How Do Christmas Trees Grow?

While most of us think about Christmas trees only in December, for farmers who grow cut-your-own trees, it is a year-round commitment—and a lot of work. Find out how Christmas trees grow!

The Business of Christmas Trees

I have small greenhouse business and also sell plants and vegetables at our local Farmer’s Market. During the holidays, we go visit our local tree farmer. The big search for our Christmas tree is a fun family tradition.

Growing Christmas trees is similar to any other agricultural crop. But boy, it’s a serious business requiring a lot of hard work!

Talk to your tree farmer and you’ll learn:

  • Trees are fertilized in the early spring and late summer.
  • Grass in the rows and between trees needs to be mowed.
  • Pests such as balsam twig aphids and red spider mites need to monitored and dealt with.
  • Many growers hand-shear their trees with a sharp machete-like knife and use clippers to give them a natural look rather than an artificial cone-shape.
  • For every tree harvested, anywhere from one to three more seedlings are planted.

How long do Christmas trees take to grow?

  • According to the National Christmas Tree Association, “It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree of typical height (6 to 7 feet) or as little as 4 years, but the average growing time for a marketable size is 7 years.”

That’s a lot of plant care!

The Benefits of Trees

Walking amid the trees is a heavenly experience in itself. I love the fresh scent of pine, spruce, cypress, cedar, and fir.

My favorite Christmas tree for decorating indoors is the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) with that classic Christmas tree fragrance plus great branches for ornaments.

These trees around us do so much work, storing carbon dioxide and emitting fresh oxygen. Christmas trees also stabilize soil, protect water supplies, and provide refuge for wildlife while creating scenic green belts. They have a positive impact on the environment that you can feel good about.

Often, Christmas trees are grown on soil that doesn’t support other crops. In fact, Christmas tree farms virtually eliminate the harvesting of trees in the wild, which can deplete valuable forests.

On the other hand, artificial trees are a petroleum-based product manufactured primarily in Chinese factories. The average family uses an artificial tree for six to nine years before throwing it away, where it will remain in a landfill for centuries after disposal. Christmas trees are biodegradable, which means they can be easily reused or recycled for mulch and other purposes.

Of course, we also visit the tree farm to support our local farmer! Did you know: While 85 to 90% of artificial trees make the long trip from China, the U.S. Christmas tree industry creates more than 100,000 U.S. jobs. Christmas trees are grown in every state, even Hawaii, and this year more than 35 million trees will be cut and re-seeded.

Buying a Potted Living Tree

One year, I tried buying a potted living tree. We prepared a place to plant it well in advance, digging the hole and insulating it by filling it with a bag of leaves. We kept the dirt to refill the hole in the basement in buckets. The living tree was pricey but I looked at it as an investment.

After enjoying it indoors for about a week, we hustled it out to the shed to acclimate to the cold before planting it in the prepared hole.

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Luckily that experiment worked. (Many potted trees don’t make it if the indoor air is too dry and hot.) Our tree thrived outside where it stands as a reminder of that long ago Christmas.

I no longer have children at home, and have decided to invest in seedling trees from our local state nursery. They are taking their time growing but my hope is to have trees for the grandchildren (which I don’t have yet) to cut in the future.

Keeping a Christmas Tree Fresh

It all comes down to water. Absolutely make sure you get a fresh cut off the trunk before you leave your tree farm or retail location. Saw a half inch or so off the bottom before setting it up in its stand. Fresh wood absorbs water more readily. If the butt is allowed to dry, it will seal over and not be able to draw up any liquid.

When you place the tree in your house in a stable tree stand, be sure to keep away from drying heating vents and fireplaces. When you fill up the tree stand with water, make sure that the cut is submerged. A funnel-type watering can makes watering your tree very easy.

Trees are very thirsty and will use up to a gallon of water a day! A fresh tree, like a sponge, contains more weight in water than the tree itself weighs when dry. So, do not let the tree dry out. Check your water level both morning and night for that first week!

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The Myth About Artificial Trees

If fear of fire keeps you from having a real tree, be aware that less than one tenth of one percent of residential fires involve a real tree. Artificial trees are made from petroleum. When they catch fire they exude thick black smoke and toxic fumes. A freshly-cut tree is actually difficult to set ablaze. As long as it is kept in water it will be fire-resistant.

When Christmas is over, be sure to bring your cut tree to the county recycling facility, where it can be turned into useful mulch, so the tree has a life that goes on. The tree comes from the Earth and returns to the Earth. In some areas, recycled trees are also being used to create habitats for fish and aquatic life. See all the ways to reuse your Christmas tree.

Enjoy bringing the outdoors inside this holiday season with your festively decorated tree!

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