CTFO Education Site

TEACHING PLANS Lesson Four: Christmas Tree Farming in Ontario

In Ontario, Christmas trees are a major agricultural crop. Back when most Canadians lived on farms or in small towns and villages, the Christmas tree was harvested right out of the forest. Today, forests near populated areas have been reserved for other purposes while Christmas trees have become an important agricultural crop. About three million Christmas trees are produced on Canadian farms every year, many of them in Ontario.

Desired Learning Outcome:

1.) To have children understand that Christmas trees produced in Ontario are a field crop that is harvested annually.

2.) To make children aware that Christmas tree farming is important to the economy and the environment of our province.


- Not long ago, most people cut their Christmas trees from tree stands growing wild in the forest or in abandoned fields.
- Today, Christmas tree farming is an important agricultural activity across Canada. It provides employment for thousands of Canadians. Christmas trees are a significant export product.
- Christmas tree farming is beneficial to the environment.
- Specific agricultural practices apply to the cultivation of Christmas trees.
- Specific procedures are utilized to prepare Christmas trees for market.

Teaching Suggestions:

1.) Provide older children with the information package, Christmas Tree Farming in Ontario.
2.) Poll the class. How many of the children have visited a Christmas tree farm? Have them make a list of their observations about: tree sizes, planting patterns, varieties, shapes.

Suggested Questions:

1.) Research how Christmas trees are grown in Ontario today.

2.) Many people work and live in tropical countries where coniferous trees do not grow. Describe the ways you think these people might get a tree to decorate during the festive season.

3.) Describe the ways that Christmas tree farming in Ontario helps the environment.

4.) Describe how Christmas tree farming might help some animals.

5.) Explain what happens to an evergreen tree before it "goes to market" and tell us how old it must be before it is harvested.

Suggested Hand-out for Take Home: Extended Use of Christmas Trees
Suggested Individual Activity: Crossword puzzle

STUDENTS' PACKAGE Lesson Four: Christmas Tree Farming in Ontario

Christmas tree farming has become an important agricultural activity that provides work for thousands of Canadians every year.

In addition to their economic significance, Christmas tree farms are very beneficial to our environment.

Until the nineteen thirties, most Christmas trees grew wild in the forest or in abandoned fields. Early tree farming took place mostly on poor and marginal soils where some conifers could still thrive. Today almost all Christmas trees are cultivated as a specialty crop on farms suited for their production. Tree farming has become an important agricultural activity that provides work for thousands of Canadians every year. Growers in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec supply three million trees to markets in Canada each year. Canadian Christmas trees are also sold and shipped to parts of the U.S.A. and to Caribbean islands, central America and Greenland. In Ontario, over 500 farmers produce more than one million Christmas trees each year.

On a well-managed Christmas tree farm, ninety percent of the land is occupied by vigorously growing tree crops at all times. Grass grows between the rows of trees. With an average tree production cycle of ten years, counted from the time a seedling is planted, this ensures the farmer a regular annual crop ready for harvest.

Their basic production characteristics make Christmas trees an extremely friendly farm crop, both to our environment and to people and animals.

A broad network of roots holds the soil and a continuous ground cover prevents surface erosion by water and wind. As a long term crop, trees allow a natural buildup of bird and animal populations. Tree farms provide stable refuge and feeding areas for wildlife, often very near large urban centres, at no cost to the taxpayer. Some farms allow visits at different times of the year. Their accessibility and the quiet, park like surroundings make these farms very pleasing to people. Like all plants, the conifers growing for eventual harvest as Christmas trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow and produce oxygen as a byproduct. One acre of Christmas trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people. Without this process of photosynthesis, life could not exist on earth.

Christmas tree conifer seedlings are grown from seed in beds or greenhouses. Except on the largest tree farm operations, this is usually a separate business, requiring a lot of skill and attention. After two or more years, seedlings are 20 to 40 centimetres high and sufficiently strong to be planted in their permanent spot in the farm field. The young trees are set out in the fields either by hand, or with the help of a tractor mounted planting machine. They will grow there for eight to twelve years. Despite all the farmers' efforts and depending on numerous variables, especialy weather, a significant percentage will be lost before harvest time.

Some people may think that growing trees in Ontario for harvest at Christmas time is easy, but growers know that it is a full-time year-around job. The hardest work is in the spring and summer when tree farmers must control competition from other plants. Smaller conifers are especially vulnerable to being crowded out by weeds which compete for space and moisture. Grass between the rows of trees is mowed and weeds under the trees are controlled by applying a mulch and/or specific crop protection chemicals under the tree branches, where mowing is difficult without damaging the young tree. Late spring and summer is also the time when insects and disease can take hold to the point where serious damage can occur. A tree farmer must keep watch for this and react in time to save the crop from serious damage. Sometimes the problem can be controlled by removal of diseased trees or by timely pruning. Pruning must be done annually in any event, to give trees the more even shape and denser look people prefer to see in their natural Christmas trees. Mice and meadow voles can kill entire stands of young trees by eating the bark under the winter snow cover. This is called girdling. Regular mowing and weed control helps to keep a rodent population exposed to natural predators. Sometimes a farmer must resort to chemicals to protect a crop. Like drugs for use when people are sick, there are different compounds designed for different diseases and predators. Crop protection chemicals are called herbicides when they control a plant, insecticides when insects are targeted and fungicides when needle diseases are the aim. In Ontario a farmer must have taken a course and have a license to buy and apply different types of pesticides. Like drugs, pesticides aim to cure a specific problem. They are almost always expensive and farmers will not use them unless they have no choice.

Some farms in Ontario have soils that can be improved for growing conifer trees by applying fertilizer under each tree several times a year. Healthy trees kept growing strongly resist disease and insects, which injure and damage trees making them unsuitable for eventual sale as a Christmas tree. Growers must observe their crops a lot. Looks are very important in determining how much a conifer is worth as a Christmas tree. Too much or not enough rain, sun, or shade and insects, disease, rodents, hail, fire, vandals or trespassing snowmobilers can all render a tree unsaleable. Annual pruning, with shears when a tree is small, and later with a machete or pruning machine, can help correct minor problems of shape and colour and give each tree its desired shape and density.

In the fall, some growers go back to the fields, dig up small trees and put them into pots. These are for people who want to buy a "living" tree, that can be planted in their garden in the spring. In Ontario, where our homes are heated at Christmas time, a potted tree needs special attention to survive the shock of going from the field into a home and then outside again. The busiest time of year for Christmas tree farmers is the short period when trees must be harvested and sold. Farmers near towns and cities often invite families to their farms to choose and cut their own perfect Christmas tree. There are also large and small farms which supply stores, garden centres and tree lot operators with Christmas trees. On these farms, Christmas trees ready for harvest are often marked in advance with a tag or tape. They are then cut and each tree is baled using a machine which presses the branches against the trunk, holding them in place with netting or twine. This protects the tree and makes it easier to handle for shipping. As many as 800 baled trees can be loaded in a big tractor trailer heading for a large retail store.

Growing Christmas trees, like other types of farming, is a very rewarding way to make a living. Many Christmas tree farmers also grow trees for shelterbelts, windbreaks or eventual harvest as lumber, on part of their farm. A lumber harvest may be fifty years away. Christmas tree farming is both a business and a job for the farmer and his family. It is a risky business, because if there are no trees to sell one year, there is also no income, while all the family's expenses and the expense of operating the farm and caring for the trees that are still growing continue on. Christmas tree farm families know that the REAL tree product grown on their farm symbolizes the REAL spirit of Christmas: the faith and the hope of harmony among all the world's peoples.

fungicides - a chemical intended to control molds or fungoid growths; specifically used by Christmas tree farmers to treat needle diseases

girdling - damage to young trees caused by mice and meadow voles which eat the bark under the winter snow cover
herbicides - a chemical designed to control vegetation which competes with cultivated crops
insecticides - a chemical intended to control insects

mulch - a layer of organic material placed on the ground around trees to reduce weed/annual grass growth and to help conserve moisture
pesticides - a chemical intended to control specific problems, which could include insects, weeds or disease

photosynthesis - the process by which green plants manufacture sugar from water and carbon dioxide from the air. Oxygen is released into the air through this process. Green plants, through photosynthesis, help purify our air

pruning - to cut off branches to give an even, full shape to trees

This site is presented for your information and enjoyment by the
Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario

Copyright 1997 ©. All rights reserved.

Phone 705-429-5328 or fax 705-429-6561

E-mail: ctfo@christmastrees.on.ca