These days, many of us find our Christmas tree at a garden supply store or a local church selling them as a fundraiser. Ever wonder where they get the trees? Christmas tree farms, of course! But it’s not always easy. Growing Christmas trees is similar to producing any other agricultural crop. It’s a serious business that requires a lot of hard work! Learn more about our tree farmers.
The Business of Christmas Trees
I have small greenhouse business and also sell plants and vegetables at our local Farmer’s Market. During the holidays, we go visit our local tree farmer. The big search for our Christmas tree is a fun family tradition.
While most of us think about Christmas trees only in December, for farmers who grow cut-your-own trees, it is a year-round commitment. Boy, it's a serious business requiring a lot of hard work!
Talk to your tree farmer and you'll learn:
Trees are fertilized in the early spring and late summer.
Grass in the rows and between trees needs to be mowed.
Pests such as balsam twig aphids and red spider mites need to monitored and dealt with.
Many growers hand-shear their trees with a sharp, machete-like knife and use clippers to give them a natural look rather than an artificial cone shape.
For every tree harvested, anywhere from one to three more seedlings are planted.
How long do Christmas trees take to grow?
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, "It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree of typical height (6 to 7 feet) or as little as 4 years, but the average growing time for a marketable size is 7 years."
That's a lot of plant care!
The Benefits of Trees
Walking amid the trees is a heavenly experience in itself. I love the fresh scent of pine, spruce, cypress, cedar, and fir.
My favorite Christmas tree for decorating indoors is the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) with that classic Christmas tree fragrance plus great branches for ornaments.
These trees around us do so much work, storing carbon dioxide and emitting fresh oxygen. Christmas trees also stabilize soil, protect water supplies, and provide refuge for wildlife while creating scenic green belts. They have a positive impact on the environment that you can feel good about.
Often, Christmas trees are grown on soil that doesn't support other crops. In fact, Christmas tree farms virtually eliminate the harvesting of trees in the wild, which can deplete valuable forests.
On the other hand, artificial trees are a petroleum-based product manufactured primarily in Chinese factories. The average family uses an artificial tree for six to nine years before throwing it away, where it will remain in a landfill for centuries after disposal. Christmas trees are biodegradable, which means they can be easily reused or recycled for mulch and other purposes.
Of course, we also visit the tree farm to support our local farmer! Did you know: While 85 to 90% of artificial trees make the long trip from China, the U.S. Christmas tree industry creates more than 100,000 U.S. jobs. Christmas trees are grown in every state, even Hawaii, and this year more than 35 million trees will be cut and re-seeded.
Buying a Potted Living Tree
One year, I tried buying a potted living tree. We prepared a place to plant it well in advance, digging the hole and insulating it by filling it with a bag of leaves. We kept the dirt to refill the hole in the basement in buckets. The living tree was pricey but I looked at it as an investment.
After enjoying it indoors for about a week, we hustled it out to the shed to acclimate to the cold before planting it in the prepared hole.
Luckily that experiment worked. (Many potted trees don't make it if the indoor air is too dry and hot.) Our tree thrived outside where it stands as a reminder of that long ago Christmas.
I no longer have children at home, and have decided to invest in seedling trees from our local state nursery. They are taking their time growing but my hope is to have trees for the grandchildren (which I don't have yet) to cut in the future.
Keeping a Christmas Tree Fresh
One question we get from a lot of people around this time is how to prolong the life of a cut evergreen Christmas tree. Over the years, our advice has not changed.
Buy a freshly cut tree from a reputable nursery or cut your own. Avoid any trees that were cut weeks before or any place where you see lots of needles on the ground.
Once you get your tree home, saw about a half-inch off the bottom of the trunk. When trees are cut, the pitch oozes out and seals the pores. By sawing off the base, you will open up the pores and the tree will be able to absorb water.
When you place the tree in your house in a stable tree stand, be sure to keep away from drying heating vents and fireplaces.
When you fill up the tree stand with water, make sure that the cut is submerged. A funnel-type watering can makes watering your tree very easy.
It all comes down to water. By the end of the day, your tree may need more water. By the next morning, your tree may need more water. Trees are very thirsty and will use up to a gallon of water a day! A fresh tree, like a sponge, contains more weight in water than the tree itself weighs when dry. So, do not let the tree dry out. Check your water level both morning and night for that first week!
One old Vermonter we knew always packed his tree stand with well-watered soil and planted the tree in the mixture. If you use his technique, the soil should be kept wet. Some people add aspirin or sugar to the water; we can’t say whether either helps. Just don’t forget that it is the water that is the vital element.
The Myth About Artificial Trees
If fear of fire keeps you from having a real tree, be aware that less than one tenth of one percent of residential fires involve a real tree. Artificial trees are made from petroleum. When they catch fire they exude thick black smoke and toxic fumes. A freshly-cut tree is actually difficult to set ablaze. As long as it is kept in water it will be fire-resistant.
When Christmas is over, be sure to bring your cut tree to the county recycling facility, where it can be turned into useful mulch, so the tree has a life that goes on. The tree comes from the Earth and returns to the Earth. In some areas, recycled trees are also being used to create habitats for fish and aquatic life. See all the ways to reuse your Christmas tree.
Enjoy bringing the outdoors inside this holiday season with your festively decorated tree!