Christmas tree growers
stay the course despite challenges
Many area tree farms offer fun family activities
(December 2013) – For many, it’s becoming the experience of a lifetime; a way to include all ages and genders to share in a memory making adventure. A trip to any area Christmas tree farm can turn into an entire day spent with family and friends creating a special holiday tradition.
Kebe Sheets, owner of Sheets Tree Farm, said his family has been selling Christmas trees for more than 50 years. His mother and father, Lenna and Gayle Sheets, were both schoolteachers who began the business after talking to a forester who recommended planting pine trees for soil erosion control.
He currently grows “40 acres in different stages,” said Sheets. He carries several Christmas tree varieties including Scotch Pine, White Pine, Canaan Fir, Colorado Spruce and Norway Spruce.
“These are the most popular trees for cut Christmas trees,” said Sheets, 41. “They grow well in this area.”
During the holiday selling season, Sheets sells more than 1,000 trees a year. He also sells landscape trees and raises different crops.
Photo by Don Ward
Jeff Michels poses in his Christmas tree field at his 135-acre farm
near Sparta, Ky. This is his
second year selling the trees.
Sheets said Christmas trees are not hard to grow if you “keep them trimmed every year, spray regularly with herbicides and keep up with the pests.”
Depending upon the tree variety, it may take seven to 10 years for a tree to mature into a nice-sized Christmas tree. For pine trees, he charges $35 for up to eight feet, plus $10 for every foot after that. For spruce and fir trees, Sheets charges $55 up to seven feet, and $10 for every additional foot after seven feet.
“It’s a full time job for us,” said Sheets, who is helped by his wife, Diana, and two children, Samantha, 12, and Jacob, 10.
His mother, now 83, travels from the Indianapolis area on the weekends to help out, said Sheets. “She is the overseer and she takes the money.”
In addition to trees, Sheets sells wreaths starting at $25 and swags starting at $15. He provides saws for visitors to cut their own trees or visitors can choose from some he has already cut. He provides what you need to “go and pick the perfect tree,” he said.
• Sheets Christmas Tree Farm, 5679 N. CR 200 East, Osgood, Ind. (812) 689-4768. Choose and cut Christmas trees. Saws provided. Trees shaken to remove loose needles and baled. Hay rides provided to tree fields. Also wreaths, garland, swags available. Open Nov. 29 - Dec. 21 on weekends from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
• Roberts Tree Farm, 9977 N. CR 25 East, Seymour, Ind. (812) 522-1288. Choose your own freshly cut Christmas tree. Staff will cut trees. Trees shaken to remove loose needles and baled. Also wreaths, garland and other greens sold. Horse-drawn carriage rides to the field. Free refreshments. Open Nov. 22 - Dec. 21 on Fridays-Sundays from 10 a.m. to dusk.
• Sleepy Hollow Tree Farm, 4301 S. Hwy. 1694, Prospect, Ky. Choose and cut Christmas trees. Saws provided. Trees shaken to remove loose needles and baled. (502) 963-3319. Open Nov. 29 – Dec. 24 1-6 p.m. Fridays and Sundays; 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Saturdays.
• Michels Family Farm, 4275 Hwy. 1316, Sparta, Ky. (859) 643-2511. Open weekends only from Nov. 29 through Christmas. Choose and cut Christmas trees. Saws provided. Trees shaken to remove loose needles and baled. Open Nov. 29 - Christmas weekends only from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Before leaving the farm, the trees are shaken and baled, and Sheets will recycle used trees after the holiday season is over.
Sheets said he “enjoys being outdoors and making people’s Christmas very happy.” The experience is a great one for him because “people are in such a cheerful mood this time of year. I have a lot of repeat customers that I see each year.”
Roberts Tree Farm, located in Seymour, Ind., is run by Jerry Roberts. “We started planting trees 40 years ago and selling them 30 years ago.” He had bought some land and not known what to do with it at the time. When he built a house on some additional land he owned, he decided both places would be good for growing trees.
Roberts, 68, said his wife, Libby, “is a big part of the business.” For the holiday season, she “bakes 3,500 cookies, and we go through 50 gallons of spiced cider and hot chocolate.” Wagon rides and free refreshments have made getting a tree at Roberts Tree Farm “a tradition the day after Thanksgiving,” said Roberts.
His goal is to “start a family tradition for our visitors. There are not a lot of wholesome experiences a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old can enjoy together.”
As with other Christmas tree farms, Roberts offers U-cut and pre-cut trees. “A lot of people cut their own,” he said. “We sell 600 trees during the holiday season.”
Pine trees sell for $5 a foot and spruce and fir for $7.50 a foot. Roberts sells living Christmas trees for $12 a foot.
Roberts, a retired optometrist, grew up on a farm and raises 20 acres of Christmas trees. He has to prune, shape, trim and spray for weeds and pests each year. Taking care of the trees is “a continuous thing,” he said.
Roberts has a lot of repeat customers form Louisville, Indianapolis and the Cincinnati area. People will travel quite a distance to “make it a family outing or a whole afternoon experience. We’ve gone through whole generations of families,” he said of the parents, grandparents and children that visit his tree farm.
Troy and Diana McWilliams of Prospect, Ky., have about 2,500 trees growing on five acres of their family farm.
He likes to see many of the same people year in and year out that he may not have any other opportunity to see, such as professors from the University of Louisville or pastors from the Indianapolis area.
Michels Family Christmas Tree Farm near Sparta, Ky., is run by Jeff and Pam Michels. They own 135 acres, including three acres of Christmas trees. This is only their second year of selling the trees and they have many mature trees ready for purchase, Jeff said.
“I just sold my first trees last year,” said Jeff, who planted these trees seven or eight years ago. He estimates that he now has 2,000 trees growing there.
Michels, 62, said his sister, who lives in Boone County, Ky., got him interested in growing and selling Christmas trees. Like most Christmas tree farms, Michels begins selling trees the Friday after Thanksgiving and ends the weekend before Christmas.
While Michels takes care and plants all of the trees, his sons and wife help him sell them. The kind of tree most people want are Scotch Pine, said Michels. He also sells Canaan Firs and White Pine. The popular Fraser Firs, found at area stores, do not grow well in the Kentucky or Indiana region, he said.
“Firs have a natural, good shape,” he said. Michels plans to plant more trees every year to expand the business and pass it on to his children, who are both foresters.
What to Expect at a
Choose & Cut Farm
• Be aware of possible farm hazards. Most tree farms keep their fields very well groomed, but there are some things that are beyond the farmer’s control. Be careful of fire-ant mounds, tree stumps, an occasional blackberry vine, uneven ground and sharp saws.
• Go to the farm prepared for a day in the country. Wear comfortable shoes and old clothes. Bring rain gear if the weather is threatening. The “cutter downers” and the “loader uppers” should also have gloves. Don’t forget the camera! It’s best to leave the family dog at home (many farms will prohibit pets). But, if a pet is allowed and must come along; keep him on a leash at all times. Please don’t let him “mark” other people’s trees.
• Equipment to bring. Saws are usually provided by the farm operator. Check ahead of time to double check if you need to bring any supplies.
• Pricing. Some farms measure and price their trees individually, others sell them by the foot. Ask about the pricing policy before heading out in the field.
• Tree size. Head out to the field and select the tree that fits your predetermined needs. Check the trunk to be sure that it is sufficiently straight. Keep in mind that pines will usually have, at least, some crook in their trunks. Also check that the tree has a sufficiently long handle to accommodate your stand.
• Needles. In the fall of the year ALL conifers drop or shed a certain portion of their oldest needles. This is a normal part of the life cycle of the tree and occurs because the tree is preparing itself for winter. Most farms provide shaking or blowing services so that you will depart with a perfectly clean tree.
• Cutting your tree down. Cutting the tree is easiest as a two person project. The “cutter downer” usually lies on the ground. While the helper holds the bottom limbs up. While the cut is being made, the helper should tug on the tree lightly to ensure that the saw kerf remains open and the saw does not bind. The tugging force should be applied to the side of the tree opposite the cut. In the case of the Leylands, the cut is best made by an attendant at the farm using a chain saw. A back cut should be made first with the final cut coming from the opposite side.
• Transportation. Bring the tree to the processing area where it will be cleaned and netted. Netting makes transporting and handling the tree substantially easier.
Source: National Christmas Tree Association
How to Care for Your
Farm-Grown Christmas Tree
When a Christmas tree is cut, more than half its weight is water. With proper care, you can maintain the quality of your tree. Below are a number of tips on caring for your tree:
• Displaying trees in water in a traditional reservoir type stand is the most effective way of maintaining their freshness and minimizing needle loss problems.
• Make a fresh cut to remove about a 1/2-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Don’t cut the trunk at an angle, or into a v-shape, which makes it far more difficult to hold the tree in the stand and also reduces the amount of water available to the tree.
• Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. Most species can go 6 to 8 hours after cutting the trunk and still take up water. Don’t bruise the cut surface or get it dirty.
• If needed, trees can be temporarily stored for several days in a cool location. Place the freshly cut trunk in a bucket that is kept full of water.
• To display the trees indoors, use a stand with an adequate water holding capacity for the tree. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Devices are available that help maintain a constant water level in the stand.
• Use a stand that fits your tree. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.
• Keep trees away from major sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight).
• Source: National Christmas Tree Association
Although Pine Ridge Christmas Tree Farm in northern Oldham County will not be open to the public this year, owner Becky Cummings said she will be selling greenery and custom wreaths. Due to the drought that took place several years ago, “we won’t have enough trees for the public,” she said. Cummings does expect to have Christmas trees for sale in the future.
Cummings can create wreaths in a variety of ways. “It’s really up to the client,” she said. Different shapes she can make include a candy cane shaped wreath with red and white stripped ribbon, a very large 38 inch to 40 inch wreath, and a wreath that forms the word Peace. The large wreaths are often used on “the sides of houses, gates and fences,” said Cummings.
She uses fresh Scotch and White Pine and said burlap and plaid have been popular ribbon choices the last few years. Wreath making is something Cummings added to the Christmas tree farm six years ago because “I enjoy doing it.”
Troy McWilliams, 53, of Prospect, Ky., has been in the Christmas tree business since planting his first trees in 1980. “I sold my first trees in 1985,” he said.
At the time, “We owned extra land and didn’t know what to do with it. We decided to put Christmas trees on it and it worked out pretty good.” His wife, Diana, helps take care of the Christmas trees on their Sleepy Hollow Tree Farm, located near the Jefferson-Oldham County line.
McWillams’ family also owns the adjoining Sleepy Hollow Golf Course. His parents, Jim and Judy McWilliams, began the golf course in 1968.
There is a lot of upkeep to raising Christmas trees, said McWilliams. He has 2,300 trees planted on five acres. McWilliams sells about 250 trees a year. “But if you sell 250 trees, you have to plant 250 trees,” he said.
Each year, McWilliams said he has to “trim all 2,300 Christmas trees. That’s my biggest job in the summertime.” When planting new trees, McWilliams said he likes to plant them next to a stump that has been grubbed out. “It’s not an easy job,” he said. Sleepy Hollow Tree Farm sells fresh cut wreaths also.
The thing he loves best about being in the Christmas tree farm business is that “I’m a farmer at heart and I love raising things. I have an orchard and a garden, and I enjoy doing it.”
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