O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum -how lovely are thy branches

There is something about a Christmas tree. That magical glow from the lights, the reflection of shiny trinkets, the smiles, the smells – it all makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

A decorated tree creates childlike wonder, but raising and grooming those beautiful trees is a year-round job. To learn more about the tree’s life cycle, I spoke with Laura, a helper for French Creek Farms.

Laura knows her Christmas trees! She has shared her knowledge and helped me select trees for several years.

A young tree or a seedling is 16 – 18 inches tall when planted and will grow for 8 – 10 years before being harvested and delivered to a family for Christmas. Simple right? 

It’s not quite that easy. Tending to the trees is a year-round labor of love. Before planting the seedlings in the spring, the fields are soil tested and often treated with lime to create the proper pH level for growing trees. Proper spacing of the seedlings is crucial because the trees need room to grow, and the farmers need room to prune.

Remember, it’s summertime, and the field grass is growing and needs mowing several times to allow easy access to the trees for pruning.

Shaping the trees is easy when they are young and small and is often done by hand, but a ladder is often needed to reach the tops as they grow tall. This requires skill and practice.

John Armstrong has both as grower for French Creek Farms. His family started growing Christmas trees in 1966 when he was just 10 years old. They started the tree business as a way to put their children through college. 

Now, 56 years later, the trees are grown on several different pieces of property located in Upsher County. French Creek Farms grows various trees, including Blue Spruce, Canaan fir, Concolor fir (which smells like oranges, Douglas fir, White Pine, and Scotch trees. 

It’s easy to get excited when shopping for trees. The lots are beautiful and smell like everything the holidays should. Before getting caught up in the moment, ask yourself a few questions. 

Where will the tree be located, and how high are the ceilings? Trust me; trees look much bigger in your home than on the lot. I like a tree where I can see the trunk. So big and bushy is not my choice. Something about the trunk and its weathered bark being the core of strength is beautiful to me.

Test the branches. If you collect heavy ornaments, you need strong branches that will carry their weight. Different trees have different colors and needles. I’m a Frazier fir fan – soft needles but weak branches. A few years ago, after convincing myself to branch out (pun intended), I brought home a beautiful tree with scratchy needles. Never again.

Knowing when the tree was cut is important. Several varieties need a deep freeze to help them retain their needles. I also like to get them in water as soon as possible.

Be prepared to water daily. A fresh-cut tree will drink gallons of water in the first two weeks. Keeping it watered will help with needle retention.

Buying and decorating the holiday tree is fun. Over the years, Laura has seen families grow and expand. Pets, photographers, and garden writers all show up to wander the lots and learn from the experts. 

Artificial trees have their place – businesses, and homes with allergies, but for me, there is nothing like bringing home a fresh tree and having the little house on the big hill filled with that wonderful holiday smell of Christmas tree branches, cookies, and cinnamon. 

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

How lovely are thy branches