Family excursions make the holidays special, so why not take the kids to harvest your own tree at a Christmas tree farm this winter? We make it easy with this guide to the U-Pick Christmas Tree Farm nearest you and tips on how to select one.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, about 20% of all evergreens displayed in homes in 2019 were real trees cut by hand at choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms. This year, we hear that number will increase a lot. Since many families have been sheltering at home against the pandemic, the urge to get outside means booming farm business.
Try it! Real trees are cool. And, real trees are “greener” than artificial trees because a living tree can be recycled and doesn’t have the negative environmental effects that making trees from PVC plastics does. The NCTA should know, as even the White House tree is selected from the association’s “Grand Champion Grower of the Year.”
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 Christmas tree farms in the United States. (In better years, choose from the many farms in Canada as well.) The NCTA has a helpful website which refers you to farms either by location (by your zip code) or by the type of tree required. At most, you’ll need to make advance reservations and be prepared to wear face coverings and stay socially distanced from other family groups.
Plan a Christmas tree farm outing because it’s an 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.
Forget the buzz saw and plaid shirt; tree farms are the sustainable way to go. Only a tiny fraction of Christmas trees are harvested in the wild, and these are cut only to create fire breaks in danger zones prescribed by the National Forest Service.
A Connecticut U Cut Christmas Tree Farm
In the Northeast, the Jones Family Farms (now including Homestead Farm, Valley Farm and Pumpkin Seed Hill Farm, with the main one at 606 Walnut Tree Hill Road, Shelton, Connecticut 06484) runs a typical winter 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 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 which is sold by the foot.
“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.”
While you’re in the Northeast, head over to explore these New York City family-friendly holiday events.
Support Small Family Farms
At the small family Christmas tree farms, expect handsaws, balls of twine, a big Christmas gift shop, some snacks and down-home advice about the best tree for their needs. First tip for all newcomers: Measure your ceiling at home and bring the same tape measure to the farm!
Like Jones, McArdle’s Holiday Farm (4316 Mechanicsville Road, Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania 18934) is an example of tree nurseries which bring in winter revenue by opening some of their land to u-cut or u-saw enthusiasts. At this Bucks County farm, family pickers will find a “Holiday Express” ride out to the fields on winter weekends.
Not into the chainsaw thing? Expect to choose from about 300 already cut evergreen trees. McArdle’s provides free twine, saws, bailing wire and help getting the tree onto your car at any time.
Many Farms Run Big Christmas Tree Operations
Choose your favorite among 50,000 trees on 75 acres of farmland at the Richardson Adventure Farm (9407 Richardson Rd. near Spring Grove, IL), about an hour’s drive from Chicago. This family Christmas tree farm, founded in 1840, has been operating a “Choose and Cut” operation for over 25 years, selling more than 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 works with his family. “It’s a real multi-generational tradition,” he adds. “People who came here as kids bring their own children now.”
Christmas Tree Farm 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 Christmas 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. Depending on where you live, you may even find a farm who will deliver through Instacart or another service.
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.
Finding A Christmas Tree Farm Near You
There are several ways to find a Christmas tree 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 more than any other species, although the 2020 Fraser Fir in the White House comes from Littleton, Colorado. 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 Network.
Tip! Start the Giving Season Early
The Richardson Farm in Illinois, along with many others, participates in Trees for Troops, which annually delivers about 18,000 free, fresh-cut trees to military families at 65 domestic and foreign military bases. We love give back gifts like this: purchase a tree for a local military base at a discount, and attach your own holiday greeting. Now that’s what we call holiday spirit.
Does your family have a Christmas tree farm tradition? Let us know about your Christmas inspired travels in the comment below!
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