Garden Advice

How Long Does a Christmas Tree Take to Grow and What Else to Consider

No agricultural enterprise is without risk, but with 7 million Christmas trees sold in the UK every year, you can be confident that if you provide a good quality product, you will have a ready market. In this article, we will be looking at how to grow a Christmas tree and how long it takes to grow a Christmas tree.

Growing Christmas trees might suit you if:

  • If you have some spare acreage
  • Want to diversity and are looking for a low maintenance crop
  • Have the cash flow to invest in something that will give a good return over the medium to long term

How long does a Christmas tree take to grow?

There are several different types of Christmas trees grown in the UK. So, the answer to the question ‘how fast do Christmas trees grow?’ will depend on which you choose, growth rate does vary across species. Other factors, such as soil quality, temperature, rainfall, and pest and weed control will also influence tree development. How long to grow a Christmas tree before marketing it depends on how large a tree you want to produce. The larger the tree, the better you can expect the profit margin to be, but you have to wait longer to recover your investment. It’s also worth remembering that since UK homes tend to be smaller these days, the larger the tree, the smaller the potential market for it.

Two of the most popular Christmas tree species in the UK are Norway Spruce and Nordmann Fir

  • Norway Spruce
  • The most traditional European Christmas tree and still the most widely planted. Depending on the size of tree you’re aiming for, and assuming that you’re planting 3-year-old trees, the growing cycle of Norway Spruce could be as short as 4 to 6 years. While Norway Spruce does have a lovely scent, it’s very prone to needle loss, once moved indoors. If you grew up with trees, which were decorated a day or two before Christmas but ended up bare of greenery by December 31st, the chances are your family bought Norway Spruce.

  • Nordmann Fir
  • This species is native to Turkey, the Russian Caucasus, and Georgia. Nordmann Fir growth rate is slower than that of Norway Spruce, around 25 to 30 centimetres in height and 15 centimetres in width per year. Nordmann Fir is also a more expensive tree, nevertheless, it’s become an increasingly popular choice as a Christmas tree species, mainly because it’s far less susceptible to needle drop than the traditional spruce.

  • Noble Fir
  • Also a popular choice for Christmas trees but even slower to grow that Nordmann Fir. Its green-grey foliage appeals to customers looking for something a little bit different.

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What to consider when growing Christmas trees

  • The site
  • Level ground is preferred, both for the tree’s benefit and for ease of harvesting. Avoid hollows where frost can gather, conifers are hardy but strong frost can damage young trees. Accessibility is also a factor, an easy-to-access site will make harvesting and transport much easier to arrange. There’s a balance to be drawn, however, Christmas tree theft is sadly big business, and if your site is both easily accessible and highly visible, you may need to take security measures to ensure that an opportunistic criminal doesn’t reap the benefits of your work.

  • Spacing
  • Spruce trees – Normal spacing is between 1 and 1.2 metres apart for spruce species. At 1-metre spacing, you’ll achieve 10,000 trees per hectare.

    Nordmann Fir – This species is generally planted at 1.2-meter intervals, the same level of distancing is also appropriate for Noble Fir. A hectare of land planted at 1.2 metres will yield 6,900 trees.

  • Pest protection
  • Christmas trees are vulnerable to attack from pests, large and small.

    Rabbits – In most parts of the country, rabbit-proof fencing is a must if you don’t want these rodents to cause widespread damage to your young trees.

    Deer – Deer are not a countrywide problem in quite the same way that rabbits are, but if you’re planting in an area where there are deer, you’ll need to upgrade your rabbit-proof fence to something that will also keep out deer.

    Insects – Aphids are the insects most likely to attack Christmas trees. Unless you’re able to use a biological control method, it’s likely that you’ll need to spray against aphids several times in the growing season.

  • Weed control
  • Your trees will get off to a stronger start if the site you plant them on is weed-free. One way of achieving this is to pre-spray with a suitable herbicide in late summer or early autumn prior to planting. Weed control will be required throughout the growing cycle, younger trees are of course more vulnerable. Grasses are a particular hazard and can easily smother the lower branches of Christmas trees. The choked foliage will turn brown, rendering it very unattractive and vastly reducing the saleability of your crop. Certain herbicides can be used when the trees are dormant. Half-strength application may be advisable and if you’re in any doubt, you better seek specialist advice before spraying.

  • Plants and planting
  • It’s possible to grow your trees from seed, but particularly in the early years of a new enterprise, it’s more usual to buy in and grow on saplings. In the case of Norway Spruce, it’s most common to buy trees, which are 3 or 4 years old. In more exposed sites, it’s better to use 3-year-old trees. Trees are normally supplied with the roots bagged to protect them, they can be stored in the bags for up to 4 days, providing the roots are not allowed to dry out. What soil do Christmas trees like? Most species are tolerant of a range of soils but extremely acid, chalky, clay or sandy soils aren’t ideal. When planting, ensure the trees are vertical and placed at the correct depth, with the root collar at ground level and well-heeled in. The planting of Christmas trees should be done in their dormant season, from November to April.

  • Fertilising
  • Conifer species don’t need especially rich soil so compost for Christmas trees isn’t usually required. If the colour is poor however, an application of fertiliser prior to harvesting will correct this, making the trees more salable.

  • Shearing
  • Shearing is in effect pruning that will give the tree a better shape. Trees are usually sheared from the third or fourth year on by cutting back part of the leading shoot and lateral branches. This stimulates dormant buds, further down the stems, resulting in bushier growth. Timing depends on the species. For instance, Norway Spruce are generally sheared between September and March.

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Takeaways:

  • The cultivation of Christmas trees represents a good option for growers, farmers or agriculturalists looking to diversify their business.
  • Potential profit margins are good, but this is a medium- to long-term investment.
  • A range of species are used as Christmas trees with Norway Spruce still being the most popular, however, there is an increasing market for Nordmann Fir, as well.
  • Attention to siting, correct planting, weed and pest control is vital to ensure a good crop of attractive and salable Christmas trees.

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Image source: Shutterstock / Kuzmina Irina

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