Tree Hobby Farm: Grow Trees for Profit
Starting a Christmas tree enterprise is a long-term commitment because the trees can easily take six to ten years to reach maturity. Growing Christmas trees takes a lot of work: you can’t just plant them and then ignore them until harvest time. However, they are an enterprise that falls into a “seasonal, part-time” category as well as one that doesn’t require a tremendous amount of space (at typical planting rates of 600-1,000 trees per acre), which allows part-time or small-scale hobby farmers to grow them successfully.
In order to start a Christmas tree lot, you should ideally have a fertile, well-drained and deep soil to plant them in. The trees can be planted on level ground or on a slight to moderate slope, but should never be planted in a very poorly drained area. If your soil is less-than ideal, it will limit you to growing less finicky types of trees (i.e., a Scotch pine instead of a Douglas fir), which also tend to be less commercially desirable.
The type of tree that is best suited to your individual lot depends not only on your soil type, but also on what area of the country you live in. Pines, including Scotch pine and white pine, and many types of cedar, cypress, spruce and fir trees are all marketed as Christmas trees in various locations across the USA. Check with your local cooperative extension office to see which kinds of trees are likely to do well in your area of the country.
When planting your new Christmas tree seedlings, make sure to prepare the soil carefully (tilling and/or spraying herbicides) in order to kill as many weed-seedlings as possible: weeds are one of the worst enemies a young Christmas tree has. Plant your trees far enough apart (at least five feet) that you can easily move machinery such as trucks and mowers between the rows, since you will have to scout and mow your Christmas tree lot frequently.
Your trees will require the most labor during the summer months, when they will need to be sheared (trimmed into a “Christmas tree” shape) and when insect and weed pressure will have to be carefully monitored and dealt with. If you live in an area of the country where lots of Christmas trees are grown, you will likely be able to hire skilled seasonal labor to help you with your trees. Otherwise, you will have to do the work yourself or train workers to do the job for you. Keep in mind that shearing the trees and scouting and spraying for insect pests and weeds are skilled tasks that can also be very physically demanding.
Your hard work will eventually pay off in the form of row upon row of well-shaped 6- to 8-foot tall trees that are ready to market. Hopefully, you will have developed a marketing plan for them well before they matured. Wholesaling them to local (or far-flung) retailers and retailing them yourself, either pre-cut or “cut your own” are the most popular Christmas tree marketing vehicles. All of these marketing options require a fair amount of advance planning in order to develop the facilities and relationships that will get your trees sold.
Getting your Christmas tree lot growing requires relatively little land and a fairly modest monetary investment as compared to many other part-time farming enterprises. So, if the idea of it really appeals to you, go ahead and give it a try–it could be a year-round Christmas wish come true for you.