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18 Success Tips for Starting & Running a Christmas Tree Farm

Whether you are just getting started with your Christmas tree farm or are looking for ways to make it run better, these 18 tips will get you where you need to be.

#1. Be Prepared for a Time Investment
Christmas trees aren’t like your usual cash crop. It takes time for them to mature into something that consumers will want during the holiday season. Some species can take up to 10 years before they’ll be ready to harvest after planting them. That means you have an extensive time commitment and planning process to follow before creating a profitable business.

You’ll need to plant a series of trees each year if you don’t have an established product area on your property already. That means it could be a minimum of seven years before you can start making some sales.

#2. Soil Is a Determining Factor
Christmas tree farms liked to establish themselves in areas with poor soil because it gave them an opportunity to make profits off of unprofitable land. The problem is that the trees don’t like to grow in wet conditions or areas with erosion, so you’ll need a well-drained area to establish your initial product growth area. If you don’t have an area where this is possible, then you’ll need to bring out grading experts to improve the land before you can start the planting process.

#3. Christmas Trees Require Pruning
Christmas trees are a crop that still requires care. You’ll need to do some pruning and shaping as they grow, shearing them once every summer once they are at least three years old. Additional work becomes necessary once they reach five feet in height. This process allows the branches to grow thicker so that it develops the classic shape that consumers will want eventually. You must also put in this work without a guarantee that you’ll earn sales when your product matures.

#4. Choose the Best Evergreens
Only certain species of evergreens work well as a Christmas tree from the traditional standpoint. Douglas fir is the ideal choice, but you’ll see white and blue spruces are also fairly common. Some consumers might want to go in a different direction, so you might consider planting white or Scotch pines on your property. When you plant the trees, it helps to put them into their specific species categories to make it easier for customers to shop if they’ll cut their own.

If you plan to supply trees to local vendors each year, then you’ll want to consider your timing and the work involved with the harvest.

#5. Have a Watering Plan
It is tricky to establish a solid root base for Christmas trees during their first 36 months of life. The plants are quite vulnerable to several natural issues, so you’ll need to perform careful weeding and watering. If you don’t have an irrigation system in place on your property, then you must have a plan for watering in place to ensure the trees have a chance to establish their roots. Drought can make this even more challenging.

When you add water to the area, you’ll attract more wildlife that will want to eat your seedlings. That means protective fencing around each tree may be necessary in some areas.

#6. Find the Right Way to Sell
You have a few different options available to you for selling your Christmas trees. The highest prices come from a cut-your-own business, but that also means you need to carry higher liability insurance to protect your assets. Selling individual trees isn’t always possible, so you can sell them wholesale to a retailer who will provide them to customers in your community. If you have leftover product, there is always the chance to turn the leftover organic products into mulch.

Most Christmas tree farms try to blend these two approaches together to maximize their outreach. Some business owners are creating events on their property, like sleigh rides and light shows, as a way to expand their business.

#7. Grow Complementary Products
If you want to expand the theme of your Christmas farm, then growing holly is a popular option. The shrub will grow red berries that are part of the classic holiday tradition. Trimming the branches can help you to make additional decorations that you can sell with the trees. Hollies produce a steady supply of natural product for over a decade, but the plant is toxic to some animals. You’ll want to be careful about growing these plants if you operate livestock operations for year-round revenues.

#8. Soil Preparation
Before you plant Christmas trees for the first time, you’ll need to do an initial plowing effort to rip up the soil and create disc rows that make it easier to establish the new seedlings. If you don’t have the equipment to do this work by yourself, then the average rate in the United States is about $50 per acre. Then expect to pay about $0.50 per tree if you purchase them wholesale. Boutique growers will cost more, but they’ll be healthier to manage a variety of soil situations.

#9. Sharecropping Could Be an Option
No one is going to provide you with free land to establish a business, although you might be able to apply for grants or low-interest loans. If money is a barrier to this idea for you, then you could speak with a farmer about sharecropping. This arrangement usually allows you to receive a 50/50 split of the profits, but it also means you’re paying for half of the costs – including the farmer’s labor for preparing the soil.

If you don’t have enough property to start a Christmas tree farm, it might be financially better to use this option until you can afford to buy your own place.

#10. Land Has a Maximum Capacity
Christmas trees take up a specific amount of space as they grow. That means your land will reach a maximum capacity of trees at some point. The general rule with this business opportunity is to plant about 1,500 trees per acre. That means you could have up to 30,000 trees for sale on a 20-acre farm. When you can sell a tree for $50 each, your maximum profit numbers seem very attractive.

Most farms don’t reach their full capacity each year because they plant in annual cycles. You’d plant two acres per year on a 20-acre farm, so that means a maximum of 3,000 sales per year once they mature.

#11. Grow Them Anywhere
Almost every state has at least one operational Christmas tree farm. Almost everyone says that they’re able to produce the best ones, but the climate of the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. is ideal for this kind of business. There are competitions each year where farmers get together to compare the quality of their products. Even if you live in Hawaii, you’ll have opportunities to start this business if you have enough land available.

#12. Be the Retailer
Money is made in the Christmas tree business when you focus on the buy. If you don’t have land to begin a farm, then consider opening a temporary lot where you can turn wholesale purchases into retail buys. If you purchase a tree for $10 from a farmer, then you can sell it for $30. In some locations, you could buy a $15 tree to sell it for $80. Either way, the location of your business is going to be a critical component of your success. If your farm or retail lot is out of the way, then you’ve got to make it worthwhile for customers to head out to your business.

Most people are going to purchase a Christmas tree within three miles of their home. If you aren’t within a big population center, then this fact must factor into your profitability calculations when starting this business.

#13. Know Your pH Levels
Every tree does well when you have well-drained soil. What each species likes is a specific pH level that encourages strong growth. If you plan to grow Fraser fir or balsam trees, then you need a range of 5.0 to 6.0 to achieve the best results. When you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can go up as high as 6.5 for some species. As a general rule, the U.S. Department of Agriculture until your soil pH levels are below 5.0. You’ll also want to check your potassium and phosphorus levels to ensure the trees have a strong foundation.

If you need to make changes to your soil composition, then there are several fertilizers available that can help you to achieve the correct balance.

#14. Understand the Frost
One of the most important traits for Christmas tree growers is a late-breaking bud. If you have new growth that dies because of a late frost in your region, then you can lose the entire growing season. Since the crop can take up to a decade to entirely mature, losing even one season is a significant financial loss. If you live in an area where the last frost is late in the season, then Canaan firs are one of the species of tree that you’ll want to strongly consider.

#15. Watch Out for the Double Top
Even newly-planted trees require some attention when you start a Christmas tree farm. You will want to make sure that you cut out any double tops that form as the trees grow. If you leave one in place for 4 years, then you’ll end up having two complete trees instead of one. Neither of them will be in a saleable condition, so that means you’re losing profits immediately. Reviewing the quality of the seedlings will ensure that you can maximize revenues each year once you can start the harvesting process.

#16. Shearing Happens By Hand
You are going to be shearing every tree on your farm by hand to make sure that they grow into the classic Christmas tree shape for your customers. If you have even a moderately-sized property, you’ll find that this work can take most of the summer to complete. Many farmers find it to be one of the most rewarding aspects of this business since you’re transforming the new growth into the shape that you want.

#17. Double Your Expense Projections
When you start looking at the cost of operating a Christmas tree farm, then you’ll want to be more liberal with your projections than in other industries. Once you think you know what you’ll be spending, then double that amount. There’s a lot of equipment you need for the work, ranging from a tractor and auger to the chainsaws needed to harvest the product eventually. If you plan to sell the trees from your property, then a netter is another investment to consider. Some of the expenses happen over time, but land expenses and taxes are an annual headache to navigate.

#18. Limit Your First Years
It might be tempting to plant the maximum number of trees on your property each year, but that action will leave little room for error. It’s cheaper and easier to make mistakes on 500 trees instead of 5,000 of them. Take the time to establish your brand in the first years of your business, then build into the annual sales gradually so that you build a solid reputation. Once you get into a good flow for what you’re doing.

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