How to Start a Christmas Tree Farm [Christmas Tree Farming Expert Tells All]

Greg The Christmas Tree Man

Starting and running a Christmas tree farm (i.e. Christmas Tree Farming) has always intrigued me. I’m always on the lookout for interesting ways to make extra money with my spare time and resources.

When Gregory Bartels, aka “The Christmas Tree Man,” reached out to me and I saw his passion for the Christmas tree business, I knew I had to feature his tips here on the blog.

Gregory has been in the business for 40 years and he shares some great tips for anyone who wants to start their own Christmas tree farm for fun and profit. Here’s a quick summary of Gregory’s thoughts to get you started:

How to Start a Christmas Tree Farm (aka Christmas Free Farming)

  1. Choose a Christmas Tree Variety
  2. Purchase Tree Seedlings
  3. Purchase and/or Prepare Your Land
  4. Plant Your Tree Seedlings
  5. Wait 6-8 Years
  6. Advertise Your Christmas Tree Sale
  7. Cut and Sell Your Christmas Trees

Intro from Gregory:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell you a little about Christmas trees and Christmas Tree Farming.

I came over here to America in 1965. Joined the army and was discharged in 68. 68 was the first year I got into the Christmas tree business.

I got in as a retailer down in California (quite by accident) and that’s a whole new/different story.

I retailed for 10 years and met my girl, got married, and one day she said, “why don’t we move to Oregon, buy some land and grow the trees? Then we don’t have to buy them because we’ll own them. We should cut out the middle man.”

Turns out I married a smart girl. So we did. 40 years later we’re still here, still growing and retailing.

1. What is the bare minimum investment to get started in Christmas tree farming if you already have land (i.e. what is the cost to buy seed, work the land, maintain, etc.)?

The seed has already been taken from the cone and made into a seedling approx 1′ to 1 1/2′ tall. Different tree seedlings are priced differently.

For the most part, folks here in the Pacific Northwest grow Noble fir, Douglas fir, and Grand fir.

The tree seedlings are priced at an average of .35 per tree. We buy them from the big guys like Weyerhaeuser, although there are some “boutique” growers that grow a pretty healthy seedling.

Before planting you must ‘rip and disc-up’ the dirt/soil. If you’re just starting and you don’t own your own tractor, a local farmer will (generally) clean up/disc 20 acres for approx $1000 (10 acres for $500). Now you’re ready to plant your babies.

2. If you don’t have land for your Christmas tree farm are there ways to get it for free, very cheap, or through some type of sharecropping/rental arrangement?

I have yet to find free land. However, there are many farmers who will sharecrop his/her land with you. Usually, everybody involved agrees that a 50% split is fair.

The farmer provides the land, the grower provides the knowledge/experience. Costs are split 50/50. Profits are split 50/50. I’ll get to the profits later.

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3. How much land do you need for a Christmas tree farm? How much is ideal?

I’m often asked, “How much land do I need?” My answer is “Do you have a business plan, and/or do you have a buyer for your trees when it comes time to sell them?”

A tree typically takes 6 to 8 years to grow (1 foot per year), so you’re tying up the land for quite a while.

That being said, at right around 1,500 trees per acre, a 10-acre piece will yield you 15,000 (20 acres 30,000) trees. Nowadays with the Internet and craigslist, etc, marketing your Christmas trees is a whole lot easier.

Just about every State I believe has a extension service or a Christmas tree association and (like the Granges in the old days) there are folks who will gladly help. All you have to do is ask, or give me a ring, I’m happy to help and steer you on the right course.

4. Can this (Christmas tree farming) be done anywhere or is it exclusive to the Pacific Northwest?

Just about every state grows Christmas trees – even Hawaii. The Pacific Northwest is (I’m gonna sell my state now!) great/ideal for growing Christmas trees. We grow a beautiful tree.

However, ask the folks down in North Carolina or Pennsylvania, or Michigan and they will tell you that they “grow the best trees”.

We actually have competitions every year, when growers from all over the country get together and “tell tall stories” and “talk tree”.

5. In general, what type of Christmas trees do you plant and which do you have to purchase?

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we plant Noble fir, Douglas Fir, and Grand fir. The folks down in North Carolina plant the Frazier fir, Pennsylvania Douglas fir, pines. Elevation, conditions, rainfall, etc are all factored in.

We here in the Pacific Northwest don’t grow a Frazier fir like they can in North Carolina. See the Arbor Day Foundation for the best tree to plant in “your neck of the woods”

6. How do you actually make money selling Christmas trees? What kind of margins can you get away with?

It’s all about supply and demand. Are there a lot of trees? Was there an overplanting 6 to 8 years ago? Is there an overage or are supplies short? Supply and demand.

Either way, the money is made in the buy. Not what you can sell them for (because there is a realized price/cost of the tree on the lot) so it’s vital to know that “the money is made in the buy”.

Because we grow the tree and not buy from the farmer our margins are better than the couple (buyer) that has a retail lot or lots and has to buy from the farmer or broker.

There is more money to be made by finding a retail lot and selling trees than by having a “choose & cut” or a “u-cut trees” lot.

There is a rule of thumb. Buy a tree for $10 and sell it for $30. That’s minimum margins.

However, (and again, it’s all in the buy), you can typically buy a tree for $15 and with the right location, that tree can sell for $50 to $80. That’s GREAT margins. Location is the key to retailing.

7. What about advertising? How do you get people to buy Christmas trees from you?

Advertising is important. We usually set up and sell pumpkins. We create a fun pumpkin patch. Folks coming in and driving by see that there is a seasonal legitimate business on the corner and come on in. Also supplying the Christmas tree lot retailers are companies that sell banners, stands, and tree lot supplies.

So put as many flags and banners and signs out as you can. Last year we had a team outside the lots waving to the folks driving by. They were wearing little elves’ costumes. Flyers in local stores, with an offer for $2 off your tree. Most folks buy trees within 2-3 miles of their homes.

Related: Discover Seasonal Jobs in Unique Places [CoolWorks Review]

8. How much can you really make selling Christmas trees in a season? A breakdown of the numbers would be appreciated.

$15,000 to $20,000 per location. Location, location, location. Typically a Christmas tree lot at a halfway decent location will sell anywhere from 500 to 1,000 trees. Now we all know this is a seasonal business so you have to “hit it hard”. There’s no time to be sitting around.

If you purchased correctly using the rule of thumb you should make $15 to $20 thousand dollars. Of course, it all depends on what you paid for them and what you sell them for.

Starting out I would suggest just doing it with friends and family. Having two lots close enough that you can manage them is a good thing. Don’t recommend doing more than two the first couple of years. Gotta get your feet wet first.

When I was first retailing way back when I would go spy on other lots. Everybody does it. Drive up to the lot, walk around and check out what the other guy is doing. Spying on the other guy is always fun and informative.

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9. What are some of the mistakes you made or you see others making when trying to do a Christmas tree farm?

There are good folks and there are not so good folks. Going into a new business whether it’s becoming a Christmas tree grower/farmer or retailing, there are always good folks that will gladly help with counsel and advice.

Whenever we needed help on what to do, we just asked one of the many good people and organizations/associations for help. You are not alone.

Read Next: 23 Unique Business Ideas (That You Can Start Now!)

10. What’s been the key to your success in the Christmas tree farm business?

The key to any successful business is knowing that you have to plan. If you fail to plan, you can plan on failing.

Hard work, and again, there are so many folks that are more than happy to help on your journey. Have fun making money. It’s fun making money!

What did you think of Gregory’s tips on starting a Christmas Tree Farm business? Are you seriously considering Christmas Tree Farming? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Very informative. Looking into the idea on our land in Western PA. Long term project with my kids taking 3 – 4 acres out of 140 acres for tree farm. We have local Amish to help for labor. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for the information. We are considering starting a tree farm in North Central Arkansas.

    1. You are welcome. Good luck on the farm. Come back and let us know when you have it going. I’d love to hear more of your story.

  3. Thanks for this. I have a family property with a derelict vineyard from 2 generations back. It is pretty much virgin forest other than this 1 acre clearing. I have to find a way to make an income off of the property or, likely, in the future we will have to see due to tax increases. I’m thinking this is the way to go. It’s passive enough, and fir trees are native to the forest. This was a very helpful read.

  4. I run a Christmas Tree lot outside my hardware store during the winter season, selling noble firs and craft florist evergreen wreaths and whatnot. I’m based down south and I can tell you, farming my own just wasn’t cost effective. If you can find a good supplier to ship them to you, you can save quite a bit and make good money just off the lot. I agree that the Pacific Northwest is best when it comes to noble firs – I’ve found some of the best deals from suppliers in Oregon. If time/money is at all an issue, I’d suggest going that route.

  5. I am a Christmas tree farmer.  Currently trees are selling for cheaper than farmers can grow them for.  This is due to a large over supply.  I suggest you research market trends before investing money in this industry.

  6. Avatar Donation Can says:

    Christmas Tree Farms are all over Pennsylvania.

  7. Avatar Tie the Money Knot says:

    Now, this is a unique article on how to make extra money, different from the usual PF reading.  I suppose it would take living in a low cost of living area, or at least having your acreage in an area where land prices are dirt-cheap.  Yet, you need to be accessible to people with the means and interest in buying these trees.  The land purchase would appear to be critical here, but I could see how this could make some money. How about outsourcing most labor at low rates, to keep it profitable?

  8. Avatar AverageJoeMoney says:

    I’m interested in the fact that he started on the retail side and expanded. This seems like a business with low barriers to entry and decent margins for someone just starting out. I love case studies…great story. Thanks for having him on the blog.

    1.  @AverageJoeMoney  Low barriers? Only if you are buying and growing since he said growing takes 6 to 8 years! That’s a long time before you start selling

      1. Avatar AverageJoeMoney says:

         Dude! I’m not talking about buying 100 acres and going crazy….I’m talking about starting out! The retail end of the operation that he discusses (read way back to the beginning of the article) has decent margins and low barriers. I found it interesting that he could move up from there, don’t you?

  9. Avatar krantcents says:

    Very interesing post! I always heard how lucrative the Christmas tree business was. It seems like any business where, if you control your expenses, it is profitable.  If you do it well, you could make enough in about 30 days to support yourself for the whole year.

  10. Well this is certainly and interesting way to make extra cash. You’d have to have a lot of land, though.

    1. Avatar Philip Taylor says:

       @addvodka Agreed that it would be very interesting to dig into this type of work. As Gregory explained in the interview though, you would not need a lot of land. You could sharecrop, just buy and sell trees (i.e. only need a truck and lot to sell), or just start with a small batch of trees on a little land.

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