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The Story Behind Your Christmas Tree

It takes six to 10 years of attention to get it right

     The most common species of conifers used as Christmas trees are white pine, Scots pine, Douglas fir, balsam fir, Frazier fir, concolor fir, Canaan fir, Colorado spruce and white spruce. Norway spruce are not recommended because they shed needles rapidly if allowed to dry out once. In more southern states, Virginia pine, white cedar and red cedar and often used.
      Most growers purchase seedlings from nurseries that specialize in growing these species from seed.
       Seeds are planted in fall, as they require 100 or more hours of chilling temperatures before they can germinate in spring. Depending on the species, seedlings grow a year or two before they are dug up, graded and transplanted.  Transplanting stimulates seedlings to develop more fibrous roots, which gives them a better chance of survival when transplanted into open fields. At three or four years, seedlings are transplanted in the ground to grow to marketable size.
       White pine has the fastest rate of growth, while Colorado spruce has one of the slowest. Southern Maryland’s warmer winters limit growers to white pine, Scots pine, Douglas fir and Canaan fir. Balsam and Frazier fir and white spruce grow better in the colder mountain region.
       Until the trees are about three feet tall, growers are kept busy pruning to maintain a single stem and controlling weeds and grasses. Ten to 20 percent of trees may be lost due to drought, weed competition or rodent damage.
      Shearing into the traditional Christmas tree shape begins when the trees are between three and four feet in height. Pines are the first to be sheared beginning as soon as needles fully expand in June. Other species are sheared next.
      Shearing is done with shearing knives, hedge shears, pruners and power shears. It is the most dangerous cultural practice in Christmas tree cultivation. Wearing protective gear is a must, as is keeping spectators away.
      The rate of growth is generally 10 to 12 feet per year. A tree will be six to 10 years old depending on species by the time it is cut for sale.