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So you want to start a Christmas Tree Farm

Few views match the beauty of rolling acres of well-tended agricultural land. We often sit on the front porch of the house and look across our perennial gardens into neat rows of Christmas trees. In spring, they flush lime green with new growth. In summer, honeybees work the flowers that grow between trees. In fall, the trees are sheared and ready, with the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows of maple trees in the background. And in winter the real magic begins.


I grew up on a Christmas tree farm, which meant Christmas was a more a of a season than a holiday. It starts in early November and finishes in the days after December 25th, when we pack away supplies and put the farm to rest until spring. Tree farming falls between agriculture and forestry. It requires a different set of skills than most farms, although the weather and soil challenges will be familiar to anyone who's grown something as simple as a tomato plant in a pot on their front step.


If you have access to land and a love for growing things, it can be a very rewarding pursuit.

Vermont Christmas tree farm in summer

Christmas tree farm considerations


Christmas tree farming is different from other kinds of farming in a few ways- first, theres's no animals, so you aren't tied down to the farm every day 365 days of the year. Second, your busiest season will be in November and early December. Third, it's a 6-10 year long commitment before you get your first crop. So it takes a bit more patience than most starter farms.


You'll need land to grow the trees on, seedlings, time, and a little bit of luck. You'll need a way to plant trees, a plan for weed control, a method and tools for shearing (shaping) the growing trees, and a marketing plan for your finished Christmas trees.



Christmas trees behind a sign that reads tree farm: wildlife recreation water wood

get knowledgeable


Join your local Christmas tree association. Learn what kinds of Christmas trees can be grown on your soil and in your growing zone. Are there species that are popular where you live? In Vermont, Balsam Fir are traditional; there was a trend for Scotch Pine in the 1980s; and North Carolina has done a remarkably effective job marketing Fraser Fir.


Look at what you can grow and what people want to buy- it'll make your species selection easy. Then add in some diversity. This protects you from late frosts, insect damage, or unusual weather destroying your entire crop.


Make a plan to manage grass. Young Christmas trees grow best when they aren't competing with grass for nutrients and sunlight. You might choose to plant a low crop underneath (such as clover), mow regularly, mulch, graze sheep, or spray herbicides. The most effective technique for you will depend on your farm and how you choose to deal with weeds.


Learn how to shear trees. After the first few years of growing, you'll need to shear (shape) every tree, every year, until it is harvested. We use long, thin, machete-like knives called shearing knives. Some people use gas or electric mechanical trimmers. You might be able to hire your shearing done. We use hand pruners to trim the top of every tree- you'll want to limit the growth to one foot a year for optimal density (this can vary with faster growing southern species. Our northern conifers do best with 1' of growth per year). Once again, we highly recommend working with a knowledgable tree grower who can advise you on shearing techniques to correct growing faults.


planting season


man planting a balsam fir seedling on a christmas tree farm

With a big push from family and few employees, we planted all our trees in a two week span. We dig and plant every hole by hand - our very heavy clay soil doesn't plant well with mechanical hole diggers. If there isn't rain in the immediate forecast, we give each newly planted tree some water and each new tree has its own mulch ring to help keep moisture in the soil.


Your soils may allow for a more mechanized planting style. Once again, talk to growers in your area. Your local ag extension office can also help you learn how to work with the soil you have.


three girls standing next to a fake reindeer in a field of Christmas trees

looking ahead


You've got 6-10 years to kickstart your customer base. As your trees are growing, think about how and where you'd like to sell them. If you have another job besides farming, it might be a good idea to consider wholesaling your trees or just opening up shop on weekends. Make the most of the initial growth period by connecting with fellow tree farmers. Pick their brains about what works well for them and what doesn't. Get their insights on what they'd do differently if they were beginning anew.


how to learn more about our farm


Check out some of our other blog posts, or post a comment below on what you'd like to learn more about. You can also follow us on instagram or facebook.


Until next time,

Amanda

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