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Monday, May 2, 2016

Christmas trees: Tis the season to start growing

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Some wait until Christmas Eve to get ready for the next day, but not Indiana Christmas tree growers.

From late March through early May, these choose-and-cut and wholesale growers are busy planting your real Christmas trees for the 2016 season.

To produce a 7-foot real Christmas tree, it takes about seven years in the field. The trees usually spend the first two or three years of their life in a tree nursery. They are "lifted" early in the spring as the ground thaws. All of the dirt is removed from the roots of the 10-to-18 inch tall seedlings. The seedlings are sorted and neatly bundled for shipment to farms.

There are about 200 Christmas tree farms located throughout Indiana. These farms will plant well over a quarter of a million seedlings this year. About 200,000 real trees are sold in Indiana each year -- up 7 percent from just a few years ago. Thus, growers routinely plant more new trees than the market demands. Not all seedlings survive the first year and some of those that do survive, do not develop into trees acceptable to the consumer.

Depending on the number of seedlings to be planted, two methods are usually used -- manual planting or mechanical planters. With manual planting, operators use a special heavy-duty tool called a dibble or KBC bar. The dibble is like a spade but a lot stronger. The dibble, using foot pressure, is inserted into the soil up to 18 inches and a "V" shaped hole made by pulling the handle back and forth. The seedling is inserted into the hole to the same depth it was planted in the nursery and with the roots straight down.

If the roots become "J" rooted or turned up, the tree will die in a year or two. The ends of the roots are sometimes pruned to prevent "J" rooting. After the seedling is properly inserted into the hole, the dibble is reinserted into the soil about two or three inches behind the seedling. The dibble is pulled back and forth to ensure the hole is closed top and bottom and no air pockets remain around the seedling roots. If air pockets are left around the roods, the seedling may die.

A soil auger is one mechanical method that can be used. The auger prepares holes to accommodate seedlings often with large root systems. If more than a few hundred seedlings are to be planted, mechanical planters are normally used. These planters are pulled by a tractor and use a coulter and shoe, much like a corn planter, to open a trench. A person rides on the planter and inserts the seedlings into the trench at the proper spacing and depth. Soil is then mechanically raked into the trench and wheels pack it tightly around the seedling's roots.

After planting, weeds and grass in the plantation must be controlled by the use of herbicides or mowing. As the seedlings grow each year, they must also be shaped. By 2016, the perfect real Indiana fresh Christmas tree will be waiting.

For more information about Christmas trees or to locate a tree farm, visit the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers' website at www.indianachristmastree.com.

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