Each year Carlos and Lorraine Miranda of Fall River, Massachusetts, cross the state line to Rhode Island on a quest to tag the family Christmas tree at Pachet Brook Tree Farm in Tiverton. The couple began this tradition, which now includes grown daughters Kelsey and Stephanie, early in their marriage. “We walk up and down the rows looking for our ‘perfect tree.’ It has to be around seven feet tall and just as round, very full. We bring bows with us to mark potential trees. After we find the tree, [it gets] tagged with our information and we head back to the office to pay and set our pick-up date. The trip back is usually the hayride,” says Lorraine.
But just how are there enough trees each year for families like the Mirandas? It’s all about planning and planting, and you don’t exactly go into the business overnight. For every tree cut most farmers will plant at least two seedlings flanking the stump, and it can take up to fifteen years for a tree to reach the coveted retail size height of seven feet.
Jan Eckhart of Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown likens growing Christmas trees to trying to turn around an ocean liner. “It’s a long process. You plant trees that are four years old from a nursery and they take six to eight years to mature. Some years you have bad weather and you don’t sell as much so it’s hard to quantify what you’re going to need, but we do the best we can,” he says with a chuckle. Being at “the mercy of the weather,” Eckhart has diversified his offerings by also growing seasonal fresh fruits, cut flowers, and vegetables on 100 acres of conserved farmland. There’s even a café. “Our busiest day of the year is the day before Thanksgiving, we sell desserts and sides and gravy. Trees start the day after,” he says.
According to the Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association (RICTGA), Christmas trees are a six-million-dollar business in Rhode Island. Top selling tannenbaums in our state are Balsam Fir, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Noble Fir, Scotch Pine, Virginia Pine, and White Pine, but offerings vary by farm and can include types such as Canaan Fir. As a renewable resource, the Association notes that Christmas trees are an important part of the state’s agricultural industry.
“For trees, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. [Like the] Charlie Brown tree. People have a concept based on something they grew up with and they know it when they see it. It’s very personal decision. Interesting to watch, it’s a family affair,” says Eckhart. “It’s nice when they all agree and say ‘we’ll take it!’”
TOP TREE TIPS
Offered by some Christmas tree farms, tagging or pre-tagging is when you visit during fall and are led to the lot of living trees and can designate the one you wish to have cut down for you at a later time. Tagging season varies from farm to farm and can begin in October or November. The return visit happens after Thanksgiving. As excited as you are to bring your tree home, you don’t want to risk it drying out before Christmas Day.
BEFORE YOUR VISIT
Before visiting a farm, it is best to call ahead for details such as hours, are credit cards accepted, and are there public restrooms. Many farms are also on social media so check for recent updates and special activities, like hayrides or baked goods.
Some farms provide a bow saw for customers to cut trees themselves. If you’re up to the challenge, bring a pair of heavy-duty work gloves and goggles.
Consider bringing a blanket or plastic tarp along to protect the surface of your car’s roof. Also pack bungee cords, straps, and/or rope to secure the tree to your car’s rooftop.
Remember, you won’t have farmhands helping you to take the tree off of your car back at home –or lugging it up three flights of steps to your apartment – so be sure to enlist assistance from friends and neighbors ahead of time as needed.
AT THE FARM
You may want to ask for your fresh cut tree to be shaken to make sure you’re not bringing home a surprise pet, and request netting or baling, which is wrapping the tree for easier transport.
Chances are the farm will do this for you without asking but be sure an inch is cut off the bottom of any pre-cut tree or that a hole is drilled at the base, this will allow the tree to take up water again and prolong freshness. Just like fresh flowers, you want the tree to be placed in water as soon as possible, even a bucket while you prep the stand.
BACK AT HOME
While the vision of a Christmas tree beside a fireplace might make for a nice greeting card image, you’ll want to keep your tree clear of any heat source to prevent premature drying. Check water levels daily as trees can absorb up to a gallon of water each day. Unplug lights whenever you are away from the tree, whether asleep or out of the house.
When you are ready to clean-up from the holidays, your tree can be recycled into mulch. Check your town website or the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation's website to get the pickup date. Before leaving your tree on the curb, remove any ornaments, hooks, and tinsel from the tree.
Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association
Farm Fresh RI