It starts with a pinecone. Like any other seed, pine seeds must be pollinated and allowed to germinate before the possibility of growth can occur. External conditions, such as soil quality and weather must also be right for a new tree to take root. That process is surprisingly lengthy, sometimes taking a year or more. For that reason, most of the farmers of the Kentucky Christmas Tree Association buy and plant seedlings from experienced nurseries that specialize in producing stock from seeds. These seedlings are usually at least two years old before they are planted in a field. At this stage, they are only about 12 – 14 inches tall. Depending on weather and soil conditions, the seedlings may require watering or fertilizing, which can be time consuming and expensive. Despite the farmer’s best efforts, it is not uncommon for our farmers to report that they lost one third, or even all their seedlings to drought or some other external cause.
When the trees have been in the field for 5 years, they begin to grow more noticeably and require skilled pruning, fungicide spraying, fertilizing, and mowing. Though the trees are taking shape and growing, they are still not ready for harvest unless the buyer wants a small tree.
During the 6th or 7th year, the tree may have reached 6 feet tall and be considered ready for harvest. Some trees will be shorter, some taller, depending the tree variety, soil and weather conditions, disease, and even damage from deer and other herbivores.
In the Fall, when tree farmers prepare for the Christmas cutting season, they will give special attention to each tree; removing dead branches and unwanted debris, and last-minute corrective pruning. Trees that are unsightly may be earmarked for use as wreath and decorative greenery. Trees that are not cut are simply left to grow for another year, increasing their size and value.