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Home-Based Business: Christmas Tree Farm

Start your own business with a Christmas tree farm.

| November/December 2014

  • A mother and daughter with a wagon looking for the perfect tree at a Christmas tree farm.
    Photo by Brian McEntire
  • A large red barn in the middle of a Christmas tree farm near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
    Photo by Gregory Johnston
  • A row of freshly cut Christmas trees wait to be purchased.
    Photo by ghornephoto

Growing Christmas trees

Have you ever thought of starting your own tree farm? I’m not talking about growing just any trees; I’m talking about Christmas trees. It’s actually easier than you might think, and startup costs are relatively low. Although you can begin with a plot of land as small as you’d like, I recommend a minimum of a quarter acre, so you have room to rotate your crop as the trees are harvested — and you’ll always have trees maturing for the following year.

The tools you need at the very minimum include a spade for planting, a bow saw for harvesting, and pruning snips. After you are in the business for a couple of years and have quite a few trees, you may want to upgrade to a tree planting bar and a Christmas tree knife or hedge clippers for pruning, but start out small and see how things work out before you invest in the more expensive tools.

Getting started

The first step in getting started is to find a suitable location to plant your trees — rolling terrain is OK, but flat ground is best. You will need well-drained soil with a somewhat neutral pH balance, and fertilizer may be needed if you’re planting on a poor site — when in doubt, pull a soil sample and have it analyzed.

Next, you’ll need to decide on your tree farm’s layout, and from that calculate how many trees you will be able to grow. Planting on a 6-by-6-foot grid allows plenty of room for the trees to grow, and also provides you with plenty of working room between them. Some growers plant on 8- or 9-foot centers as determined by the width of their mowing and spraying equipment. For the sake of this article, based on planting on 6-foot centers, you could plant 302 trees, give or take. Depending on the tree species, you can expect them to grow between 6 inches and 1 foot per year. A tree intended to mature at 6 feet will take six to 12 years to do so. In order to have a harvest every year, you will need to plant only a proportion of the trees each year; if you choose a species that will grow only 6 inches per year, planting about 25 trees each year will keep you in business. Many species are suited for Christmas trees, including pine, fir and spruce. I suggest starting with a couple of varieties to see which work best for you and your soil. Personally, I love white pine and the ease of working with them.

Planting time

Once your farm is laid out and marked, it’s time to begin planting — when the soils are cool and the trees are dormant is best. Source your seedlings well ahead of time, and they’ll be shipped at the proper planting time. Many private and state-operated nurseries typically sell seedlings in batches of 25 or more. In my area, the cost generally starts around $1 per tree — and decreases the more you buy.

The manner in which you will lay out your rows for planting will depend on how precise you want to be. I know the length of my paces, so I use that to measure my rows. However, if you want to be a little more exact, you can certainly use a tape measure. Plant the first tree 3 feet from your boundary, then continue planting another tree every 6 feet.

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