Why Not Grow Your Own Christmas Trees

If you have never set out on a cold wintry day just before Christmas, hatchet strapped to your belt, to cut your own Christmas tree from your own ground, you don’t know what you have missed! This Yuletide harvesting has become part of the holiday tradition for us. Christmas really comes into the house when the newly cut fragrant evergreen is carried rustling through the door. Quite different it is from the trees which are bargained for at a street corner in town. Such are cut months ahead of time and have lost their forest fragrance, and, occasionally, their needles before they are used. And – what’s more – the home grown tree is free for the cutting, something like a present from Santa.

Christmas trees are easy to grow. Besides providing you with a Christmas harvest, they add beauty to your garden Summer and Winter. Once planted and given a good start, they grow rapidly and need no further care. They require no watering during the midsummer heat (or drought) and no protection against the Winter cold. They will grow in almost any soil, but most species do best in a slightly acid (pH 5-6) loam, preferably moist with adequate drainage. They fit into almost any garden plan, whether set out singly or in groups. They can be put close to the house, if you plan to cut them before they grow too tall. Place them alongside a driveway, or form a beautiful fence row or a strong windbreak if you let them grow into tall trees.

norfolk island pine potted

Almost any of the numerous varieties of evergreens can be used as Christmas trees.

Fir – Firs make the ideal Christmas trees. The most popular in the northeastern states is the balsam fir, which grows in the great northern forests, but is not so easy to grow in other locations. Firs grow in a conical form, even and straight. The characteristic blunt-pointed short needles are deep green, shiny and smooth to the touch. They keep well in the house and scent the air with the wonderful pungency of balsam. There are many varieties of firs. The Douglas fir (though not a true fir in the botanical sense) is grown successfully on lawns and is available at most nurseries.

Pine – The pine is one of the most important timber producers of our country. There are a great many varieties and they all can be easily recognized by their characteristic long thin needles which grow in sprays around the twig, something like bristles on a brush. Pines grow lofty but not so even and slim and conical as the fir or spruce. Older trees, unless close together, often take picturesque irregular shapes. They rarely appear on the market as Christmas trees in the north east, but their branches and ornate cones are popular for decoration. We once dug out some young trees from a cow pasture where they were “not wanted” and we were happy to have them for our Christmas trees before our own garden grown spruces were ready for cutting.

Spruce – In popularity the spruce is close to the fir as a Christmas tree. Of the same cone-like shape, it also grows rigid and even. Its needles are sharp and pointed, arranged spirally around the rough barked twig. The best known types are the white spruce and the Norway spruce, also the blue spruce, which are so often seen on lawns and in parks. The Norway spruce has become our favorite. Its aroma is superior to that of the native white spruce, and this beautiful evergreen thrives on our ground, and so we use it to bring Christmas cheer into our home.

We started eight years ago, when we set out four-year-old transplants. Two-year-old seedlings may be bought for as little as a few cents apiece. For quick results we recommend six-year-old transplants. Commercial Christmas tree growers, who expect to have marketable trees in about four years, prefer to use these. The trees can also be raised from seeds – if time is no factor.

We set out 36 four-year-old transplants in various places, one long double row 3M feet apart to the north side of our lawn to form a windbreak. From this row we have now been taking Christmas trees for several years, gradually thinning out every second tree. We also placed some singles and pairs near the house and on the lawn. Two years later, we set out another 25 trees along the garden fence and also a large group at one side of our uphill driveway. They were all planted during April before they begin to form new shoots and while the ground holds sufficient moisture. With a spade we drove a wedge into the sod and inserted the ten-inch transplants, roots pointed straight downward, and then the gap was firmly closed. They were never watered, but we did sprinkle some superphosphate around every tree each Spring, which accelerates their growth considerably.

Growth has been far from even. This we don’t mind because it stretches the harvesting over a greater span of years. At some favorable spots where the soil is rich and moist, trees reached the height of 10 to 12 feet within eight years. During the same period of time, others never grew higher than 14 to 18 inches. They were on a slope where the soil is poor, almost sterile. Here nature pointed out to us the importance of environment. But we found good use for our dwarfed under-privileged trees. Since a future as Christmas trees or windbreaks seemed doubtful, we transplanted some into a windowbox. There we keep them well watered, even during warm spells in Winter, and enjoy their refreshing green as we look out our city apartment window.

The only insect pest which we encountered one season was the white pine weevil which also affects Norway spruce by destroying the topshoot. Cutting the affected tops and burning them in July stops it and a shoot next to the top will take the lead without impairing the shape of the tree.

If your garden space is big enough to grow lilac bushes and other shrubs, you may grow your own Christmas trees. If you should, however, own a sizable piece of idle land which might be suitable for reforestation, then you could give commercial Christmas tree growing a thought.

It will soon be time to sharpen the hatchet and set out to bring in the Christmas harvest, the fragrant spruce which is marked for thinning the row along the garden fence. There may be several more this season and they will make welcome presents for friends. Our white pine is in need of some trimming and its bushy branches will be put to use as a handsome door spray and also to give additional touches of green about the house.

And so we grow all we need to decorate the house indoors for the holidays, and then there are the lush evergreens just outside the door which are handsome touches of green on the dormant Winter landscape.

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