Florida AM University
Cooperative Extension Program
Florida AbM University University of Florida
Christmas tree production is big business in the
United States and Florida can take its place in the
market. An average of 40 million trees are sold each
year in the United States and about two (2) million of
these are sold in Florida and are imported from other
states with a retail value of $20,000,000. These trees
are usually cut in October and kept under cold
storage while being shipped southward to large dis-
tributors who distribute them to wholesalers and
retail outlets in the area. The most popular species
are Douglas-fir and Scots Pine.
Christmas trees produced in Florida can capture a
substantial portion of the market, but to compete, it
is essential that Florida-grown trees be of high
quality. Low transportation costs and freshness are
advantages of locally grown trees. At present,
150,000 trees are planted in Florida for Christmas
trees. This number is rising but there is room for
expansion. Most Florida growers raise Christmas
trees on a part-time basis and keep the acreage small
because of the intensive work required to produce
quality trees. However, financial rewards can be good
for the person who is willing to spend time in
managing an operation.
To show that Christmas trees can be grown in
Florida, six demonstration plots were planted on the
Florida A&M University Campus in a joint venture
with the University of Florida to show production
management practices, recommended varieties,
pruning, shearing, harvesting, and marketing of
Christmas trees. The plots were established and
planted December 28, 1981. The public along with
Extension workers in Leon and surrounding count-
ies, participated in tours of the demonstration plots
May 27, 1983 and May 25, 1984.
Specialist observing trees in FAMU Demonstration
A well-planned operation should include at least
four different varieties to meet the market demands
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GROW CHRISTMAS TREES?
To grow Christmas trees, one must rent or own his
land. Since it takes a minimum of three (3) years and
a maximum of five (5) years to produce a Christmas
tree for marketing, cash is required to pay taxes,
mortgage payments or rental fees. Therefore, a steady
cash flow is needed to produce trees successfully.
A potential grower needs to be knowledgeable of
agricultural operations and procedures. He should
live near the area where the trees are planted and be
able to spend some time supervising the operation.
Christmas trees can average prices of $5-25 per
tree depending on the quality and grade of the tree.
Therefore, if one plants 800 trees to the acre, he
could realize an income of $4,000 to $20,000 per
acre. Expenses for growing trees vary according to
the amount of work done by the farmer and the
equipment purchased. Total expenses for growing
one acre of Christmas trees on land privately owned
with limited investments in machinery and equip-
ment would be approximately $300 per year.
Suitable machinery is needed for the operation
including mowers and sprayers. These should be
available when needed. Money is needed to buy tree
seedlings, chemicals, fuel, parts and repairs.
Basic tools and machinery needed for growing
Finally, the grower needs to be business-oriented
with some knowledge of record keeping, and be
willing to work hard and long hours during peak
WHAT SPECIES SHOULD I GROW?
EASTERN RED CEDAR
Florida has several native species suitable for
Christmas trees, including Eastern Red Cedar and
Sand Pine. The most commonly used species for
Christmas trees in the state is Red Cedar. However,
this tree is hard to handle and takes at least five (5)
years to make a marketable tree. Presently, on the
campus of FAMU and in seven North Florida count-
ies, four varieties of pines are being tested to deter-
mine which would produce the most marketable
Christmas tree. The ones being tested are Red Cedar,
iSand Pine, Spruce Pine and Virginia Pine.
S -. ,.
Technician observing growth of Eastern Red Cedar.
Eastern Red Cedar is the most common tree grown
in Florida as the traditional Christmas tree. They are
compact and grow in conical form which is the
familiar Christmas tree shape. They are relatively
free of diseases and are not affected by insects. Three
of the disadvantages of Red Cedar are (1) weak, flimsy
branches, making it awkward to hang ornaments or
lights, (2) prickly nature of the foilage and (3) the
rapidity at which the tree becomes dry and brittle
The Virginia pine is native to the southeastern
United States and extends northward to Central
Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, Westward to
Northeast Mississippi, and Southward to upper Ala-
bama, Georgia and Florida. Its growth habit requires
direct sunlight and freedom from overtopping by
competing trees or other plants.
On the campus of FAMU this tree has grown at a
rapid rate. In two years several of the trees are ready
for market. Normally they will produce a marketable
tree in three (3)-to-five (5) years when cultural prac-
tices are applied regularly. Without proper cultural
practices, the Virginia Pine will produce poorly
formed trees of low quality and poor merchantability.
The variety has proven to be a tree to grow for
Christmas trees in Florida.
Specialist observing growth of Virginia pine.
The Choctawhatcher variety of sand pine has dense
foilage, short needles and has shown great promise
on the FAMU site and in the counties. If grown on the
proper site with adequate pruning, it makes an
excellent tree. The major objective to sand pine is its
growth habit which is very irregular. On the FAMU
site, sand pine has produced the most uniform shape
Specialist observing growth of sand pine. >
The spruce pine has shown promise as a potential
species for Christmas trees. It has produced a tree
with long needles and a straight stem. The tree has
grown at a rapid rate but is hard to shape. The major
disadvantage observed is the excessive distance be-
tween the branches of the tree.
Of the four (4) varieties planted on the FAMU
campus for Christmas trees, Virginia pine is the
number one selection; Sand Pine as second selection
and Red Cedar the third, and Spruce pine fourth.
Technician observing growth of spruce pine.
HOW TO SELECT AND PREPARE THE SITE?
Selecting the right site is very important. Experi-
ence has shown that good land produces top quality
Christmas trees. As a general rule, land that pro-
duces quality row crops will produce quality Christ-
Selection of a good site and preparation of the soil
is necessary to produce quality trees.
The preferred site should possess the following
1. Be well drained
2. Sandy or clay loam topsoil with clay subsoil
3. ApH of 6
4. Have the capacity to produce row crops
The soil should be prepared as if you were planning
to plant a row crop. It should be turned, harrowed
smooth, and left to be settled by two or more rains.
Technician preparing site for planting trees.
WHEN SHOULD TREES BE PLANTED?
In Florida, seedlings can be planted from December
1 until February 15. Seedlings should be planted as
soon as they are received, unless the soil is very dry. If
the soil is dry, wait until a good rain.
WHERE CAN SEEDLINGS BE BOUGHT AND HOW TO
CARE FOR THEM?
Pine seedlings can be obtained from state and
commercial nurseries. Seedlings are shipped in bun-
dles with wet moss in packages of 500-2,000. These
packages have a water-resistant outside wrapping. If
trees are not planted in a few days after delivery, the
grower should not remove them from the bundle. If
your package is torn, the seedlings should be re-
moved and bedded in moist soil.
Christmas trees do not develop well in shade<
areas and should be planted in open fields.
Technician removing dead weeds from around
trees planted in FAMU Demonstration Plot.
Specialists and Administrator observing seedlings
ready for planting in prepared FAMU Demonstration
If you plant on new ground, vegetation should be
removed and the soil well prepared. Newly planted
trees should be fertilized in the spring after growth
has started, only if the soil test indicated very low
fertility. Soil testing information can be obtained
from your local county extension agent.
Specialist and technicians preparing seedbedfor .
left over seedlings.
Seedlings that are left over should be placed in a
seedbed for future use. To prepare the seedbed, dig a
trench deep enough to cover the seedlings. Cover the
roots of the seedlings with soil and keep the bed free
of weeds. Trees should be planted at least 6'x 6'.
Proper spacing is important, due to width trees
obtain as they grow. If planted too close, trees will not
Specialist and technician measuring distance
between one-year-old trees on FAMU Demonstration
HOW TO PLANT THE TREE?
Trees may be planted using a mattock, dibble,
shovel or a mechanical planter.
Specialist holding dibble and shovel.
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Technician planting trees in County Demonstration
site with mechanical planter.
The following procedure should be used when
planting trees by hand:
PROCEDURE FOR DIBBLE:
1. Insert dibble at angle shown and push forward
to upright position (don't compact the soil by
rocking the dibble back and forth)
2. Remove the dibble and insert a seedling in the
hole, withdrawing seedling until root collar is at
or slightly below ground level and roots are
3. Insert dibble part way, push and twist forward
closing top of planting slit.
5. Rock dibble back and forth to pack soilfirmly
4. Push dibble straight down to depth of blade.
6. Fill in last hole by stamping with heel.
HOW CAN WEEDS BE CONTROLLED?
A. Weeds may be controlled using a lawn mower or
Technician mowing weeds with lawn mower on the
FAMU Demonstration site.
B. Applying roundup herbicide with backpack
sprayer that has a cone attachment to protect the
Christmas tree from the chemical.
Student applying roundup to control weeds on
FAMU Demonstration site.
SHOULD FERTILIZER BE APPLIED?
Fertilizer should only be applied if needed. Too
much fertilizer will cause excessive weed growth and
distorted tree growth. Fertilizer should be broadcast
over the entire area because the seedlings have the
capacity to pick up fertilizer from all points in the
stand due to their spreading root system.
HOW CAN INSECTS BE CONTROLLED?
Most insects that affect pines such as bagworms
and tip moth can be controlled by spraying with
Cygon or applying furidan at least twice during the
Technician applying insecticide to control pine tip
moth on Virginia pine in the FAMU Demonstration
HOW CAN DISEASES BE CONTROLLED?
Red cedars are affected by cedar blight. It usually "
begins at the bottom portion of the tree and pro-
gresses to the top. If not controlled by removing
branches or applying copper, the entire stand could
Virginia pine and spruce pine are not affected by
blight diseases. On the campus of FAMU, no indica-
tion of diseases have been noted on these varieties.
Specialist removing dead twigs from red cedar to .
prevent spread of blight disease.
WHEN SHOULD PRUNING BE DONE?
Pruning is necessary to get a maximum number of
well-formed trees. Many Eastern Red Cedars may
reach maturity without being pruned. However,
pruning of Virginia pine, spruce pine, and sand pine
trees is necessary to develop a main stem and in-
Pruning is divided into three phases: (1) develop-
ing one main stem, (2) reducing height in com-
parison to diameter and (3) increasing density. Once
the tree has grown to a height of 2', a main stem
should be selected and remaining stems should be
removed. When pruning a pine tree for a Christmas
tree, the tree should be pruned at a 45 angle. This is
done when the tree has produced new shoot tips in
late April or early May and again in August. By
pruning at this angle, the tree will develop a conical
During the first year, pruning is done to develop a
main stem. and from developing a tall, slender-
shape. to remove lateral buds. By removing the lat-
eral buds the branches of the tree will grow closer
During second or third growing season, pruning is
done to increase density, reduce height and provide a
Specialist removing top branch to facilitate lower
branch development and develop a main stem on
one- year-old tree.
4 Specialist pruning lateral buds of one-year-old
tree to develop conical shape.
After tops are pruned, side branches should be
shaped with a shearing knife to form a tapered
crown. Hedge shears or shearing knives are used to
develop the taper.
Fourth year pruning is similar to the third year.
Specialist pruning tree with shearing knife to .
form conical shape.
WHEN SHOULD TREES BE HARVESTED?
Trees grow at varying rates and therefore, do not
reach maturity at the same time. There may be one or
more years variation in maturity dates of trees.
On the FAMU Campus Farm Site, the Virginia pine
and sand pine were ready for harvesting at the end of
the third year in one plot. The spruce pine and Red
Cedar will be harvested at the end of the fourth year
in the second plot.
When harvesting trees, always saw at right angles
to the stem to provide a good base. This helps the
appearance at the market and makes the trees easier
nd safer to handle than those with pointed or
oughly cut bases.
chnician and student harvesting tree on the >
U Demonstration site.
Items Purchased Quantity Purchased Cost Amount Used
7ype of T'ee No. Planted No. Sold Unit Cost Total Sale
ESTIMATED COSTS FOR PRODUCING
ONE ACRE OF CHRISTMAS TREES
Seedling Costs for Three Varieties
Labor Costs If You Do Not Provide Your Own
Shearing trees (Two hearings per year)
Spraying trees (Three times per year)
*Trees are sold only in lots of 1,000. Only 880 are needed to plant one acre. The remainder can be planted in seedbeds
for replanting the following year.
This public document was promulgated at a total cost of $ 2029.00 ,
or $ 0.4058 per copy, and issued in furtherance of Cooperative
Extension Work, Act of September 29, 1977, in cooperation with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. Lawrence Carter, Administrator, Cooperative
Extension Programs, Florida A&M University. The Cooperative Extension
Program offers educational programs and materials to the general public
without regard to race, color, sex, national origin or handicap.
AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER