Starting OutNatural Christmas trees are an integral part of the holiday season. For many individuals growing Christmas trees can be an interesting pastime and a lucrative enterprise.
Some Christmas tree producers will opt for a plantation but there is also the option of establishing a wild tree farm. This second option can be more labour intensive than cultivated trees but has some advantages such as a quicker return and trees that are better adapted to the site's growing conditions. Factors to consider during establishment and upkeep will vary between methods.
The first step to establishing a Christmas tree production is finding an ideal site. The perfect site will have road access, fertile soil suitable for growing trees, good climatic conditions and will be located relatively close to your living quarters.
Ideally the land should be accessible by a good road. Accessibility to a roadside is important because trucks should be able to turn around when they come to pick up trees. Adequate drainage is also essential since the harvesting season is short and if roads turn muddy to the point that transportation is problematic, this could mean a significant loss of money and time.
Soil quality is one of the key factors for a successful Christmas tree plantation. The best soils are deep well-drained loams. Growing trees on swampy sites is not recommended, as it often produces poor coloured and slow growing trees. Also very shallow soils are to be avoided as they tend to give poor results unless fed extra fertilizer to compensate (this could be costly). Before planting it is possible to conduct soil analysis at different depths to have a clearer picture of your soil's quality.
When choosing the site you must always keep in mind that you may encounter frost damage. Avoid sites prone to late spring frosts that kill new growth such as hollows and steep south slopes. Gentle northern slopes that warm up slowly in the spring and higher areas where frost is less likely to occur are ideal.
After locating your ideal site, it's time to plan your plantation. During planning you will decide when, what and how to plant.
Planting of the site can be done in one single year or staggered over multiple years. Unless you need the entire income of your tree plantation in one year, staggered planting is recommended. Planting your trees in multiple years will provide steadier annual income and will evenly distribute the work of planting, cutting, shearing, harvesting and marketing. Also this method will place you in a better position to deal with buyers who need a steady yearly source of trees.
The three most commonly used planting methods are planting in the sod, two-year preparation or three-year preparation. Planting in the sod is cheaper than the two other methods but will take longer to produce trees, and they will most likely be of lower quality. The planting method will vary if you are considering establishing an organic tree farm.
Planting in the sod:
- Year one: planting
- Year one: soil sampling, plowing and harrowing lime
- Year two: spraying and planting
- Year one: soil sampling, plowing and harrowing with lime, planting green crop
- Year two: plow under green crop and plant cover crop
- Year three: spray herbicides and plant
When establishing a plantation you will have to make sure that the species you are planting is compatible with your site. The most common tree species grown in New Brunswick for Christmas tree production are balsam fir, fraser fir, and douglas fir.
You will most likely purchase your seedlings from a nursery where you will be able to choose between bare root, container or a container-plus seedlings. The bare root seedlings are generally more expensive than the ones in containers and are harder to plant but they have a shorter rotation.
When selecting the site for the establishment of a wildstand, you will need to consider the same factors as for a plantation site plus a few additional ones. Access, soil quality, climactic conditions and proximity to home are some of the common factors but you will also need to look at stand height, age and species mixture.
Generally speaking, a stand four to six feet tall with a mixture of smaller trees is considered ideal for starting a new lot. Trees shorter than this height will be more difficult to thin and in stands where the average height is 10 feet or more, the lower parts of the crop trees might be damaged.
The average tree age needs to be estimated before making the decision to establish a wildstand since in certain growing conditions a small tree does not represent a young tree. An easy method to estimate the average age of the stand is to cut a few sample trees at ground level and count the annual rings.
When choosing the site you should try to choose a stand where the species you will grow is present in high number either as dominant trees or as an understory component.
The first step to managing a wildstand is to remove all unwanted species from the site either mechanically or chemically. This operation is referred by many as weeding. Weeding can be done as soon as the snow levels are low enough to cut the unwanted species at ground level, but to reduce risk of resprouting the best time for weeding is midsummer. Debris from cutting should be left on site to serve as protective mulch for new seedlings.
Once you have removed unwanted species from the site, you will need to thin your wildstand by cutting any trees of your chosen species that will never grow into a sellable individual. When all the unwanted trees of other species and of the desired species have been removed, you will probably find that the potentially worthwhile trees remaining are too densely spaced and that you will need to thin them. In general, you should try to space trees the same height, approximately six feet apart. Try to leave small seedlings of different sizes between the ones that you will harverst soon to replace the trees.
To ensure long term supply of trees you should select a number of seed trees. These trees should represent the characteristics you would like to see in you Christmas trees such as good growth and resistance to disease to name a few. Three to six seed tree per acre should be sufficient. If after two to five years there is no or very little natural regeneration occurring you will need to consider planting.
For more information on how to grow, care and market Christmas trees visit INFOR's library and coming events for lists of courses and books relating to these subjects.
Hill L., Christmas Trees : Growing and Selling Trees, Wreaths, and Greens. 1989. Storey Publishing.
Forest Extension Branch, Managing Wild Balsam Fir for Christmas Trees. 1980. Nova Scotia Departement of Lands and Forests.