the Green in Christmas
Christmas tree farmers
work hard to grow the perfect tree
Helen E. McKinney
(December 2002) Everyday is Christmas for Clarence
McGlaun Jr., owner of Alpine Ridge Christmas Tree Farm in La Grange,
Ky. McGlauns workload doesnt become easier just because
the season changes.I like to do it, said McGlaun, who moved
to La Grange in 1986 and operates his farm at 2600 Massey School Rd.
Ive always had an interest in plants and trees."Its
a tremendous amount of work, he said. Everyone is looking
for the perfect Christmas tree, which is why he has to be particular
every step of the way.
tree farm, Seymour, Ind.
Growing Christmas trees is a year-round job. Young seedlings
have to be planted in the spring to replace sold trees. Grass and weed
control must be implemented over the summer and fall. And winter brings
families to the farm to choose and cut a tree.
Every year in June and July, the trees also need to be trimmed or sheared
to ensure that they will grow in a conical shape.It takes six
to eight years to grow a six-to seven-foot tree in Kentucky, said
Herb Loyd, president of the Kentucky Christmas Tree Association. He
said the most common trees are White Pine and Scotch Pine.
White Pine is a native American Tree. Scotch Pine is originally
a European Tree brought to America with the colonists.To Troy
McWilliams, owner of Sleepy Hollow Tree Farm, 4301 S. Hwy. 1694 near
Brownsboro, Ky., experience has been the best teacher. When starting
out in the business, McWilliams advises tree farmers to form a general
idea, then learn over the years.Patience has taught him not to
plant trees too close together and not plant too many at one time. He
has also learned how many of one variety to plant at a time, based on
which of these varieties sell the best.McWilliams has 2,300 trees planted.
His wife, Dianna, aids in their upkeep. Most of the time he can be found
maintaining the adjacent Sleepy Hollow Golf Course, which was built
in 1968 by his parents, Jim and Judy McWilliams. He said that he had
extra land on the golf course, and after discussing it with his family,
he decided to plant Christmas trees on it. He said his tree farm is
a good business to have on the side.Both McGlaun and McWilliams raise
Scotch and White Pine trees. McWilliams adds Norway Spruce and Douglas
Fir to his inventory of trees. McWilliams said the best tree is the
Douglas Fir, which has to be shipped from Oregon and Washington.
Loyd said that Fraser Firs do not grow well in this area either, and
have to be shipped in from North Carolina, where growers say it takes
12-14 years to grow a six- to seven-foot Fraser Fir tree.
Despite the time it takes to actually make a profit from tree farming,
Jerry Roberts of Roberts Tree Farm, 9977 N. Co. Rd. 25 E., in Seymour,
Ind., said there is nothing like the experiences of seeing families
choose their tree and start a family tradition.
Were selling an experience, not just a Christmas
tree, Roberts said. Its an activity that all
ages can participate in.
Started in 1973, his tree farm provides five varieties of Christmas
trees: Scotch Pine, White Pine, Austrian Pine, Blue Spruce and Caanan
Fir. He encourages families to either walk or take a hayride through
the more than 4,000 trees available on his farm.
One factor that sets Roberts operation apart from others is the
availability of large trees on his farm. He said he sells 10-foot, 12-foot,
and 14-foot trees to churches or customers who have vaulted ceilings
in their homes.
All three Christmas tree growers spray their trees for different kinds
of insects. Roberts sprays his trees with a special preservative to
prevent the tips from yellowing. McGlaun added that deer could cause
a considerable amount of damage.
McGlaun said he gets a lot of repeat business. Its an enjoyable
time for the entire family because it is an experience you cant
get off of a tree lot, he said.
He provides bow saws for families to take to the field and knows a family
is pleased with his trees when he hears a child yell, Timber!
Most tree farmers agree that the best preservative for the tree once
a family takes it home is to immediately place it in water. Some customers
like to make a fresh cut on the tree first. McGlaun suggests placing
it in warm water because it will travel up the tree trunk better than
A tree that has been outside in 30- to 40-degree temperatures must gradually
become accustomed to the warmer temperature inside a home, said tree
farmer Jim Bishop of Bedford, Ky. Bishop and his wife, Joyce, raise
one acre of Scotch pines on their farm.
A customer may want to place the tree in a garage, then in a breezeway
if available, before finally placing it in the home, Bishop said. He
has recently entered the Christmas tree farm business again after taking
a break due to several unproductive years. Although he will not sell
trees this year, Bishop hopes to sell them next Christmas.
A tree that is kept moist is not likely to become a fire hazard, he
said. As long as the water supply is checked daily and the tree is not
close to a direct source of heat (such as a space heater), which would
dry out its needles, any tree should last through the holiday season.
For McGlaun, raising Christmas trees has been quite a learning
experience, he said. There is a real misconception that
you plant a tree, harvest, sell and things are great. He advises
that anyone interested in the business should visit an established tree
farm before beginning his own.
Loyd, who also owns a tree farm, said, Most farms fail for lack
of forethought. I always tell prospective growers, If you are
going to grow trees, you have to put down your own roots. You
cant have a successful business if you plant trees and then three
years later move across the country.
McGlaun said that a popular trend for this year is the balled and burlap
tree, which he sells for $59 to $89. This is a living Christmas tree
that is dug up, its roots wrapped in burlap, and taken home for the
holidays. As long as the roots are kept moist, the tree will remain
alive. Many people plant it outside after the holidays, said McGlaun.
There are approximately 30 million real Christmas trees sold
in North America every year.
Approximately 330,000 real Christmas trees are sold via
e-commerce or catalogue and shipped mail-order.
North-American real Christmas trees are grown in all
50 states and Canada. Eighty percent of artificial trees are
manufactured in China.
Real Trees are a renewable, recyclable resource. Artificial
trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and possible metal
toxins, such as lead and cadmium.
Consumers can locate the nearest recycling program by
logging onto www.realchristmastrees.org or calling 1-800-CLEANUP.
For every real Christmas tree harvested, two to three
seedlings are planted in its place the following spring. In
spring 2002, more than 65 million real Christmas tree seedlings
There are about 1 million acres in production for growing
Christmas trees. Each acre provides the daily oxygen requirements
of 18 people.
There are about 15,000 Christmas tree growers in North
America and more than 100,000 people employed full or part-time
in the industry.
It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree of average
retail sale height (six feet), but the average growing time
is seven years.
The top Christmas tree producing states are Oregon, North
Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin.
The top-selling Christmas trees are: Balsam Fir, Douglas
Fir, Fraser Fir, Noble Fir, Scotch Pine, Virginia Pine and White
Last year, 28 million real Christmas trees were sold
at a cost of between $3.93 and $7.19 per foot, for an average
price of $31 per tree. The number of real trees sold for display
represents 32 percent of all trees (real and cut).
In 2001, 24 percent of U.S. households reported having
a real tree, compared with 52 percent who had an artificial
tree and 23 percent with no tree.
The top reasons given in a 2000 survey for having no
tree in the home were (1) didnt want to or feel like it
(20 percent); (2) not home for Christmas (20 percent); (3) too
busy or too much trouble (12 percent); (4) religious reasons
Source: National Christmas Tree Association.
Bishop said it is a good idea to dig your hole for this
tree immediately upon buying it, in case the ground is frozen when you
get ready to plant it outside after the holidays. To prevent the trees
system from going into shock, he said it is a good idea to take
it out gradually, the same way it came in the house.
McGlaun said many families find this kind of tree appealing because
every time they look at it, theyll have tangible memories to last
John M. Robbins Jr., owner of Leota Christmas Tree Farm in Scottsburg,
Ind., also sells this popular type of living Christmas tree. Robbins
owns 40 acres, upon which 20 acres are planted in mostly Scotch and
White pine trees.
He said he started planting trees in 1982 on the same land that his
father had raised Christmas trees on in the 1940s. His father had planted
the trees for erosion control, then found himself in the midst of a
booming business selling trees. But since he took over the business
after retiring, Robbins has added unique amenities to his operation.
He has a petting zoo with a variety of animals, one of the more popular
being his potbelly pig that dances. He also has a pair of live reindeer,
Rudy and Randy.
These features provide his customers a chance to spend the day together
as a family, enjoying the farm, its animals and a gift shop located
on the farm. He also sells wreaths and garlands.
Like McGlaun, Robbins said he has a lot of repeat customers. He treats
them well by providing cutting, shaking and wrapping services. Santa
even makes an appearance on the weekends.
McGlaun sells his trees at a set price of $29 per tree. McWilliams sells
his Scotch and White Pines for $6 a foot and the Norway Spruce and Douglas
Fir for $8 a foot. Roberts sells Pines for $4 and Spruce and Fir for
$6 a foot. For an 8-foot tree, Robbins charges $16; for 8 to 10 feet,
$25; and for over 10 feet, $35.
To contact the tree farms in this story:
Alpine Ridge, La Grange, KY: (502) 933-1755
Sleepy Hollow, Brownsboro, KY: (502) 241-5441
Bishop Tree Farm, Bedford, KY: (502) 255-7121
Roberts Tree Farm, Seymour, IN: (812) 522-1288Leota Christmas Tree Farm,
Scottsburg, IN: (812) 752-7160
Becks Tree Farm, North Vernon, IN: (812) 346-8588.
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