Frequently Asked Questions
In the past few years, the REAL TREES 4 Kids! Expert Team has answered many questions ... both online and in person.
Read through them. If your question isn't in the list and isn't found on REAL TREES 4 Kids!, send an email to the Expert Team - email@example.com - and we'll be glad to answer it for you!
Is it possible to estimate the age of a tree by measuring the circumference of the trunk?
For precise age definitions, circumference doesn't give you the information you need because the amount of growth each year will not be consistent. Each species of a tree grows at a different rate each year. That growth depends primarily on rainfall. So, getting the age of a tree by measuring the circumference alone would not be very accurate. Experienced observers may be able to make estimates that are not too far off the mark. For example, they may be able to tell the age of a maple is between 20 and 25 years or between 125 to 175 years old. But it's likely they won't get much closer than that.
If you are looking for an estimate based on circumference, you could look for a tree of the same species that has fallen or been cut near to the tree you are observing. If you can get the age of this fallen/cut tree by counting its rings, you can then estimate the age of the tree you are interested in by comparing the circumferences.
All in all, circumference alone will likely not provide a good estimate of age.
How long does it take for most trees to grow to their full size?
The time it takes for trees to grow to their full size depends on many things. In some tropical areas, trees may reach their full size in 30 years. In other areas, where it is colder, it can take hundreds of years. Different species grow at different rates. When trees are planted as a crop for harvest, "full size" is the size that is pleasing to customers. So, the answer to this question is ... it depends!
How long do most trees live?
The length of life for a tree depends upon so many things. The climate conditions (water, temperature, sunlight, etc.), fire dangers, the type of tree, and the condition of the soil are all things that help determine how long a tree will live. So, the true answer is ... it depends! I can tell you that the oldest living tree is a bristlecone pine tree called " Methuselah". It is currently 4,767 years old!
How can you tell how old a tree is?
There are actually a couple of answers for this question. The procedure used to find the age of a tree will depend on whether the tree is living or dead.
Here's what members of our team said:
All of our team members agreed that the only real way to know the age of a tree is to count the rings ... other methods will give you only an estimate.
How long does it take to grow an evergreen?
Let's start with your first question. Evergreen trees (conifers) grow at different rates. The trees on REAL TREE operations are harvested somewhere between 7 and 12 years. That's when they have reached the right size and shape for you, the customer.
In the wild though, some evergreens (conifers) can be mature at 50 years and some may live to be thousands of years old. The oldest known evergreens (conifers) are the bristlecone pines that grow in the southwestern United States ... some of them are over 4,000 years old!
When is an evergreen tree an adult? What are the different characteristics of a evergreen adult?
REAL TREE growers consider trees to be adults when they produce cones with viable seeds ... seeds that will grow when they are planted. For some types, a 6 year old tree can be considered an adult. For others, it takes much longer - maybe over 20 years.
One characteristic difference between a young evergreen and an adult is that the bark of a mature tree is much rougher than a young tree. Size is another clue. Usually, older trees will have larger trunks and be taller than younger trees ... but not always. Remember that there are many different factors that play into the growth of a tree
Is it correct to say that conifers are open canopy species and that broad-leaved species are closed canopy species, at least for the most part?
The classification (open or closed canopy) is more dependent upon the specific species of tree rather than a categorization of deciduous or coniferous. So, in answer to this question we would say no. There are species within each group that are tolerant of shade. In fact, hemlocks (conifers) may be the most shade tolerant of any tree.
What is the difference between conifers and deciduous trees with respect to the filtering of light through their canopies? Do conifers allow more light to penetrate the canopy, thus producing less shade on its own needles when compared to a broad-leaved species? How does this change throughout the day?
In our opinion, conifers don't allow more light to filter through the canopy than their deciduous counterparts. There are some conifer stands that are very dense and allow no light to penetrate the forest floor. Hardwoods have one adaptation allowing them to grab light even in shaded areas ... their broad, large leaves. Conifers don't share this adaptation. Typically, you wouldn't expect to see much change during the day.
Do all evergreens have pinecones on them?
So, the answer to your question is "No." Not all evergreen trees have cones. Conifer trees, however, do all have cones! To figure out if your tree will have cones, you'll need to figure out if it is a conifer!
Why is it that evergreen needles are able to stay on the tree all year long? How do the needles catch sunlight.
Actually, evergreen trees aren't really EVER GREEN. The needles of conifer trees actually do fall off and are replaced by new needles. Instead of losing all of their needles at once, most evergreens lose needles little by little all year long. Because they are always being lost and replaced, the trees look like they never lose their leaves!
The long, thin needles don't look like they would be able to catch enough sunlight for photosynthesis, but they do! The sunlight is one of the things that a conifer has to have to live. That's because as the sun shines on the tree, the needles, gather the sunlight in special places inside the needle cells. These are called chloroplasts. The job of the chloroplast is to change the sunlight into energy the plant can use to grow. It takes sunlight, water, and a chemical called carbon dioxide to make this energy! Scientists call this process photosynthesis.
Of course there is much more to it than that, but that's a good start!
If a man hammers a nail in a tree that is 5 meters and comes back after a few years and sees the tree has grown to 10 meters - but the nail is in the same position - how does this happen?
The answer is that trees grow from the top. Each spring new growth (height) is added from terminal buds that are located in the topmost parts of the tree. So, a limb that grows from a tree 3 feet from the ground will always stay attached to the main trunk at a point that is 3 feet from the ground. The trunk will grow in diameter each year, so if the nail doesn't do too much injury to the tree, it will eventually become embedded in the tree.
Now that you know the answer, you won't need to try this one out, right? Hammering nails into trees can cause a tree serious injury!
Why do the leaves of deciduous trees change color?
Since this site talks about conifer trees, we don't usually answer questions about deciduous trees. However, this is a question we get a lot!
You may know that the green of deciduous leaves comes from the chlorophyll that is needed to make food for the tree. What you may not know is that there are other colors "hidden" in the leaves. They are hidden in the spring and summer because the chlorophyll is busy doing its job and the green color sort of takes over.
In the fall, when days get shorter and cooler, the food production slows to a stop. When this happens, the green color of the chlorophyll disappears and the other leaf colors are allowed to show through!
Now, that's a very simple answer. There is a lot going on in these trees during the fall. If you would like to read more, you can find the information at this site: http://www.esf.edu/pubprog/brochure/leaves/leaves.htm!
Evergreens don't lose their needles. How does that adaptation help them?
Evergreen trees do lose their needles. They just have a special way of doing it. Instead of losing them all at once, they lose them a little at a time. In fact, you could almost say that they shed their needles. As the old fall away, new needles take their place.
Because they have green "leaves" all the time, they are able to start their food factories back up quickly ... without taking the extra energy to grow leaves. That is one of the reasons that evergreen trees are better able to survive in places where there is not as much water available or where it is colder.
Does the fact that evergreens (conifers) keep their needles make them able to survive the winter?
The truth is that even trees that lose their leaves actually "survive" the winter. They just do it in a different way. Deciduous trees lose their leaves during colder months. It's an adaptation they have made to their environments.
Any tree species (evergreen or deciduous) that doesn't adapt to its surroundings will not survive. Evergreen trees have several adaptations that allow them to survive in areas where other trees have not been able to. The way they lose their needles is one of those adaptations.
The adaptation of a species is why we see different types of trees in different areas of the country (and the world). Since "winter" is different in different areas, many species have had to adjust. For example, trees that are successfully grown in Texas or Louisiana, for example, would not do so well in Wisconsin or Michigan.
How does an evergreen adapt to the shorter days in winter other than by holding water better/longer?
Evergreen trees living in cold climates become dormant for the winter. When the weather gets cold, everything inside them slows down. They don't do much growing, if any. In other words, they are inactive. It's almost as if they go to sleep.
How does the triangle shape of conifers protect them?
The name of the game is sunlight! Conifer needles need to be exposed to as much sunlight as possible so that the tree can produce food (photosynthesis). The triangle shape helps the tree by allowing more needles to "see" the sun. As a tree grows older and taller less sunlight reaches the needles on the lower part of the tree. When this happens, these lower areas shed their needles and, eventually, the branches.
As an added benefit, the triangle shape also allows the tree to gather less snow weight ... the snow tends to slide right off! Trees that lose their leaves (deciduous trees) do not have this problem because when it snows all their leaves are gone and there's not much left to hold snow.
How does the Christmas tree adapt to its surroundings?
Believe it or not, it's kind of a tricky one to answer. You see, the Christmas trees grown in our fields don't really adapt all that much. They don't have to. When REAL TREE growers get ready to plant, they choose trees that are best able to grow in the area that they will be planted. Then the fields are prepared so the trees get just what they need. For example, the trees are spaced so they have room to grow and the tree beds are weeded so the trees don't have to fight for nutrients.
Now, there ARE some adjustments that have to be made because of weather and things that are out of our control. For example, if weather conditions are very dry the tree will develop a large root system that "looks" for water. If there is a lot of wet weather, the root system will be much smaller since they don't have to go too far to get the water they need.
Conifer trees, the type of trees we plant, have gone through many adaptations over their many, many years of growing in nature. In fact, conifer trees in the wild are probably working on some new adaptations right now! In time, some of those adaptations may effect our crop!
Most Popular Species
I have been wondering what the best type of christmas tree is?
This can be a bit tricky. You see, there is no scale or test or chart that determines the "best" type of Christmas Tree. What's best for one person or family may not be best for another. It can also be REALLY hard to change someone's opinion once they have made up their mind!
When our group was asked for suggestion about the best type of tree, they had many suggestions. Here are some of their comments:
See, even the experts have their own (and differing) opinions! What they all agreed on was that when it comes to choosing a tree, nobody can tell you what's best ... it's a decision only you can make.
Where are the most popular conifers found?
There are many types of conifers and they are planted and sold in many places for many different reasons. To make things trickier, a conifer that is popular in one area may not be in another. In fact, conifers popular in a particular area may not even be able to grow in a different climate!
What we do know is that the top selling Christmas Trees (that's our reason for growing conifers) are: balsam fir, Douglas-fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine, and white pine. Now remember, this ranking is based on sales in the whole of the United States. In your area, a different conifer may be the most popular!
What states or provinces do Christmas trees come from to Texas? What states or provinces do the trees have to cross to get to Texas? How are trees shipped? How many days before is a tree cut in order to be shipped?
Trees that are sold in Texas come from many states, mostly North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin and Oregon. It takes about three days for the trees to get there ... usually by truck. Most of the trees are cut only a few days before they are shipped.
About how many REAL TREES does Ohio produce for sale each year?
The Ohio member of our team reports that there are about 800,000 trees produced in Ohio each year. The exact number is tricky because of the way they collect information. They survey growers and estimate numbers based on the feedback they get. So it's not exact, but it's a good estimate!
Could you please tell me when retail Christmas tree sales are the highest, and the percentage of each sold between these three dates?
November 28 - December 6
Believe it or not, this is a a tough question to answer!
The statistics you are looking for are not kept as an average. Instead, the growers themselves keep statistics for their individual farms. To make it even more interesting, the statistics for each week will depend on several things: the location of the farm, the weather, the date of Thanksgiving Day (this year it was closer to Christmas than last year), and the traditions of the families in the area (some get their trees early and some like to wait)!
However, none of this will help you understand what happens during those times of the year. So, we've chosen 2 farming operations for you. One of them is in the Midwest and the other is in the Northeast. These numbers will cover the dates you asked for.
Our operation in the Northeast reports that 50% of all sales occur between December 7-16th.
Our operation in the Midwest reports the following statistics for each week of the selling season (last year):
These numbers aren't for all REAL TREE growers, but they'll give you an idea!
How many days does it take for the tree needles to drop or turn brown?
If a tree is cared for properly (the end cut off, put in water, and kept in water) the tree should not drop needles or turn brown until the early part of January.
What additives can I add to the Christmas tree water to make the tree fireproof or at least somewhat flame resistant.
There are a lot of products on the market that claim to keep REAL TREES fresh and safe.
The additive that we recommend is ... WATER!
Our best advice is to make a fresh cut on the trunk (1/4 inch) and place it in water immediately. Store it in a cool, shaded place out of the sun until you are ready to decorate it. Then, never let it run out of water. If it gets dry, it will be difficult to get it to start "drinking" again.
Check out these tips from the National Christmas Tree Association's web site:
Selection & Tree Care
Why do we have Christmas trees at Christmas? Were and why did it begin?
To answer this question, we'll invite you to visit a couple of links! There are many stories and legends. Hopefully, these links will help you sort it all out!
Who discovered the first Christmas Tree?
Well, conifer trees have been around for a long, long time. However, about 1,300 years ago (close to the year 700 AD) the folks who lived in Germany started to decorate conifers to celebrate the Christmas holiday. The tradition spread to other countries as German immigrants moved to new locations. Now, decorated trees are part of the holiday traditions in many, many countries
Could you please tell me what the top producing states are for Christmas trees and how many trees were produced?
The top Christmas tree producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin.
As for the number of trees produced by these states, well, that's a bit tricky. The "top 5" list is created by putting together information from both the US Department of Agriculture (about the number of tree farms in each state) and from the National Christmas Tree Association. Since there is no formal record-keeping for the actual number of trees produced by these states, we are unable to give you that statistic. However, we can tell you that approximately 33 million Real Trees are sold in the United States every year.
Where was the first US retail Christmas tree lot?
Retail lots date back as early as 1531 in Germany, but the first retail lot in the United States opened in 1851 in New York, New York.
Where is the official tree of the United States located? What kind of tree is it?
The National Christmas tree is a Colorado blue spruce from York, Pennsylvania. It was planted on the Ellipse (south of the White House) in Washington D. C. on October 20, 1978. The tradition of decorating and lighting a national tree began in 1923. You can read more about this tradition at http://www.whitehouse.gov/president/holiday/tree/.
In addition the the National Christmas tree, each First Lady selects and decorates a tree for the White House. This tradition began in 1889. You can read more about it using one of these sites.
What are ALL the different types of evergreen trees??
There are just too many evergreen species to list. The conifers you can read about on this site are a start. You can also do a search on the Internet for conifers and evergreens. Remember, not all evergreen trees are conifers so you'll need to search for both.
Here are two links that will get you started. They both tell about the same types of trees, but one is for older students/adults and the other is for younger students.
Can you clear up for me, in a simple way, the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees?
Deciduous trees shed their leaves at a certain time each year. The leaves are grown again at later time. Evergreens are trees that grow new leaves before the old ones fall off.
It's important to know that not all evergreens are conifers. The trees we talk about on this web site are both evergreens AND conifers!
How many types of trees are there? How do they grow so fast?
There are about 750 types of trees in North America and about 100,000 in the world. Many of those are endangered. Those numbers count both conifer (cone bearing) trees and deciduous trees. You can find the names of many conifers on this site ... just click Tree Types in the Elementary section.
Conifer trees that are grown on farms for the holidays take 7 to 14 years to grow. The trees that you can buy at Christmas have actually been growing for quite a while!!!! You can read more about how these trees grow in Trees on a Farm in the Elementary section!
What is the evergreen tree that smells like oranges? It has real soft, blue-green needles?
The name you are searching for is concolor fir (Abies concolor).
You can read more about them by reading Tree Types or http://www.realchristmastrees.org/treetype/concolor.html.
Is chemical control used by tree growers to prevent certain insects from damaging their Christmas trees? If so, what methods are used to prevent contamination of the nearby environment?
Christmas tree growers do use insecticides to prevent damage by insects ... but only when absolutely necessary. Most growers now use insecticides that are very specific to the insect they are trying to control. In this way, they can minimize the effects to other creatures. Often, growers use a technique called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control insect populations that are harmful to our crops. IPM uses natural predators (like the Preying Mantis) to control insect populations.
One of the best ways to prevent harm to nearby environments is through education! REAL TREE growers are trained to know what chemicals to use for specific control issues, exactly how to apply and use each chemical, and when to apply them (not on windy days, etc). Growers are constantly updating their understanding of chemical control so they use only what is necessary - only where it's necessary. In fact, many growers who apply the chemicals to crops have a license to do it. These licensed farm chemical applicators have follow the laws and regulations of the state (and keep learning more) to stay licensed.
One grower states it this way, "Many of us live on the farm and are surrounded by Christmas trees, and the last thing we would want to do is contaminate the areas around the crop!"
What are the wildlife advantages in growing an acre of Christmas trees over an acre of row crops?
There are several wildlife advantages to growing an acre of Christmas trees:
The growing cycle for Christmas trees is very long. The animals that make their homes in the fields don't have to worry about plowing or other disruptions for long periods of time. Plus, when a field is harvested, the animals that make their homes there don't have to look too far for a new place to live because there is always another field to choose from!
What information can you give me on replanting in the tree industry?
Tree farmers and foresters learned some time ago that in order to sustain their business, they needed to plant trees to replace the ones that were cut. As long as the number of trees planted replaces those that are cut, there will be little long-term effect on the environment. In fact, the amount of growing timber in the United States has steadily increased since the 1920s! In addition to planting more trees, there are also many laws and practices that help make sure that the environment is well cared for.
The ratio of trees harvested to those planted is usually given per tree. Trees harvested for the pulp and paper industry are planted in a 1:1 ratio … for every tree that is harvested; another is planted in its place. In the Christmas tree industry, the ratio depends on where the farm is located and what type of tree is being grown. The ratio varies from 2:1 up to 20:1. In addition to this replanting, it's helpful to remember that a REAL TREE crop is in the field for 7 to 12 years before it is harvested!
What kind of soil is needed to grow conifer trees?
Believe it or not, that's kind of a tricky question.
A general answer to your question would be a soil that is moist and well drained. However, that only tells part of the story. You see, there are many types (species) of conifer. If you look, you can find a type of conifer for every type of soil. Some conifers grow only on sandy, well drained soils. Some only on soils that are wet most of the year. It's also important to find a soil with the right pH balance (pH tells whether the soil is acidic or basic).
But, the best answer really is a suggestion. Select the specific type of conifer you would like to plant (or study) and contact your local extension agent or local Real Tree grower to see if that type of tree will work well with the soil in your area!
I have a small lot of land (4 acres). How many trees could be grown on this size lot? How far apart are the trees grown?
The best answer to your question is ... it depends! There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to planning for planting. You will want to think about the type of tree that will grow best in your area, the space and care needs of the tree you choose, how long you will wait until you harvest your trees, and the lay of the land.
Since we don't know the answers to these question, a good general answer to your question would be between 650 and 1000 trees. The amount of trees depends upon how close you plant the trees to each other. Some growers prefer planting trees no closer than 8 feet apart. Others plant their trees 6 feet apart. The actual distance is decided by looking at the things I mentioned before! This decision is made by looking at the things I mentioned before!
Check with your local grower's association for help in making good growing decisions for your area (and interests). You may also find more specific answers by contacting your local extension agent!
What would be a reasonable cost estimate to raise a tree from seedling to full tree, (per harvested tree)? Based on the four acres, 1000 trees and maturing in say 8 years.
There are many, many variables involved here. The type of trees, soil condition, and other growing issues cover some of them. Then there are planting issues, for example, are you considering rotating the crop or doing a single planting? Are the 4 acres completely usable or are you actually only able to plant on part of it? The list goes on ... so, giving you an actual cost per tree is pretty difficult without chatting with you. That being said, one of our team members estimates that it would cost you between 15 and 20 dollars per tree ... this is a VERY ROUGH estimate!!!
Where could I find more information on small scale christmas tree farming?
For more information about getting started in the REAL TREE business, you can contact the state association closest to you. In addition, there is a book called "Basics of Growing Christmas Trees" by Donald B. Hilliker, Jr. that might be of some help to you. You should be able to find it at any major nursery in your area.
After you cut your Christmas tree and you leave it in your garage or on your back porch for a few hours or so, you bring it in to your house to set it up. While you're setting it up, it seems to give off a draft, and cold air seems to be coming from the tree. Why does that happen? What is really happening?
It sounds like you are experiencing a convection current. Your entire tree, including the thousands of needles, is much colder than the room you are bringing it into.
Because cold air sinks, you feel a quick, cold draft from the tree as air cooled by the cold tree sinks and is replaced by warmer room air. So, you are really feeling a draft caused by a cold tree in a warm room.
By the way, before you bring a tree into the house, don't forget to make a fresh cut at the base of the trunk. Otherwise, the tree won't be able to take up water!
Several of our visitors have experienced wackiness with their Douglas-fir trees! They wrote in. What exactly is going on remains a mystery!
We are still stumped on this one! One of Expert Team members thought that perhaps it has to do with temperature. If the tree was cold when you bought it into the house, it may start creaking as it warms up and branches begin to "settle".