Garden Lighting

From seed to harvest — how does your Christmas tree grow?

With summer long gone and Halloween festivities over too, next up is Christmas! Amongst everything else, means gift buying and choosing the perfect tree. But have you ever stopped to think where your tree has been before it sits amongst the others, awaiting its Christmas fate? Together with Compost Direct, gardening experts and retailers of multi-purpose compost, we look at where Christmas trees originate from and compare real and artificial trees.

Home grown Christmas trees

If you’re from the UK and purchase a real Christmas tree near home this year, it’s likely that it was grown in the UK too. There are many wholesale Christmas tree farmers in the UK and most of their produce goes to garden centres and supermarkets in the country. UK Christmas tree sales accumulate to £280m on average and three quarters of these are home grown.

A popular choice of Christmas tree is the Nordmann fir. When looking at the market share of Christmas trees in the UK, it was found that 80% of customers choose this type. Perhaps it is the soft foliage and glossy green needles of the tree that make it perfect for decorating. But before you hang tinsel and baubles off its branches, where did it all begin?

The start of the Christmas tree’s lifecycle begins with a seed. Farmers take seeds from cones of mature trees and sow them in plant beds. A protective sheet is placed over the top to prevent any damage from frost or sunlight. For the first two years of their life, weed control is essential to eliminate any competition for moisture, nutrients or sunlight.

The seedlings spend three years in these plant beds of soil or specialised compost, and after this they are moved to bigger beds where their roots can grow. After around two years, they are moved into a field. Christmas tree farmers can have hundreds of trees in one field, and must look after them all.

Extra care must be given to the plants over the next seven to eight years to ensure that they grow in the way that customers desire them to be. This is done by trimming the sides of the tree regularly to maintain the classic Christmas tree look; it can be cut in different ways to grow into a ‘full’ or ‘open’ tree. Bud-rubbing is another practise that farmers must do which is where the buds are removed from the top row of branches to enable the side branches to further develop – this results in a thicker tree.

Before the trees can be sent to the retailers, they must be sorted in terms of size and price. The farmers usually do this before harvest and use coloured ribbons to differentiate between the trees. In total, it takes around 12-15 years from seed to harvest!

Real or artificial — the big decision

Despite the many years of hard work and care that Christmas tree farmers put into growing their crop, many customers still opt for an artificial tree.

When looking at Google trends, it’s clear to see that more people are searching for artificial Christmas trees (14,800) than real Christmas trees (9,900). However, this could be due to the purchase process of each (some fake trees can be bought online).

The advantage of a real trees is that they come in many different shapes and sizes. Unlike artificial trees, you can choose a tree suitable for your own home and know that no one else will have one the same.

When considering cost, it is likely that it’ll cost you more to buy a real tree than you would an artificial tree. Moreover, an artificial tree will last you around 10 years whereas a real tree will only last a few weeks.

Many believe that the harvesting of Christmas trees is harmful to the environment due to the act of cutting down a tree. However, these trees are a crop and it is not dangerous to cut them down. Unlike artificial trees, real trees are biodegradable too – reducing their carbon footprint further.

Instead of purchasing a real or fake tree, why not grow your own? The cultivation of this crop could prove very profitable!