Did you know the first cut-your-own Christmas tree farm in the United States was started in Central Jersey?
In 1901, W.V. McGalliard planted 25,000 Norway spruce trees on his farm in Mercer County. After growing the trees for seven years, they were then sold for $1 each. Customers were invited to come to the farm to choose their trees in the field, cut them and bring them home. Christmas tree delivery options were also available for customers by horse-drawn wagon.
Now, there are more than 5,000 acres of Christmas trees being grown on local farms throughout New Jersey. We are fortunate that over 100 years after the first Norway spruce was sold from McGalliard’s farm, we can still enjoy the experience of visiting a Christmas tree farm and selecting a tree to bring home for the holidays.
In the United States, there are currently more than 350 million Christmas tress being grown, with farmers planting seedling trees every spring to replace the ones that are harvested. A Christmas tree generally takes seven to 10 years to grow to a harvestable size, and during this time the trees are performing many important ecological functions, just like a young forest would do.
Christmas tree farms help to provide bird habitat, stabilize the soil and protect water supplies. When we support our local Christmas tree growers, we are contributing to the conservation of natural resources in New Jersey, as many farmers are practicing sustainable methods of land stewardship when growing their trees.
With continued strong demand for real Jersey-grown Christmas trees, there are sometimes questions about whether there will be enough trees available for the holidays, especially considering the drought conditions that occurred throughout much of the state during this past growing season. However, while supply may be tight again this year for farm-grown trees, our local farmers have been working hard to make sure that there will be enough Christmas trees for everyone who wants one.
The National Christmas Tree Association, the national association of Christmas tree growers, has put out the following recommendations for obtaining a farm-grown Christmas tree in 2022.
Shop early to have the best choice. Due to their popularity, many choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms sell their available trees quickly. If you plan to shop at a tree farm, shop early in the season. Shopping early in the season is a good idea wherever you plan to shop to have the most options to choose from.
You will be able to purchase a tree. Supplies are tight and some locations will sell out early, but there are enough real farm-grown Christmas trees for everyone who wants one to get one. Supplies of real farm-grown trees have been tight since 2016, but each year shoppers have been able to find a tree.
Be flexible. Because supplies are tight you may need to look in different places to find a real tree. You should also be open to trying different types of trees. There are many beautiful varieties of Christmas trees, and there will be one that is just right for you and your family.
When selecting a Christmas tree, look for one with a straight trunk. This will be important when you bring it back to the house and try to put it into the stand. The tree should also have a leader (the top growing tip) that is at least 6 inches long. You can always trim it later after you bring it home.
Look for any bare spots on the tree. If it is going against a wall, then it is OK if it has one side that is not perfect because no one is going to see it anyway. Gently run your hand through the branches to make sure that the tree is not losing too many needles. This would indicate that the tree may be too dry and may not last very long after it is brought home. The branches should also be flexible when bent and not brittle.
After you have selected your tree, a fresh cut should be made at the base of the trunk before it goes into the stand and starts to take up water. The water should be refilled every day and the tree should never be allowed to dry out. This will keep the tree looking its best and lasting for a longer period.
If you have any questions about selecting, maintaining or growing Christmas trees, the local farmers will be happy to help when you visit them this holiday season. The New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers’ Association is an excellent resource made up of local growers throughout the state who work together to produce the healthiest trees, while preserving open space and conserving natural resources.
To find a Christmas tree farm near you, visit njchristmastrees.org/find-a-farm.
William Errickson is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Monmouth County.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: NJ Christmas trees: everything to know