How to Start a Cut-Your-Own Christmas Tree Farm

Kaitlyn Dunnett here, eight days before the publication date of Ho-Ho-Homicide, the 8th Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage mystery and my fiftieth traditionally published book. In honor of the occasion, I’m giving away an autographed copy to one person, randomly selected, who comments on this post. The winner’s name will appear in the next Weekend Update.

Why am I writing about Christmas tree farms? Well, aside from the fact that I live on one, that’s the setting for Ho-Ho-Homicide, in which Liss solves a series of crimes while helping a young woman start a cut-your-own Christmas tree business. Since Liss is a champion list-maker, I thought I’d share this one.

Step One: plant trees

Step Two: wait ten years, occasionally pruning (and planting more trees each year if you want to continue in business more than one)

summertreefarm (300x225)

Step Three: buy netter, tarps, and saws (Why, yes, a body will fit through the netter!)

netter (300x284)

Step Four: buy liability insurance

Step Five: get PayPal or cube attachment for iPad or other device

Step Six: buy sales pads and print sales-tax calculator

Step Seven: advertise with ads, signs along the roadside and in local businesses, and word of mouth

mvfarmsign (300x249)

Step Eight: offer incentives to buy a tree—free hot chocolate and candy canes (or maybe a free book by a famous local author to the first twenty customers—got to make use of those author copies somehow!)

Ho Ho Homicide-comp (199x300)

Step Nine: set business hours (days and times) and make them clear on a large sign on the premises

Step Ten: cross your fingers and hope that people still want their kids to experience cutting down their own tree and don’t just make do with that artificial pink one stored in the attic

tree on tarp

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24 Responses to How to Start a Cut-Your-Own Christmas Tree Farm

  1. Eric Hendrie says:

    Very interesting and great photos.

  2. Monica says:

    One of the best parts about sending the kids and their dad out to get the tree, with promises of hot cocoa and cookies when they returned, was the glorious 2 hours alone in the house on a winter’s day!

    Toasty wood stove running, dog snoozing, calm reigning over a usually noisy house – bliss.

    Thinking ahead, as you mentioned, I started planting ‘Christmas’ trees when the kids went to college. Dreams of grandchildren coming to cut the trees filled my head. Then the kids moved 3000 miles away and we moved to Maine.

    Hope the new folks at the house in Vermont took advantage of my planning.

    Now we wander around Maine each year trying new Christmas tree farms while one kid gets a tree in Washington, another gets a tree back in Vermont and the third decorates a palm tree in Vegas. Life is a funny old thing.

    Best wishes with the new book!

  3. Gram says:

    I suppose that most people consider this just something to do in your “spare” time…I don’t think so! 🙂

    • You said it, Gram! Planting and pruning isn’t too bad . . . and my husband does all of that . . . but during “tree season” weekends things get crazy. Let’s just say I don’t get much writing done between Thanksgiving and Christmas.


  4. Ruth Nixon says:

    I’d love a signed copy of Ho-Ho Homicide to join your other books on my shelf.Started reading this series as my MIL was born in Scotland and ended up really liking all the people and their stories in the books. We have tree farms around here but not the wonderful trees you grow and certainly not a author-owner who gives out her books. Do enjoy all the Maine writers. Ruth Nixon

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying the series. I have to confess, though, that I only gave away books the first year we were open, which just happened to be the year A Wee Christmas Homicide came out. Since then, my extra author copies have gone to Maine libraries, but we do sell books (and maple syrup and decorations and some local crafts) in the little gift shop (heated!) that houses the cash drawer and the hot water for hot chocolate.


  5. When we first moved to New England, just for personal use, I bought a Christmas tree sampler from the state nursery–10 each of 3 types of trees–along with about 40 other saplings. Naturally, the ground froze and my arthritis flared up just in time to dig 70 holes. Anyway, about a dozen of the Christmas trees survived, none of them the balsams I preferred. How to say this–for three or four years they didn’t need pruning, they needed protection. I put chicken wire cages over them and marked them with those reflectors you’d use for the snowplow driver. Who took some interesting detours off our driveway, I must say. Eventually they grew big enough to harvest. Problem: I now had 5 blue spruce and 7 Scotch pine. And one living room. And every year, the trees got bigger. We’re at the point now where we’re topping the regrowth of trees we topped ten years ago. We get some funny-looking Christmas trees, but we can’t beat the price.

    Terrific post, Kaitlyn. Congratulations on your golden publication!

    • I’ve never heard of a tree sampler, but what a great idea!. We grow all balsams at Mystic Valley Farm but in Ho-Ho-Homicide, on the fictional Christmas tree farm, there are several varieties of Christmas tree. I had to have a few Scotch pine, of course, if only to get something Scottish into the story.


  6. vy kava says:

    Love the title of your book. Creative. Thanks for the Reader’s Digest version of growing xmas trees. Congratulations on your eight book.

    • Thanks Vy. I can’t take credit for the title, though. My editor came up with that one. My original title was Auld Lang Crime, but since it was a Christmas book and not a New Year’s book, the powers that be at Kensington Books nixed that one. Friends tell me I’ll have to write a New Year’s book just so I can use it, but the one I’m contemplating (for 2016) is more likely to be set on the 4th of July.


  7. William Wilson says:

    Dear Kaitlyn:

    You missed a very important step as my dad would point out, or perhaps I should say qualification. In Step One you say “Plant Trees”; however as my dad, a would-be forester, would correct you, you always want to add “Green Side Up.” Plant Trees Green Side Up. I suspect he learned that from watching with horror as my little four year old sister tried to plant the trees with their roots up because she thought it was easier that way.

    • William,
      What a great story, and I can see your sister doing that very clearly. Our trees start as seedlings only a few inches tall, so they don’t even look much like trees, let alone Christmas trees. Thanks for sharing.


  8. Lil Gluckstern says:

    I am looking forward to reading your new book, and I loved your post. It brought back so many memories of earlier years when my children and their various boyfriends would go out and cut a fresh tree after Thanksgiving which kept my house fresh until after New Years. The trip to the farm was refreshing, in and of itself. Because I live on the Northern California coast, sometimes even sweaters were optional. Sadly, the children are grown, and they have-gasp-artificial trees. I love traveling to Maine with you.

    • Thanks, Lil. One of the best things about having the farm is seeing the way little kids’ eyes light up when they get to choose the tree. They enjoy turning the crank on the netter, too.


  9. Elaine Roberson says:

    The smell of a “real” tree has always meant Christmas to me. Just say no to the old pink one in the attic.

    • I couldn’t agree more, and I did even before we started the tree farm. One of my best childhood memories is of sitting in the dark watching the lights on the tree blink and inhaling that wonderful scent.


  10. Elizabeth Shaver says:

    I have been CRAVING Maine. I was blessed to have been able to vacation in Maine twice in the ’80s. Lately, I have been dying to return. Lobster on the coast, blueberry pancakes, gorgeous fall colors, rivers, flannel from LL Bean, kayaking along the coast, Camden, Edna St. Vincent Millay…….and that’s just for starters. I’ve been researching Bike Maine for next year in order to see more of the state. Maine plus a mystery novel–unbeatable combination. I can’t wait to read Ho-Ho-Homicide!!!!

  11. Makes me want to go walk through a forest or tree farm. And, if I close my eyes I can smell all of the trees.

    Read in the paper last week that we should be having a white Christmas. The way Christmas should be.

    • I love white Christmases too, but we always hope we don’t get too much snow too early. It’s tough to tromp through the trees to pick one out, let alone cut it down, if there is more than about an inch on the ground at the tree farm. After closing day on Sunday, December 21st, though, let it snow!!

  12. noel troike says:

    You had me lol with the 10 steps. I know that one must first plant the trees but it just struck me as funny. Wish I lived closer so we could come and pick out a tree. 50 publications wow congrantulations

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