Homeowners, consider the effort involved to keep the trees and shrubs in your yard trimmed and looking good. If you do it yourself, you can attest that it isn’t a quick fix.
Now, think about the job we tackle at Abbey Farms. Each year, our crew trims nearly 100 acres of evergreen trees into the conical shape associated with the “perfect” Christmas tree.
It takes our crew – this year there are six – about six weeks to trim the pine trees each summer. Although we have volunteers helping at the farm, our tree trimmers are paid employees.
“It is primarily a matter of safety,” says Eric Mott, farm operations manager. “We have liability insurance, but when you figure it takes several days to a week to learn how to safely trim trees, it is better to utilize paid staff for this job.”
In his third year of trimming trees, Jake Hammer of Oswego, Illinois is our veteran tree trimmer. Clocking in with their second year of trimming are Dan O’Brien, Batavia; Charlie Voirin, Batavia; and Patrick Woodford, Geneva. First year trimmers are Tom Grayczyk, Montgomery; and Jeff Kus, the assistant farm manager, who is from Batavia.
Christmas Tree Trimming Safety
As we mentioned, safety is a top priority. After all, the crew uses a machete designed specifically for pruning evergreen trees. Not to be confused with a jungle-cutting machete you often see in the movies, these shearing knives have long, serrated blades. In fact, they look similar to a bread knife – except bigger and sharper!
At a cost of $50/knife, we hope to get two years out of each. However, if a trimmer strikes the ground with the blade or even a tough branch, they can snap. Even without breakage, the knives eventually get dull, so this year’s crew is using new knives. For safety equipment, they wear cut-resistant gloves and catcher’s shin pads.
We teach them to cut with a downward motion, holding the non-knife wielding hand behind their back. This helps prevent accidentally cutting themselves, though it has happened. Watch Tom Grayczyk in action by viewing this video.
Artists at Work
Just like a snowflake, every tree is different. Although we attempt to trim the tree into the conical shape, a previous bad trim job or irregular growth creates challenges. If the top of a tree doesn’t have a true leader shoot, the tree trimmer must determine which shoot would make the best leader and trim the other(s) back. If the leader shoot is too long, it is also cut back. From there, they visualize the shape and begin cutting, working their way around the tree from top to bottom.
At times, the tree presents quite a puzzle for sculpting, so the trimmer does his best and moves on. In some cases, no amount of trimming will yield the perfect conical shape.
Charlie Voirin mentioned that, “there is no shortage of ‘Charlie Brown’ trees available in the field.” Jeff Kus, who worked last year’s Christmas tree sales, added that some people come in specifically looking for such a tree to take home. So, all’s well that ends well…
Timing is Everything When Trimming Christmas Trees
After their spring growth spurt of up to 12 inches, we trim the Austrian, White and Scotch pines. The spruces, however, must be trimmed when they are dormant, usually in March. Sometimes, we trim the Blue and Norway spruces in late fall, especially if they’ve grown a lot after their March cut.
In the summer, we usually trim the Austrian pines first. They are a heavier branching tree with longer needles, so the knives need to be as sharp as possible. After these are finished, we systematically work through all the other fields.
Figuring out when to give a tree its first cut is similar to when you take a child to get their first haircut. You generally hold off as long as possible. With our trees, we don’t begin trimming a tree until about the third year after planting. Then, it is usually to define a leader and to lightly shape.
We hope you learned something about growing Christmas trees with our series of blog posts. We do have another post coming up. If you have evergreen trees and bushes in your yard, you’ll want to read it. We’ll talk about some of the most common pests we encounter in our tree fields. We’ll tell you what to look for in your own trees, and give ideas to combat them.