Members of the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association (ICTGA) are busy grooming your real Christmas tree for the 2010 season and beyond. Real tree consumers will be ready to purchase when late November and December come around but few know that June through August are the busiest and most difficult months for the growers. Trees, weeds, and insect and disease pests are all thriving in the warm Indiana weather, thus requiring constant attention if quality trees are to be produced.
All quality Indiana Fresh Brand Christmas Trees require some form of pruning or shearing, as the growers call it. The amount and time of shearing is dependent on the tree species. This process helps to determine whether the tree will be tall and narrow, or shorter and wider at the bottom. The amount of shearing will also determine how full the tree is. One Indiana grower explains that they shear to produce trees full enough that you cannot see the trunk but not so full or dense that the ornaments slide off. Trees from different growers can take on a different appearance due to shearing techniques.
Scotch pine, the most common Indiana grown Christmas tree is usually sheared beginning about the middle of June. White pine is similar to Scotch pine but it is usually sheared beginning about the first of July. Shearing can continue into August but enough time must be allowed for the sheared trees to set buds for the following growing season.
A knife about 16 inches long is used to shear the trees. The knife may have a straight edge or be serrated. The grower examines the tree and determines how much of the new foliage should be removed and how long the top or leader should be. While wearing appropriate safety equipment, the grower then cuts around the tree from the top to bottom in full powerful swings. Up to a foot, or even more foliage is removed. Once having completely circled the tree, it is examined and perhaps some additional grooming is done with hand clippers. It takes about 30 seconds to shear a 7-foot tall Scotch pine tree. Some larger growers use mechanical devices that operate like a small vertically mounted rotary lawn mower. Others use a gas-powered sickle bar.
The fir species, which are becoming increasingly popular in Indiana, are usually sheared beginning in the middle of July. They are sheared with a knife as well, but some species require hand pruning, particularly the upper portions.
Even before shearing begins, proper weed control is essential. Many growers use the same pre-emergent herbicides that row-crop producers use. These are applied early in the spring and as the season continues, post emergent herbicides are applied. Glycophosphate is a poplar herbicide, but care must be exercised to prevent it from contacting the trees. These herbicides are used sparingly in bands just where the trees are growing. This minimizes herbicide use and prevents erosion in the untreated and more exposed areas between the rows.
Mowing the untreated area between the rows is also a necessity. Depending on spacing, this is usually done with small utility tractors or just heavy-duty lawn mowers. Depending on rainfall and length of the growing season, the field may need mowing 4 to 6 times in a year.
As shearing, mowing and herbicide application continue, the grower must also be on the lookout for numerous insect and disease issues that may develop. Some examples include bagworms, sawflies, spider mites, numerous needle cast diseases and others are all possible. Early detection and identification will result in controlling the pests with limited pesticide use, while still producing quality trees.
For more information about Christmas trees or to locate a choose-and-cut tree farm near you, please visit the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers website at www.indianachristmastree.com.