Growing Christmas trees is like growing any other crop; it just takes more time and patience. Most trees take an average of ten years to grow to the 6-8 foot height most people use. Growing trees requires well- to moderately-drained soil, depending on the type of tree. We typically take a soil test, then apply lime and fertilizer and kill all weeds the fall before planting. Then we plow and disk the field to prepare the soil, as for most other crops. The row spacing is laid out to give the trees room to grow, and a ground cover grass is seeded to prevent erosion.
In early spring we plant seedlings or transplants bought from nurseries that specialize in growing them. Small, bare-root trees 8"-18" tall come packed in moist paper or moss to keep the roots from drying out. We plant by hand or by machine, depending on how wet it is in early spring. Using a tractor in very wet soil leaves ruts that make it difficult to care for the trees during the next ten years. After planting, herbicide is sprayed in the rows to control emerging weeds which would steal nutrients and moisture from young trees. Herbicide is applied in the rows to control weeds each spring and fall, with spot treatment also used on those difficult weeds. We follow Penn State recommendations for herbicide use to care for our trees properly and safely. During the growing season we mow the grass between the rows of trees on a regular basis. Mowing, along with proper use of herbicide, allows the lower branches to get sunlight for full growth and development. Other trees on the edges of the field are cut for firewood, so all the Christmas trees can have full sunlight.
Many insects and diseases may infest growing trees. We keep a close eye on this, with years of experience, attending Christmas tree growers' meetings, and reading reference materials. When any crop is grown in quantity, insects and disease are a problem. Control is achieved by spraying insecticides and fungicides, and preferably with cultural practices such as weed control and encouraging natural insect predators. This is a delicate balance, requiring decisions on when and if to spray to do the job with the minimum use of chemical controls. Some people think the use of chemicals is bad for the environment. Used properly, they are an indispensable tool for growing quality crops. In our Christmas tree farm, as in many others, wildlife abounds--birds, rabbits, deer, and groundhogs.
As the trees grow, we cultivate the preferred "Christmas tree shape" by training a single leader each year, removing "doubles" and even tying up leaders to keep a straight stem growing. As the tree reaches 3'-4' we begin the process of shearing, cutting off some growth from side branches. As the tree develops a bigger root system, top growth becomes too long to develop a quality tree, so we shorten the leader to encourage a fuller top. By shearing our trees annually we can cultivate the desired taper and density most people expect.
Each year we look over all our fields to determine which trees are ready for harvest. We place color-coded plastic ribbon and a size tag on each tree we will harvest. We complete the inventory process by listing Douglas fir, Canaan fir, Fraser fir, concolor fir, blue spruce, and Scotch pine for sale from 3 feet to 12 feet, with the most popular size being the 6-7 foot tree. Over the years, we have kept records and make the effort to have on our retail lot the variety and sizes of trees our customers prefer.
In late November we begin harvesting trees at our farm. Each tree is placed on our tree shaker after harvest, to dislodge old needles, weeds, and debris so you will have a clean tree. Excess bottom branches are cut off to make it easier to put the tree into a stand, then the tree is baled (wrapped with twine) to make it compact for shipping and to protect its delicate branches. When the trees arrive at our retail lot in Hatfield, we drill a tapered hole in the bottom of each tree, allowing us to display it in the best way possible, on a tapered steel pin. When you come to pick out your tree, our fresh-cut trees are lined up and displayed individually by size and type, with size tags so you know if the tree you choose will fit in the space you have available. We also have tree stands with the tapered pin for use at home. This is the easiest and fastest way to set up your tree.
Our choose-and-harvest field is right behind our fresh tree display area. If you wish, we will give you a saw and a tree cart to use for harvesting your own tree (during daylight hours). We will shake it and bale it when you return from the field. Many people have made this a family tradition during the Christmas season.
When you choose your tree, we will carry it to our baler, bale it, and give it a fresh cut, making it easier to take home and set into your stand. For ease in handling, set the tree in the stand, add water, then cut off the netting. Some people may wish to purchase a plastic tree removal bag, placed on the floor before setting up the tree, then pulled up over the tree at the end of the season for neat and clean removal of the tree. The best way to dispose of your tree is to have it chipped. Many municipalities offer this service, sometimes using the resulting mulch in local parks. Recycling is the right choice.
Growing Christmas trees requires a great deal of planning and hard work. It has its rewards, just as anything worthwhile does. Watching the delight of children helping to choose the family tree, of a newly married couple choosing their first tree together, or of anyone who has kept the time-honored tradition of using a real Christmas tree is a reward we receive over and over each year.