Christmas tree season is here. At least for growers in the state. At Meadow Ridge Farm, we’ve just begun our spring planting; we’re putting in 800 trees this year, about average for us and a level that puts us somewhere between small (backyard) and large (full-time) Christmas tree farms in Vermont.

The transplants in these photos are “2-2 Balsam-X-Fraser hybrids” from Asack & Son Christmas Tree Farm and Nursery in Barton. The “2-2” part refers to the age of the transplants: they are 4 years old from seed, having spent 2 years in a nursery bed and 2 years in a transplant bed. They’re “hybrids” because they are produced by cross-pollinating balsam and fraser fir seed-trees, giving the resulting hybrids parts of the appearance and growing characteristics of each species. In this case, the hybrids have some of the short-needled, showy foliage of a fraser fir along with some of the faster-growing, greater soil condition tolerance of a balsam.

A 2-2 balsam-fraser hybrid; note the large root system of this high-quality transplant.

The transplants come to us in bundles of 100, packed in sawdust and rolled in burlap to help keep the bare roots moist. We store the bundles on our cool garage floor in the dark and pour water over them every couple of days. When a bundle is ready to plant, we put about 20 transplants in each of several 5-gallon buckets that are half-full of water (again, to keep the roots wet), and rewrap the rest. The goal is always to minimize the time that the roots (which on high-quality transplants are even longer than the trees themselves) are exposed to sun or wind. Even minutes can dry roots out on a hot, sunny, windy day. So we lug the buckets of trees around the field, pulling one out only when there’s a hole ready for it.

After unwrapping the bundles, trees are put in buckets off water before planting. Our golden retriever Casey insists on being a part of every step in the planting process.

We use a gas-powered auger to drill holes next to each stump of a tree cut last December.

We use a gas-powered auger with a 6-inch bit to drill holes beside (in line with) each stump of a Christmas tree cut last December. Many smaller growers simply plant with a shovel or spade; larger growers, if they’re working in an open field, often use a planting machine pulled behind a tractor.

The soil needs to be packed tightly around the roots to avoid air pockets.

Several years back we made this video that shows our planting process; different farms take different approaches, and everyone finds a method that works for them. If you’re considering getting into Christmas tree farming, your first step should be to join the NH-VT Christmas Tree Association—it’s a friendly, experienced group of growers who are very willing to share their expertise.