If you’re looking for a profitable cash crop for your small acreage, consider growing Christmas trees. They are a low maintenance crop, ideal for a spare time project, and can produce a good income for years to come. By planting a portion of your acreage with new trees each year, it will provide a steady income as the trees mature in an average of eight years and are harvested and re-planted.
How much income can Christmas tree farming produce? Most tree varieties are ready to harvest at the popular height of 5 to 7 feet in around eight years. Allowing for loading areas and access roads every 12-15 rows, you can plant about 1,500 trees per acre, using the standard 5′ x 5′ spacing. To provide a stable yearly income, most growers plant or re-plant one-eighth of their acreage every year, which is about 200 trees per acre.
According to the American Christmas Tree Association, the average price of a tree at a u-cut lot was $46 last year. With 200 ready-to-harvest trees per acre, that’s $9,200. As the costs of growing Christmas trees are mostly labor for maintenance, such as mowing for weed control and shearing the young trees, a small grower who does their own work can keep most of the profits.
The three most popular Christmas trees are Balsam fir, Douglas fir and Scotch pine. Balsam fir is a popular tree species in the eastern U.S., where colder winters and cool summers provide ideal growing conditions. Balsam fir has a natural cone shape, so it needs fewer shearing to look perfect.
Douglas fir is the most widely grown Christmas tree in the northwest U.S. It holds it’s needles after cutting and is also naturally cone shape, so it needs minimal shaping. Douglas fir prefers a mild growing climate, with well-drained soil.
Scotch pine is popular with growers because it is a fast grower in a wide range of soils and climates. Because Scotch pine develops a deep tap root, it is more drought-tolerant than many other species. However, it does require regular shearing to develop the desirable cone shape of a traditional Christmas tree.
Most growers purchase their trees as seedlings or transplants ( a seedling that has been transplanted to a new growing bed to encourage root growth) from one of the wholesale growers around the country specializing in conifers. The cost of seedlings or transplants is low when you consider that the mature trees can be harvested two years sooner than trees grown from seed. Trees that will be harvested at a height of 5-7 feet, which is 90% of the Christmas tree market, are planted on a 5′ x 5′ grid to allow plenty of room for sunlight to reach the young trees so growth will be even and not lopsided.
One of the big attractions of Christmas tree farming is the small amount of work it takes. Little is required for the first four years, then an annual pruning helps the trees bush out for the fuller shape that buyers prefer.
Many growers make as much, or more, from selling greens, garlands and wreaths than from their cut tree sales. Wreaths can be simple and affordable, or elaborate and expensive, with some costing as much as $100. Some growers prefer to hand wire their wreaths, while others prefer a simple foot-powered wreath machine that uses metal clamps. An experienced wreath maker can produce 6 to 8 wreaths per hour.
Growers near a town find selling their trees direct to customers brings the best profits, although it takes more time. Families with kids love a “cut-your-own” tree farm and finding the perfect tree. For other growers, selling their trees with the help of a community organization such as Kiwanis or Rotary makes sense, as the prices are higher than selling to wholesalers.
You may be surprised to learn that the market for live Christmas trees is growing, as the buying public is turning it’s back on plastic artificial trees in favor of the ‘real thing.’ Sales of artificial trees peaked in 2007, and have been declining since. That’s why the number of small Christmas tree farms is growing steadily every year. If you’re interested in a sustainable and profitable crop, why not start tree farming on your small acreage. In addition to making a good income, you’ll be providing erosion control, wild life habitat and improving the environment. This green business can be a win-win for you and our planet.
As you can see, growing Christmas trees on a tree farm can bring much higher profits to growers. Start-up costs are low, and demand is growing every year. To learn more about growing high-value trees, read Growing Trees For Profit, available here.