinic.cornell.edu/ or Insect Diagnostic Lab http://entomology.cornell.edu/cals/entomology/extension/idl/index.cfm for identification.
- Weed control: It is important to control the weeds at the base of the trees to prevent the lower limbs from dying off. Tall weeds can grow into the lower branches and the will shed those branches. This will not affect the top of the tree, but will cost you a couple of extra years of growing to make up for the lower branch loss. Chemical, manual, and mechanical weed removal may all be needed.
- Shearing: Pines must be sheared in the spring as the new shoots are elongating. Spruces and firs can be sheared almost anytime during the growing season, as buds will form on older growth. For ease you may want to shear all types of trees at the same time, spring/early summer. There are a variety of tools that can be used for shearing- knives, blades, pruning shears, clippers, and even mechanized pruners. Trees should not be sheared until they are 3 or 4 years old.
- Harvesting: Trees should be harvested after the temperatures have started to drop. Also, drought stressed trees lose their needles faster than healthy, fresh cut trees. Try to keep the trees from being drought stressed before cutting and don’t cut them too far in advance. Balers can be used to wrap the trees with twine or netting to ease in the movement of the cut trees. You-pick operations are generally known for having the freshest trees.
- Replacing the harvested Trees: Spaces where trees were harvested should be refilled in the spring with seedlings. Do not plant directly on top of the old stump, off set slightly to allow for easy root penetration into the soil. If whole blocks are harvested, you can let the ground sit fallow for a few years so nutrients can rebuild and stumps can rot.
Marketing & Selling
- Marketing is a year round activity. Don’t wait till the holidays to try to push your business. Make sure prospective buyers know your location, contact information, and price of trees (and other products) earlier in the year. Make sure you have thought through your business and marketing plan.
- Christmas tree farms are cyclical plantations and are treated more like crops than forests. Minimizing inputs to maximize growth are a good way to keep costs down and prices up.
- Below is a list of possible sales methods. You can chose to use only one or a mix of the three.
- Wholesale- sell to a secondary retailer, less money per tree, but your time is cut down by not selling directly to the public.
- You-Pick- invite potential customers out to your land to choose which tree they would like before the tree is cut. You can get a higher asking price per tree, as well as save inventory (only the trees that will be sold will be cut).
- Retail- Sell your own pre-cut trees at a roadside stand, local business, or on your own property. Can be combined with a You-Pick operation. Invite customers out to choose pre cut trees. Usually easier and faster for the customer, can still get a fairly good price. Only a really good option if you have an easily accessible sales site.
Don’t want to grow your own? No worries! Use Harvest Connection to find farms who have local products including Christmas trees, decorations, gift ideas, and sweet treats that are perfect for the Holidays. Hop on Harvest Connection to find farms close to you.
* Most places have opened for the season or open this weekend! Make sure you call ahead of time to check hours and availability of products. *
Below you will learn about Morin’s Tree Farm, one of many farms found on Harvest Connection ready to serve you.
Want more information about Morin’s Tree Farm or want to get in contact with Ray about purchasing his products?
If you have questions about growing Christmas Trees or how to become a part of Harvest Connection, reach out to Kayela at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Happy Holidays from CCE of Rensselaer County!
Christmas Tree Farming: Written By: J. Rebecca Hargrave, Community Horticulture & Natural Resources Extension Educator