1602 285th Ave. NE
Isanti, MN 55040

Phone: 763-444-8206


Planting to Harvest - Life Cycle of a Fraser Fir


Ever wonder what all we do to grow a tree--not just any tree, but a specific tree. This page will chronicle a specific Fraser fir (named Freddy Fir) through it's entire life cycle from planting to harvest. 


We would be foolish to start something like this without a backup, so we do have another tree (named Fanny Fir), as identical as possible, that we are also tracking. Our intent, in the year of harvest, probably year 9 or 10, is to hopefully take one to the Minnesota State Fair and display the other one in the gift shop during the Christmas season--WHICH WE DID IN 2015!. The comments below about Freddy typically also apply to Fanny. 


For more information on the science of how a Christmas tree such as a Fraser Fir actually grows visit our Conifer Tree Growth page. 


Year 1: 2005--Planting


The prior year (Fall 2004) we worked up the ground and disked it. This was a field that had previously been part of our pumpkin patch and corn maze so we didn't have any stumps to contend with. Had it contained trees previously the field would have been destumped prior to disking. The Fraser Fir was purchased as a "plug + 2" transplant meaning that it started life in a styrofoam cylinder and at the end of its first year was planted in a transplant bed for two additional years before being lifted and sold to us. Thus it was already three years old before being planted at the Pinestead. 


Note the irrigation drip tape that has been laid alongside. A pressure sensitive emitter located every twelve inches insures that Freddy and Fanny are no further than six inches from water. After this photo was taken we also came back through and mulched him with wood chips. 






Year 2: 2006--Survival


This photo was also taken in the Spring. You can see a couple of inches of growth on Freddy from last year, but for the first couple of years growth is not the priority, survival is. Note also that he is much paler then he was when planted. That's the difference between the enriched black dirt of the transplant bed and the light sandy soil of our fields. In subsequent years we'll get the deeper green back through fertilization, but initially we don't want to stimulate too much top growth until the roots are fully established and spreading both outward and downward in the soil. 












Year 3: 2007--Success


Again taken in the Spring this photo shows that Freddy grew about six inches last year, about average for the field. He's now about 20 inches high and well on his way. We have moved the drip irrigation tape to the 2007 planting, betting that we will have adequate rainfall for established trees since we don't have enough well and pump capacity to water both the new fields and the established fields. 















Year 4: 2008--Onward and Upward


Freddy grew almost 12 inches last year, again about average for this field. He is up to about 32 inches. This year he was also fertilized. This will help green him up and stretch him out over the summer. 


















Year 5: 2009--Winter Burn


Fraser fir are susceptible to winter burn, a condition caused by the Spring Sun's rays reflecting off the snow and thawing the needles, only to have them refreeze after dark, then thaw again the next day. This repeated freezing and thawing eventually kills the needles. You can plainly see the brown needles on Freddy and his sibling behind. This is not a big deal at this stage, we've seen much worse before, but if he were ready for market it might delay harvest for a year or two or cause him to be downgraded a notch. 


Freddy did add about 9 inches of growth, somewhat less last year as it was a warmer, dryer summer. He now stands about 3 1/2 feet. He was again fertilized in the spring and will be each year from here on. 








Year 6: 2010--First Shearing


The photo on the left, like all the above photos, was taken in April and shows the growth that occurred during the 2009 growing season. Freddy is now standing almost 4 1/2 feet tall. 


The photo in the center was taken in July, 2010 and shows the 2010 new growth before its initial shearing. 2010 was a good year and Freddy really took off--about 20 inches of new growth! He is now standing a couple of inches over six feet! While we love to see the growth, unfortunately we can't let him keep all of it or he'll just grow tall, thin, and spacey and never fill out. 


The photo on the right was taken in August, 2010 and shows the tree getting it's initial haircut. I cut the leader back to about 14 inches and trimmed several of the protruding branches. I'm using a clippers for photo purposes. The guys will use shearing knives on all the other similar sized trees (see photos of shearing in our Primer on Christmas Tree Farming or wait until the 2011 photos).Hopefully, Freddy will look this fit and healthy in April, 2011. 



Year 7: 2011--A Great Year


Freddy had another great year! 2011 was a year of ample spring and summer rains -- and it shows. The photo at left shows Freddy put on about 25" of new growth this year --to a little over 7 1/2') and Fanny did likewise. This year we were experimenting with a specially formulated slow release fertilizer. It's quite a bit more expensive, but the trees seem to respond well. The problem with regular fertilizer is that it leaches through our sandy soil too fast and we don't get the residual benefit we would like to have. 


Both Freddy and Fanny now get "grown-up" haircuts. The center right picture shows Greg shearing Freddy with a shearing knife. This is the same treatment all the larger trees get each year and is one of our major summer work items. Note that Freddy had a double leader (Fanny had a triple one). We will save the stronger/straighter leader and cut out the other one. The right picture shows Freddy as he will go into the fall and winter season now at just over 6 1/2' tall-- stay tuned for 2012. 


Footnote: The ample rainfall of Spring and Summer came to an end in late-August. We had less then 1" of rain during the entire Fall season. This did not materially affect Freddy and Fanny, which are well established with a wide/deep network of roots. Also, they began to go dormant in late-August and their water needs lessen. The same cannot be said for the smaller Fraser Fir. We replacement planted 1000 Fraser Fir in early-September. They were scattered throughout the fields and not under drip irrigation. Probably only a couple hundred survived to Spring 2012. 



Year 8: 2012--And Another

This year we have again chosen to highlight Freddy Fir, although the corresponding photos for Fanny Fir would be almost identical. They truly are twins. Note that in the Before (left) photo that Freddy is now about eight feet tall, having put on about a two foot leader in our wet spring and early summer. Also note the wild branches pointing toward me. There are many more all the way around, but they don’t show up because of the green background of the tree itself. 


In the After (right) photo, Greg has just completed the shearing. Note that Freddy Fir (and Fanny Fir) is now a roughly seven foot tree. Greg had to take about a foot off the leader to maintain symmetry. Also note that the wild branches around the sides have been trimmed to maintain an even conical form. 


Year 9: 2013--Bulking Up


These photos show Freddy Fir (on the left) and his nearly identical twin sister, Fanny Fir in late fall after they have had their annual shearing. Both had about 24 inches of new leader growth as a result of the cool wet spring conditions. Both leaders were clipped back to about 12-14 inches of new growth. Then the sides were sheared to maintain conical symmetry (see the Christmas Tree Farming Throughout the Year page for examples of shearing). Both are now at or slightly above eight feet in height (the red tag mark on the pole). 


Next year (year ten Freddy will be cut for display at the Minnesota State Fair as the height limit for entries is nine feet. Fanny will also be cut and on display in our gift shop next Christmas. 

Year 10: 2014--Setback

2014 was the year we had planned to take Freddy Fir to the State Fair and place Fanny Fir in the gift shop, however, Mother Nature had other ideas.  The winter of 2013/2014 was brutal on all are trees and Freddy and Fanny did not escape natures wrath.  Particularly damaging was the winter burn created by late-March and early-April snowstorms.  The now much higher sunshine reflects off the snow and thaws the needles in the daytime, only to refreeze overnight.  This process, repeated over many days, can kill the needles and, worse case, also kill the buds.  If the buds survive, the tree will recover in the spring.  If the buds are dead, the tree will never recover in that area (usually the south side near the snow line), and, in extreme cases, may not survive.


This winter the burn was soon severe that many trees will require two or three years on new growth to hide the dead needles or areas and look presentable again.  Here are photos of how Freddy (left) and Fanny (right) looked in early spring.

 Home & GBSP 010  Home & GBSP 011  

Year 11: 2015--Success

The following winter (2014/2015 was on the mild side and both trees continued their recovery.  By mid-August, with now two years of new growth covering the winter burn, we could again see the end in sight.  After another field photo session it was time to take Freddy Fir to the 2015 Minnesota State Fair.  He is seen here along with a photo display of his life cycle.
Freddy Fir 2015-1   Freddy Fir State Fair 15 

Likewise this is the final field photo of Fanny Fir with Helen holding a 10' measure.  And here she is again in the gift shop for the 2015 season after Katie has had a chance to perform her decorating skills.

 Fanny Fir 2015  Gift Shop Display Tree

We hope this 10 year look at the life cycle of a Fraser Fir helps in understanding the process of growing Christmas trees.  While we will miss our two subjects, remember they are being grown as a renewable crop on a self-sustaining farm.  Spring of 2016 will see Freddy Fir, jr.  planted in Freddy's place along with a new Fanny Fir nearby.