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Starting a Christmas tree farm

The result could be a Christmas wish come true

Every year my family makes the annual trek to a favorite Christmas tree farm. It’s been in the business for years – which is what it takes to have a successful Christmas tree operation.
 
Harold Hill owns a tree farm near Minburn, Iowa, and says anyone who's interested in starting a choose-and-cut tree farm should spend time with other growers for ideas. There are many questions to answer before the first tree is planted.

"What kind of trees, where the rows are going to be, how far apart, how many access lanes are we going to have, where the lots are going to be placed in terms of access," says Hill. "When people drive in how easy is it to get to where the trees are, where are you going to service the trees in terms of shaking them and putting them in nets, where are you going to handle the retail aspect of the selling of the trees after people cut them."

Hill says he buys bare-root seedlings from private nurseries. It's important to choose species that match your climate and soil type. Have a soil analysis done to determine if the nutrient and pH levels are acceptable.

Plant your trees in the spring. Use a ground cover between rows to cut down on weeds and soil erosion.

One key to success is a lot of patience.

"The fastest growing trees are the white pine, the scotch pine, and generally speaking you can have a marketable tree, 6'-7', in about eight-years.  Now the fir trees and the spruces take a lot longer," says Hill. "It may be up to 12, or 14-years before some of those trees are of marketable size, and we now have customers wanting 10',11',12' trees."

You'll need to invest in equipment such as a mower, a sprayer for insect and weed control, and shearing knives. You'll also need a shaker, which removes dead needles, and a baler that compresses the trees with nylon netting for transportation.

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