A practical approach to all aspects of growing, marketing and retail sales

      Northeast Kingdom Christmas Trees



Fred Salo
Northeast Kingdom Christmas Trees

2014 Final ReportProject Number: FNE12-764
Type: Farmer/Rancher Project
Region: Northeast



As Christmas tree farming has evolved into plantation style farming, potential issues with disease and soil health have developed, including increased disease and death from Armillaria, and a decrease in soil fertility and organic matter after multiple harvests. Due to observations on our tree farm in VT, we hypothesized that compost additions may benefit overall tree health and market value. A core injection method of compost application was developed to address potential issues with disturbing the tree roots. 

Two different locally available composts were used in this trial: Compost A was obtained from a dairy farm; Compost B was commercial compost with a more regimented culturing process. Both composts outperformed the control in important tree measures, specifically, shoot length, bud count, color and density. The effects were more drastic in the second and third year of application, though the control also increased over time in most cases. Compost A outperformed Compost B in most of these measures, though these differences were small and may not be significant, as compared to the differences between either of the composts and the control.

In contrast, mortality rates were lowest with Compost B treatments, and further research on tree mortality would be beneficial. This study demonstrates the efficacy of using the core injection method to apply compost to Christmas trees. Application of compost may increase tree vigor and commercial value, increase soil health, and decrease the need to synthetic fertilizers and pesticides over the length of an operation.

Each compost treatment area was 5 rows (30’) wide and 70 trees (350’) long and received 27 cubic yards of compost. The application rate for compost was one inch thick in a 30 inch wide band in the space between tree rows which covered one-half of the total plot area. The average cost of compost application was $2.25 per tree (Compost A) or $2.75 per tree (Compost B) which included $1.25 per tree for application and coring. Compost A was less expensive to purchase at $26/yd ($1.00 per tree) than Compost B at $40/yd ($1.50 per tree) plus the delivery charge.

However, irrespective of cost, this study demonstrated there is value in applying compost. Specific kinds of compost application may also reduce tree mortality caused from Armillaria, but that result needs further investigation, as Compost A did not suggest this result. The mechanisms of compost benefits were not included in this study, but it has been demonstrated in other contexts that compost confers multiple beneficial features. These include inoculation of, and habitat for, beneficial soil organisms, addition of organic matter, addition and retention of slower release nutrients, increase in soil friability and increase in both water infiltration and retention.

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