Dodging Raindrops: The Race to Plant 9,000 Christmas Tree Seedlings

In our last post, we told you about purchasing evergreen tree seedlings. Once those seedlings are at Abbey Farms, the “race” begins. The vigor of the seedlings lessens each day they sit in cold storage, versus planted. Evergreens are best planted while they are still dormant. Moreover, once dug, the roots are in danger of drying out prior to transplanting. It is always our goal to plant them as soon as possible.

Before we begin to plant, we prepare the fields. In fields that are sparse with suitable trees, we cut down the remaining trees and move them out. We also cut down tall stumps so we can mechanically plant without damaging the equipment. Unlike corn or pumpkin planting, we do not till the ground first.

However, Mother Nature does not always cooperate with our schedule.

This year, with the wet weather, we delayed picking up the seedlings a week. Even so, the continued rain made planting those 9,000 seedlings agonizingly difficult. We even had a new mechanical tree planter to use! It sat in the shed, pristine and ready to go. More rain, so it sat idle even longer. The frustration factor increased, even though we knew we still had time to plant.

New Versus Old Tree Planter

Pictured on top is the old planter, dating from the 1940s. Our new mechanical planter is pictured on the bottom.


As the calendar page flipped to May, we hoped that the new tree planter would prove to be our redeemer. Time was of essence.

The old planter (pictured, along with the new) likely dates from the 1940s. Sometime during the ’50s, the U.S. Forest Service donated it to the monastery. Up to this year, it reliably – most of the time – planted trees at Abbey Farms.

Using this one-seat machine, we can plant 200 – 300 tree seedlings in one hour. That is, if the soil conditions are perfect; something that rarely happens.

After a lot of online research by our farm operations manager, and phone calls to users of various brands of tree planters, we purchased a two-seat planter from The Mechanical Transplanter Company in Holland, Michigan. The unit, Model CT-12, is designed to work in the clay soil that is predominant throughout Abbey Farms. It also can capably plant larger plants, up to 30” tall.

Tree Planter in Action

Adam Voirin, COO of Abbey Farms, drives the tractor while Eric Mott and Jeff Kus feed the planter.

Finally, a window in the wet weather opened and we hooked up the new planter. During our first attempt, we found that the fields were still too wet. We put tree planting on hold once again. With good drying conditions, we were ready to give it another go a day later.  After learning how to use it, and a few adjustments, we were off and running.

What a difference! With two people feeding seedlings into the planting shoe, in an “ideal” world, we can now plant about 700 trees per hour. Even with less than ideal conditions, we can maintain good speed and plant over twice as fast as previously. Check out some of our photos and watch the video to see the planter in action.

Hand Planting Christmas Tree Seedlings

Using a dibble to hand plant evergreen tree seedlings.

After planting the open areas with the mechanical transplanter, we hand plant. This may be to replace a tree that died, or to fill out areas that aren’t sparse enough to justify clearing. We try to space the trees six feet within the row, and seven feet between rows. We aim to grow 900 – 1,000 trees per acre.

Our small crew canvasses the various fields and uses a hand tool called a dibble bar to plant. We  took a couple of photos, but also found a video for you, if you are intent on learning how to use one!

Whether mechanically or hand planting, the roots need to go into the ground straight. Roots that are bent in a “J” or “U” compromise the tree’s growth. We don’t always catch the root issues, but we do trim extra-long roots before planting.


Like any plant after it planting, we count on good farming/forestry practices and ample help from God through Mother Nature for it to thrive. In our next post about growing your Christmas tree, we’ll show you how we trim the trees.

Category: UncategorizedBy Shirley MottJuly 12, 2017

Tags: Abbey FarmsAurora IllinoisChristmas treesevergreensFarm Fresh NewsFarm operationsPlantingPlanting EvergreensUrban Farm

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