Author: Family Travel Forum Staff
Tags : Cheap Vacation, Christmas Holiday, Diet & Allergy Needs, Eco-Tourism, Kids, North America, Road Trip, Teens, USA, Winter Getaway
Family excursions make the holidays special, so why not take the kids Christmas tree hunting this winter? We make it easy with this guide to the U-Pick Christmas Tree Farm nearest you.
Did you grow up with a fake Christmas tree? According to the National Christmas Tree Association, about 20% of all evergreens displayed in homes today are real trees cut by hand at choose-and-cut farms. The NCTA should know, as even the White House tree is selected from the association's "Grand Champion Grower of the Year." The President's Superintendent of Grounds, Chief Usher, representative from the White House Visitor's Office and a representative from the National Park Service chose a 19-foot-tall, 12-foot-wide Balsam Veitch Fir cross grown on a farm in Oconto, Wisconsin in September. The tree will be on display in the White House's Blue Room.
What are U Pick Christmas Tree Farms?
From Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, you can plan a road trip to one of the nearly 5,000 choose-and-cut farms in the United States or to the many in Canada. The NCTA has a helpful website which refers you to farms either by location (by your zip code) or the type of tree required.
A Christmas tree farm outing is a fun and eco-friendly activity. Professional farmers replant three trees for every one that is cut, and most towns recycle cut trees as mulch or use them to bolster sand dunes after holidays. Sound too tame for you, not exactly what the kids had in mind? Actually, only a tiny fraction of Christmas trees are harvested in the wild, and these are cut only to create fire breaks in danger zones proscribed by the National Forest Service.
A Typical Day at a U Pick Christmas Tree Farm Near You
In the Northeast, the Jones Family Farms (203/929-8425, 606 Walnut Tree Hill Road, Shelton, Connecticut 06484) runs a typical operation on their 400-acre farm. According to Doug R., a Family Travel Forum member dad, most cut Christmas trees bought in December have actually been harvested and frozen several months before. That's why, each year around Thanksgiving, he takes his family to Jones, where for about $68 including tax, he can spend the day among Balsam Fir, Colorado Blue Spruce, White Fir, Douglas Fir, and Angel White Pines and bring home a more recently cut tree. Prices for fresh cut trees are sold by the foot and range from about $25 for a tiny one to $175.
Also at Jones, like at most family farms, visitors can expect handsaws, balls of twine, a gift shop, some snacks and down-home advice about the best tree for their needs. First tip: Measure your ceiling at home and bring the same tape measure to the farm!
"The kids love running around this beautiful New England style farm, and sometimes there's a Santa sighting," adds Doug R. "Our dog loves it, too."
Choose your favorite among 90,000 trees on 75 acres of farmland at the Richardson Adventure Farm (815/675-9729, 9407 Richardson Rd. near Spring Grove, IL), about an hour's drive from Chicago. This family farm, founded in 1840, has been operating a "Choose and Cut" operation for 25 years, selling about 4,000 trees each year. Tree varieties include Fraser Fir, Canaan Fir, Concolor Fir, Douglas Fir, Blue Spruce, White Pine and Scotch Pine. Of course, there's coffee and hot chocolate, donuts, homemade treats, wreaths and more for sale as well. "Some families have been coming here since our very first year," said George Richardson, who farms with his brother Robert, his son Ryan and their wives. "It's a real multi-generational tradition," he adds. "People who came here as kids bring their own children now."
McArdle's Holiday Farm (215/794-7655, 4316 Mechanicsville Road, Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania 18934) is another example of tree nurseries which bring in winter revenue by opening some of their land to u-pick or u-saw enthusiasts. At McArdle, family pickers will find a "Holiday Express" ride out to the fields on winter weekends, and free twine, saws, bailing wire and help getting the tree onto your car at any time.
Finding A Christmas Tree Farm Near You
There are several ways to find a tree-cutting farm convenient to you. Try asking the farmers at your local greenmarket; many have tree nurseries sharing farmland as an additional income source.
In some regions, such as northern California's wine region, local growers have been supported in marketing their products for more than 30 years by the Sonoma County Farm Trails Organization, whose site has a search function and maps showcasing farms which offer Christmas trees.
Did you know that North Carolina produces more than 20% of the "real" Christmas trees in the U.S.? The North Carolina Fraser Fir has been chosen for the White House nine times (more than any other species). There are several choose-and-cut farms around Boone and Banner Elk that feature this hardy specimen; check out the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association website for information on selection hours.
Another easy way to find the farm nearest your home is the Christmas Tree Farm Directory.
Christmas Tree Selection & Transport Tips
Follow these Tree Selection and Transport Tips from experienced tree-toting FTF families:
1. Carefully select the size and shape tree that's right for your home. As noted, you must measure the ceiling height in your home before heading out to the farm.
2. The tree farmer should supply a handsaw, but you may want to bring work gloves so the kids can help you keep it steady while sawing.
3. Ask the farmer to wrap or 'net' it for easy transport, but bring your own very useful plastic tarp to kneel on while sawing, to drag the tree to the car, and to protect your car roof or trunk from shedding needles and oozing sap.
4. If your kids have allergies to pollen or tree sap, you may want to wash the tree outside thoroughly with a garden hose before bringing it indoors. Although allergy specialists say that evergreens produce very little pollen in winter, any real tree will collect pollen and dust.
5. If possible, trim the tree's trunk again at home, and place it securely in water in a strong stand, away from any direct heat source. It may 'drink' several gallons worth in the first few days. Refill water every other day throughout the season, and your tree may last up to 10 weeks.
6. After the holidays, contact your local sanitation department about recycling your tree. In some areas they become mulch for local parks, in others, support for wind-blown sand dunes.
Start the Giving Season Early
The Richardson Farm in Illinois, along with many others, participates in Trees for Troops, a program sponsored by the Christmas Spirit Foundation and FedEx, which annually delivers about 18,000 free, fresh-cut trees to military families at 65 domestic and foreign military bases. Most farms allow customers to purchase a tree for a local military base at a discount, and attach their own holiday greeting. Now that's what we call holiday spirit.
Happy Tree Hunting!