You might not realise it when you’re looking at your tree sitting in the corner of your room, but there is a huge amount of work involved to get the tree from the ground to your home. Hopefully our guide to Christmas tree production will help you to appreciate the amount of work that goes into getting our real Christmas trees to your door!
Christmas tree production is a very profitable business, especially on marginal or less fertile land which is unsuitable for production of other agricultural crops.
Present markets are highly competitive among producers and demand the best quality trees. Quality trees can only be produced through properly trained management. In most countries, Christmas trees are produced in intensively managed plantations which run all year round. These plantations aren’t set up randomly; before opening a plantation, it’s important that the owner considers:
1. The distance from the market – This will affect what type of marketing system can be used, as well as shipping costs. Both of which need to be monitored carefully to ensure that the plantation runs profitably (which requires more staff to monitor!)
2. Lane way system – These must accommodate fire routes, maintenance equipment and harvesting. Road lay out will depend on whether harvest is to be bulk or ‘cut-your-own’. Requires huge amounts of time and planning to execute properly.
3. Water – Adequate water must be available for irrigation and for applying pesticides and herbicides as required. The trees can’t grow properly without sufficient hydration, as we’ve outlined in our various guides on the other pages.
4. Location of storage and handling areas for cut trees – If you haven’t already noticed, trees are rather large and awkward to transport.
5. Plantation size – The size of the plantation, and how large to make the compartments within a plantation must be decided well in advance of planting for obvious reasons. The plan must allow for plantings in consecutive years to enable an annual supply of trees for the market.
Which species should be planted?
You can’t start planting trees without deciding which species you want to use. If you’ve taken a look around our site, you’ll already know that we stock 2 of the most popular species of tree used at Christmas – Fraser Fir and Nordmann Fir. But in other parts of the world, there are other species of tree available which are very popular, but unfortunately don’t grow very well in the UK. You really have to implement a lot of forethought when you’re choosing which species to grow – the trees won’t be a sufficient size until 7 to 10 years time, so it’s important that you refer to past sales figures to try and determine which trees will be selling in 10 years time. Christmas tree trends can change quite frequently – it wasn’t too long ago that it was considered the height of fashion to have a collection of small ‘table’ Christmas trees in your home rather than a full size tree. So conducting your own market research and referring to past studies is always advisable during the planning stage.
It’s not just about trying to predict which species will be popular – it’s also about choosing a tree that will grow well in the location of your plantation. There are a huge amount of factors that need to be considered before you can grow the perfect Christmas tree. The soil depth, drainage, fertility and texture all need to be optimal. Although it might be possible to alter a few of these factors with farming methods, mostly it boils down to the location that you’ve chosen to base your plantation at.
Popular species include:
- White Pine
- White Spruce
- Scots Pine
- Balsam Fir
- Blue Spruce
- Fraser Fir
- Nordmann Fir
In Canada (Ontario), the market is dominated by Scots pine, followed closely in popularity by White Pine. The reason that the Canadians prefer these varieties compared to the varieties that we include on this site (Fraser fir and Nordmann fir) is that they actually have very little choice in the matter! It is far more challenging to achieve the same kind of quality with fir trees in Canadian conditions than it is here. It’s probably one of the only instances where you can say that the UK has better conditions! Market demand has increased for fir trees in Canada as consumers become more aware of how distinctively attractive they are compared to other species of trees that are available in the country.
Many plantations will plant a variety of species, which has a number of advantages:
- Different trees need attention at different times of the year. Workload is spread more evenly through the year. Pine is sheared and pruned in mid-summer, spruce and fir during the dormant season. This keeps the workers on their toes too!
- It gives the customer a choice of species and increases awareness of lesser known species that people might not know as much about.
- Growing only one species can cause pest problems. Diseases and insect pests of Christmas trees are generally species specific and are less likely to attack and destroy an entire plantation if a mixture of tree species is grown. To ensure the survival and health of your trees, it’s vital that you become familiar with the types of pests that you may encounter, as well as becoming familiar with the early signs of tree disease.
Another important aspect of tree care is regular pruning and shearing, which must be carried out annually until the harvesting of the trees. This is not just carried out to maintain the health of the trees, but also for aesthetic reasons. By regularly pruning the trees, the foliage density will gradually increase and the shape will improve. Pruning and shearing are very demanding, as they must be done by hand and must be completed within a certain timeframe to ensure maximum bud production.
Grades of quality
Strict regulations for Christmas tree quality grades have been in place since 1956. Grading is based on several factors, including spacing and quality, foliage colour and density, the shape of the tree, the stem straightness, mechanical damage (which is why pruning and shearing is done by hand), presence of lichens or any other foreign materials, and any other defects. As the grade of the tree increase, the value of the tree improves. Although grading trees is not mandatory, it is encouraged for some sellers to do this. A working knowledge of the grading standards is essential to ensure that you’re producing quality trees.