Christmas Tree Production

By Matt Cogger,

Bayfield & Ashland Counties UW-Extension Horticulture Educator, 

Christmas trees for sale

An Annual Tradition

The holidays are just around the corner and obtaining a Christmas tree is an annual tradition for many people.  While some people choose to cut their own trees the majority of Christmas trees are purchased.These trees were planted and managed with the end goal of being harvested and sold for the holidays.  The most common types of pine trees grown as Christmas trees are Scotch, White or Virginia pines.  The other group of commonly grown Christmas trees include the Balsam, Douglas, Fraser or Noble fir trees.

A Unique Crop

Christmas trees are a unique crop that requires a lot of planning and patience.  Depending on the species and climate most trees are about six to ten years old when harvested.  When planting the crop growers need to plan for markets at least six to ten years in the future.  Some aspects of growing Christmas trees are similar to other areas in horticulture like fruit production.  The main difference is that once a Christmas tree is harvested it won’t continue to produce and in that respect it is more comparable to an annual crop like onions or carrots.


Production starts in the early spring when Christmas tree growers plant seedlings/transplants.  In larger operations the planting is done with a mechanical transplanter pulled behind a tractor.  Planting Christmas trees is a labor intensive process even with mechanization.   After planting growers need to manage pest and disease issues every year.  Weed management is also an important part of growing Christmas trees.  Weeds can compete with the trees especially during the establishment years.   Most plantings are mowed a few times during the growing season to encourage air circulation and decrease weed pressure.

Starting at around three years of age the tree must be sheared so it will grow in the desired shape.  The trees are sheared lightly at first then more intensely as they get closer to marketable age.  There are several methods of shearing trees.  For small acreages machetes or special shearing knives are typically used.  In larger plantings there are a variety of mechanized sheering options.  Sheering is done in the summer months when the tree is actively growing.  The final stage is harvest followed by wrapping the tree to make transport easier.

Making It Last

Once you purchase or cut your own Christmas tree there are a few things you can do make it last longer.  If more than 12 hours has elapsed since the tree has been cut you will need to cut about a quarter inch off the base.  This will expose fresh vascular tissue and improve water uptake.  The best type of Christmas tree stands have a reservoir to hold water.  The tree should fit in the stand without having to whittle away the bark.  Removing the bark will actually inhibit the ability of the tree to take up water.  The tree should be checked daily to make sure there is enough water.  If the tree starts to dry out and loose its needles it should be removed since it will become more of a fire hazard.  There are numerous additives and anti-desiccants available but they aren’t necessary and in some cases decrease the life span of the tree.


Matt Cogger
Horticulture Agent
Bayfield County – UW Extension Ashland and Bayfield Counties
County Administration Bldg
117 E. 5th Street
Washburn, WI 54891-9464
Phone: 715-373-6104, Ext. 246
Fax: 715-373-6304

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