There are two separate Christmas tree camps: those that appreciate the majesty of a natural Christmas tree, and those that like staring at prelit towers of plastic and wire resembling trees. Which are you?
Once upon a time, families would typically march into a nearby forest and chop down a pine tree, an activity that, today, would earn a hefty fine without the proper permit. In the 1950s, Christmas tree farms became the most popular method of bringing home the holiday Christmas tree. Since most families had cars and decent roads, driving a few miles to pick out an ideal tree wasn’t an ordeal, as it had been decades earlier.
Before these farms became a business onto themselves, farmers would chiefly plant the trees on land too hilly or rocky for crops, with the few dozen trees providing a little extra income in the winter. As the holiday market opened, farmers saw that growing the trees in flat, cultivated land grew more appealing trees, for which they could charge a more appealing price.
Christmas tree farms can be found both in the United States and Europe, although the preferred trees differ. US families prefer the Douglas and Fraser fir trees, or even a Scots pine. In Europe, the Norway spruce is by far the most popular evergreen (Let’s not get into the upside-down Christmas tree traditions of Eastern Europe).
After two years of growth, the trees must be carefully trimmed to achieve the traditional conical shape. This is done in a variety of ways, from giant mechanical hedge trimmers to tree swords. Yes, tree swords!
Tree maturity depends on the species, but generally a Christmas tree is five to seven years old before hitting the market. Methods of harvesting vary from tree farm to tree farm. Some will let customers cut down the tree on their own, but that comes with some liability risks. Today it’s more common for the workers to chop down the tree. Or to have a selection of trees pre-cut.
The USDA didn’t establish grades for Christmas trees until 1989, although individual tree farms sometimes created a grading system of their own. In the US, there are three official grades for Christmas trees, each taking a tree’s health, freshness, needle density, and defects into account: US Premium, US No. 1, and US No. 2.
The greatest benefits of a natural Christmas tree are environmental. A single acre of trees provides the daily oxygen needed by 18 people. During its life, the planting, harvesting and transportation of a natural Christmas tree will produce only a third the greenhouses gases of an artificial tree per year. Additionally, tree farms act as excellent soil stabilizers, preventing erosion on flat farmland, and provide habitats for wildlife.
Sadly, artificial Christmas trees overtook natural trees in popularity in the 1970s, when improved manufacturing plopped out better-looking fake trees.
In the last decade, the farms have seen a resurgence in popularity. Proponents of Christmas tree farms often brag that they’re both economy and weather-proof. No matter how poor the economy, families will ALWAYS find a way to get a Christmas tree, and no matter how bad the weather, families will ALWAYS brave snow and ice to bring one home. That’s good news for any future tree farm entrepreneurs.