Journey of a Christmas Tree: From the Field to Your Home

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treeWhen decorating your real Christmas tree, have you ever wondered where your tree came from and how long did it grow in the field before harvest?

Fraser fir, the “Cadillac of Christmas trees,” is grown on plantations here in Swain County and neighboring counties in the “low and high country.” Cut trees are sold locally and throughout Western North Carolina in retail lots, nurseries, stores and choose and cut farms. The larger Fraser fir farms ship their trees around the country to retail lots run by church and civic groups, boy’s clubs, scout groups and large chain stores.

Life of a Christmas Tree
It takes many years of hard work and TLC to produce a desirable Christmas tree for your home. Christmas trees are birthed in a nursery. Life begins when seeds are taken from cones of mature trees, sown in beds, mulched with straw and covered with shade cloth to prevent them from being damaged by frost or sun. After three years, the Fraser fir seedlings are moved to line-out beds for two more years until they’ve developed a strong enough root system to be transplanted into the field. In recent years the art of growing seedlings in the greenhouse has shortened this process to one-two years.

For next the seven to eight years, the Christmas tree farmer will spend time and effort in shaping his trees. Shearing trees is an art, and many growers have their favorite tips on the how and when to shear terminals, top whorls and the body around their Christmas trees. Customer demand determines whether the grower will shear his trees for a high (full) or low density (open) look and a body with a wide or narrow taper.

Shearing trees is not the only cultural practice that the grower will engage in. Best Management Practices along with Integrated Pest Management are production methods that use scouting techniques, economic thresholds for pest control, clover as a groundcover, and soil conservation techniques for protecting fields from erosion and nutrient depletion. It is quite common to see butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects “working” a Christmas tree field. At times, one will see deer, turkey, quail and occasionally even a bear.

In the summer or sometime prior to harvest, a Christmas tree farmer will place colored ribbons on his trees. Ribbons are color coded for a specific height so that a grower and his field crew can easily identify which trees are earmarked for harvest. If you happen to pass by a harvest operation, you will hear chain saws buzzing as a team of individuals gently cut down trees.

Field crews will then carry the freshly cut trees to a baler where twine wraps around and compresses the trees.

TEDCRAIGNext, field handlers will sling a baled tree over their shoulder hustling it to a nearby shady area for storage, a transportation truck, or onto a loader with a conveyor belt, which then loads trees into a huge semi-truck.

Once the trees are loaded, the truck driver’s head-off to their final destination and then return to pick-up another load.

A large percentage of trees will find a home in Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and of course right here in our local backyard of WNC.

The lifespan of a Christmas tree from seed to harvest can take from 12 to 15 years. So as you can see, the journey of a Christmas tree takes much time and effort to produce, yet growers agree that this long hard job is worth it when their trees become the decorative centerpiece of your home during the holiday season!

Written By

Photo of Christy BredenkampChristy BredenkampArea Agent, Agriculture - Horticulture (828) 586-4009 christine_bredenkamp@ncsu.eduJackson County, North Carolina
Posted on Dec 22, 2016
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