KENTUCKY CHRISTMAS TREE PRODUCTION WORKBOOK:
Deborah B. Hill
When you plant a group of Christmas
trees seedlings in one area, they will not all grow at exactly the same
rate, partly because of genetic variability in the various tree species,
and partly because of microclimatic differences in soil texture, water,
nutrients, etc. So expect any year's planting of trees to mature over roughly
a three-year period.
Most experienced Kentucky growers say
that it takes seven or eight years to grow a 6 ft Christmas tree from a
Scots or white pine seedling. The demonstration/research plots initiated
by the UK/KSU joint Extension program in Christmas trees were designed
to reduce that number by a year or more, if possible. Observation of active
private Christmas tree plantations seems to indicate that vegetation control
around the seedlings and between the rows may be the single most important
factor in reducing total growing time. One grower who has carefully controlled
vegetation on his 4-year-old plantation should have some marketable trees
in the fifth year.
When October and November come, you
should have every thing ready for cutting your trees, especially if you
wholesale them rather than using a "choose-and-cut" operation. If you want
to color your trees with a commercial coloring dye, apply it in late September
or early October. It will easily hold through the holiday season and will
not wash off in the rain. Follow label instructions carefully for mixing
and applying colorant. Antidessicants (chemicals intended to prevent needles
from drying out) are not particularly effective.
Marking Trees to Cut
Whether you wholesale your trees or
sell directly to the consumer, you should choose which trees to sell each
year. If you have the time and patience, map your entire plantation so
you can keep track of what happens with each tree. Flagging the tree tops
with bright colored plastic tape is probably the easiest method of marking.
One grower counts lengths of tape by 25s up to the total number of trees
he wants to sell that year. Then he takes the bundles of 25 into the field,
selects and tags the trees, keeping track of how many have and have not
been marked at any time.
With a "choose-and-cut" operation,
you need a way to know which trees have been tagged and which ones haven't,
so customers don't switch tags on you. Your own staff can go into the field
with each customer to cut the tree for them, but when the season gets really
busy, that labor becomes costly. Double tagging the tree, like double spotting
timber trees to be cut, may be another solution. Attach the second tag
near the tree trunk in a place less obvious than the top and make sure
your salespeople know to look for the second tag. If customers cut their
own trees and one has no interior tag, you can surcharge the customer for
taking a tree not marked for sale.
Cutting and Preparing the Tree
Trees with small diameter trunks can
be cut by a weed-eater machine with a woodcutting blade. Most commonly,
however, people use small chain saws or bow saws to cut Christmas trees.
If you allow customers to use saws themselves, you must have good liability
insurance and large, clearly visible signs warning of any possible hazard
on your property.
Many growers, and probably most consumers,
like to have the tree baled to be carried home. A tree can be baled with
twine or plastic netting. Materials and equipment to help you use them
are available from several manufacturers (See FOR-34).
A possible advantage to plastic netting is that it does not bind the tree
at any single point; rather, the whole tree is confined. Once at the destination,
the netting can be easily slit with scissors or knife, and the tree will
bounce back to its original shape. If this service or any other you provide
costs you extra money, pass that charge on to the consumer; most are happy
to pay for the convenience.
Another service you may want to consider
is a shaking device, to shake out the dead needles which may accumulate
naturally near the tree trunk. Be sure to inform your customers that conifers
shed needles every year, and you are simply removing old, not current,
needles (old needles are brown; current needles are green).
If you plan to sell any number of trees
in bulk, whether several thousand to a wholesaler or 150 to the local scout
troop, stacking your trees in groups of 10s, 25s or 50s may save time and
energy. Leave yourself plenty of room, and plan your loading or collecting
area to be as centrally located as possible. Even if you do not stack trees
there, when 20 "choose-and-cut" customers come with their vehicles, selected
trees and families, you will quickly fill your open space.
Research has shown that trees stay
fresher longer after cutting if they are cut after they have gone into
winter dormancy. One would expect dormancy to occur by November, but weather
affects it to some extent. If the fall is long and warm, cut as late as
you can, but if fall brings early frosts and mainly cool weather, you can
begin cutting earlier. Try to plan ahead for that kind of flexibility.
Once again, the bottom line is planning
ahead. You need to know how you will market, arrange for sales, and make
sure you have all necessary materials, equipment, labor and insurance to
get the job done when you need it done. After your first harvesting Christmas
passes, you can sit back, assess your performance and consider possible
changes that need to be made to make the whole process go more smoothly
the next year.