In the past, Christmas tree operations were often relegated to marginal or so-called "wastelands" that were too steep infertile, dry or eroded for efficient use for most agricultural purposes (Fig. 1). However, as emphasis has shifted to production of high quality trees, there has been greater need for more intensive cultural practices such as shearing, mowing, chemical weed control, spraying for insects and diseases and fertilization. This, coupled with increases in size of many Christmas tree operations, has required increased mechanization. Thus, the "wastelands" of agriculture are often no longer suitable for many Christmas tree farms for exactly the same reasons that they are unsuitable for many other types of crop production.
Fig. 1: Christmas tree plantings on steeply sloping land, where equipment operations are more difficult, need for manual labor is greater and length of time needed to raise a crop of trees may
Fig. 2: Christmas tree plantings on Ievel to gently sloping land, where all operations, from site preparation to harvesting, are accomplished easier, faster and with less wear and tear on equipment and man-power than on steeper lands.
From a strictly operational standpoint, lands having level to gently rolling terrain are most desirable for Christmas tree production (Fig. 2). All operations, from site preparation to harvesting, are accomplished faster, more easily and with less wear and tear on equipment and manpower than on more rugged terrain. As slopes become progressively steeper, they become more vulnerable to erosion and may be drier and less fertile. On such areas, equipment operation becomes increasingly more difficult, need for manual labor increases and time needed to produce a tree crop often increases.
Land that is relatively free from obstacles, particularly rocks, large trees, fencerows and to some extent even smaller brush, is preferred for Christmas tree production. These must be removed or operations will be severely hampered. Removal can be quite costly, particularly if it involves use of heavy equipment.
Thus, other factors being equal, relatively level land free from obstructions is much preferred for Christmas tree plantings. This objective is often compromised to a greater or lesser degree. Land to be planted is often already owned by the established or beginning grower. In addition, land availability, consideration for other uses and land costs often dictate, or seem to dictate, where Christmas tree farms are established. However, careful cost analyses, including purchase price, preliminary site preparation, long-term operational costs and the relatively favorable competitive value of Christmas trees as compared to other agricultural crops, may show that considerably more can be invested in better land than is often believed. This is particularly true where land is purchased specifically for Christmas tree production, but it may also apply when land is already owned and decisions must be made concerning its use.
Plantation access and security are also factors that should be considered in selecting an area for Christmas tree production. Many Christmas tree operations, particularly harvesting, may have to be done during inclement weather. Good roads to plantation areas are needed, especially if trees are to be moved by truck. Good access is also important if the grower plans to develop a retail operation where consumers choose and/or cut their own trees. Conversely, safety from theft must be considered. Precautions must be taken against theft. Plantings located near houses or other activity are less vulnerable to theft than those in more isolated areas.