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Volume 15, Issue 48 ~ November 29 - December 5, 2007

The Secret Life of Christmas Trees

By the time you pick your tree, it’s already a hearty survivor raised to bring life to your winter

It takes years to grow a tree big enough to be your Christmas tree. Before they are even planted in a Christmas tree orchard, seedlings are already three to five years old.

Christmas trees begin in a seedbed, where they stay about two years before growing into seedlings tall enough to be dug and transplanted. After grading for uniformity in size, the young trees grow another year or two. Slow-growing species such as spruce may take three years in the transplant bed before being moved to a Christmas tree orchard.

In early spring or late fall, the transplants are dug and re-planted in Christmas tree orchards. There the trees grow for five to eight more years before reaching minimum harvest size, six feet.

White pine is the fastest growing tree; it can be cut after as few as five years in the orchard. Blue spruce may require eight years or more in the orchard to grow six feet. This means that the six-foot white pine you purchase may be eight to nine years old, while the blue spruce will be 12 to 14. Douglas fir and Canaan fir trees are generally nine to 11 years old by the time they become six-footers.

Except for blue spruce, once the trees become well established in a Christmas tree orchard, the average rate of growth is 10 to 12 inches per year. Blue spruce only grow six to eight inches per year.

In the Christmas tree orchard, the weeds have to be controlled between the trees by mowing at least twice monthly in spring, summer and fall; weed killers are often needed to control difficult weeds. The plants have to be sheared yearly to conform them to the desirable Christmas-tree shape. Insects such as bagworms, scale, tip moths and spider mites have to be controlled by spraying.

Twenty percent of the trees planted never make it to harvest. With a severe drought, such as we had this year, losses can reach 40 or 50 percent. Especially vulnerable are recently transplanted trees, but even trees that are approaching marketable size can be knocked out.

So your Christmas tree is a hearty survivor raised especially to bring life to your winter.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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