September 23, 2012

Christmas-tree workshop offered

Richard Gast, Cooperative Extension Program Educator

---- — Christmas-tree growers and those considering getting started are invited to attend a Cornell Cooperative Extension workshop on Christmas-tree farming. This is an opportunity to look at stands of production trees in different stages of development, to speak with experienced growers and to ask questions of growers and Cornell Integrated Pest Management (IPM) specialist Betsy Lamb. 

Among the topics are site selection, obtaining and caring for planting stock, cultural practices (shaping and shearing), insects and diseases, and marketing. The workshop is free and open to the public. We hope to be able to offer one NYSDEC pesticide applicator recertification credit to attendees needing them. It will be held at 10 a.m. Oct. 12 at the Red Barn Christmas Tree Farm in Brainardsville.

According to the American Christmas Tree Association, recent Nielson research indicates that 21.6 million real Christmas trees will be sold in the United States this year with an average retail price of $46. American households will spend nearly $1 billion purchasing them.

Few consumers know where their trees come from, and even fewer realize the challenges faced by producers. Large investments, long-term commitment and lots of work are required. There are the production costs including the price of seedlings and machinery such as tractors, mowers, tillers, sprayers and shearing tools. And there’s the cost of fertilizers and pesticides and other items such as gates, signs and flagging.

Christmas trees can be produced on land that would be only marginally productive for agriculture, and production requires less ground cover disturbance than that needed with many crops. Christmas-tree rotations are much shorter than timber rotations and they can be grown economically on small acreage.

Sales may be seasonal, but production is not. Year-round management and maintenance are required. Christmas trees need to be planted, sheared and harvested. And there is always the risk that nursery trees will fail or that their growth, appearance and value will be impacted by drought, rain, wind, hail, ice or other environmental stress, or by disease, weed and/or insect pressure or rodent damage. Road building and maintenance may be required.

Marketing can be a challenge, too. Markets and trends change and prices fluctuate. Quarantines may be imposed restricting transport of trees out of state or into other counties in an effort to control disease or insects.

While some growers are businessmen, others are hobbyists. The two will often have different goals and approaches. A businessman might elect to grow a single tree species, the one that will provide the greatest return. An enthusiastic hobbyist might select a favorite variety or several varieties, even with the knowledge that the return will not be as great.

The decision to grow Christmas trees will often be just one part of an overall land-use plan. It may be designed to protect, preserve and improve aesthetic beauty and wildlife habitat. It may encompass other recreational and entrepreneurial opportunities. And it may include agricultural enterprises such as apple orchards, U-pick berries, fresh vegetables or forage crops.

Christmas-tree production is environmentally friendly. Trees are 100 percent biodegradable. They are often recycled into mulch and they are renewable resources. Once harvested, trees are replaced with seedlings.

One well-known Franklin County “choose and cut” tree farm is the Red Barn Christmas Tree Farm, owned and operated by Joyce and Richard King. The farm is located on the Brainardsville Road, approximately nine miles east of Malone and two miles west of Brainardsville. When Mrs. King says she and her husband have been Christmas-tree farmers for what “seems like a lifetime,” it’s because it has been a lifetime.

In more than 50 years in business, the Kings have marketed trees and boughs to wholesale buyers in and around Poughkeepsie, Kingston and New York City, and retailed Christmas trees and wreaths at the farmers market in Syracuse. During that time, the King family has harvested, transplanted, cared for and sold about 100,000 balsam-fir Christmas trees.

Red Barn is perhaps the oldest Christmas-tree farm in Franklin County. Located on County Route 24 (Brainardsville Road) approximately nine miles east of Malone and two miles west of Brainardsville, it has several thousand trees growing in rotation on a total of about 20 to 25 acres.

To register or for more information and directions, email me at or call Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County at 483-7403. And be sure to dress for the weather. Hope to see you there.

Richard L. Gast, Extension program educator II, Horticulture, Natural Resources, Energy, Agriculture programs assistant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Call 483-7403, fax 483-6214 or email