Growing Christmas trees (Picea Abies) to sell

If you are looking to buy Picea Abies for a Christmas tree plantation, then you will be pleased to know that the seeds used to grow them have been selected from trees that have a good shape to them already with the theory being that the new trees will also carry a good shape too.

Norway spruce (picea abies) is the most well-known of all Christmas tree varieties. It has become less popular in recent years due to its lesser ability to retain its needles but from a commercial growers point of they are an excellent choice due to their speed of growth, disease resistance and colour. If left to grow it would achieve a height of over 70m which would be one amazing Christmas tree.

You can plant into ploughed land or pre-treat with herbicide, just be sure to follow the instructions for spraying. Planting into pots is a good idea. Start with 2 litre pots for a couple of years, move on to 5 litres and let them grow a couple of more years and then put into a 10+ litre sized pot ready for sale at 5-6 years old. Depending on the age you sell them, this will dictate if you have to repot into a larger one. Taking the tree out of the pot and making sure it is not pot bound (the roots starting to grow around the pot) will let you know when to pot on if you have any doubt.

Deer are apparently not too much of a problem with their usual browsing habit. By browsing we mean their tendency to walk past and nibble not surf the Internet. The reason deer are not that much of a problem is because they generally do not like the taste of Picea Abies but in times of food shortage they can change their mind.

Trees shelters for Christmas trees are generally not used as it affects the ultimate shape of the tree as at least the first 60cm of the tree will be bare of branches. If you have a rabbit problem, you can fence off the area, use traps or shooting to keep the numbers down. Having spoken to the tree shelter manufacturers they say you could use them but it would be very unusual and of course your time to maturity would be greater as you need to wait a year or two before they grow out of the top.

Growth is best in full sunlight in deep, moist and rich soils (nutrient rich, not financially!) although you can still plant in clay and sandy soils but expect slightly less vigour. Picea Abies Christmas trees are generally shallow rooted and do not grow a tap root so in extreme winds in places that are unsheltered, you may experience some losses from being blown over.

Expect a growth rate of around 1ft per year but under ideal conditions e.g. sun, moisture and soil, you can expect more, sometimes up to 3ft but this is undesirable as the branches are too spaced out. If you experience high growth rates, best to prune back the leader and side branches. No competition from grass or weeds will also improve the Picea Abies growth rate. This can be achieved with chemicals or manual cutting or extraction. So for a 5 to 6 foot tree, your Christmas tree harvest could be ready in as little as 4-5 years.

Picea Abies Christmas tree needle retention is considered poor unless freshly cut and kept watered.

Our recommendation would be that you planted at least three species, including Norway spruce. We suggest that Norway spruce is grown in a container in the ground ‘pot-grown’ so that when the time comes for lifting and sale its root system remains intact and provided it is well-watered in the house will not shed its leaves to the same extent.

Large, commercial Christmas tree growers cut trees weeks before Christmas, to meet demand and we wonder what ‘freshly-cut Christmas trees’ really mean! Therefore selling in a pot and the tree still alive gives you a selling point but an additional cost. Needles can fall of in as little as a couple of weeks.

As with other Christmas tree species, Norway spruce is planted at a spacing of 1 metre (3ft) between each tree, thus meaning that to plant an area of 1 hectare (2.47 acres) 10000 trees would be required or 4200 per acre. If you are growing several different species of Christmas tree, best not to mix them as growth rates differ. Keep the different species in different places.