Top tips on looking after your Christmas tree and where to get one in Berkshire
PUBLISHED: 11:11 29 November 2016 | UPDATED: 11:32 29 November 2016
It takes a lot of care and attention to grow the perfect fir or spruce, so look after yours by following expert advice
Eighty million Christmas trees will be sold in the UK this year. It seems more and more of us are packing up the plastic trees for good and opting for the real thing; realising there’s nothing quite like that real tree smell. But it’s not just picking the perfect spot in the living room and adorning it with the perfect arrangement of decorations that has become a tradition each year. The ceremony of choosing one is just as important.
From supermarket car parks to garden centres, there’s no shortage of opportunity to find a tree, but there’s nothing quite like choosing one from a Christmas tree farm.
Jeff Lynes grows and sells trees at his farm in Newbury: “There’s been a plantation here for 19 years,” he explains. “We were initially renting the land and, at first, we sold any tree for £25 and people could come along and chop down their own.” Three years on and Jeff bought the 13-acre site and began planting again: “The bigger trees you can see now are around 10 years old, those we sell are between five and 10 years old.”
Jeff has always been involved with agriculture: “I married into a Christmas tree family, they were importers and wholesalers of trees. We thought it would be a good idea to plant some of our own. We had about 100,000 trees growing at one time, possibly more. There are around 30,000 out there now. Out of all those we might sell maybe four or five thousand. It’s a rotation, so whatever we sell this year we will replant next year.”
A year in the life
Nordmann Fir is the most popular species of tree Jeff grows in Newbury. “We also sell Norway Spruce, as well as Fraser Fir.” It’s an all-year-round job tending to the trees, as each species requires different management. In January and February Jeff and his team begin planting all the varieties: “They’re already four years old when we plant them, that’s about 30cms tall.” Sourced from Europe, Jeff buys them from Danish nurseries that collect seeds from all over the world. “You can transplant the seedlings up until the end of March, depending on the weather. We plant by hand and can put around 2,000 trees a day into the ground with a team of four.”
Next Jeff has to fertilise them in preparation for what is called the ‘flush’, which is when the new growth emerges from the tree. This can be a worrying time of year as the trees can be damaged if there is a late frost as spring begins. And that’s not the only weather type that can cause problems as hail can also strip new growth.
“We tackle weed control throughout the spring to give the plants a chance to get away; then it’s on to pruning and shearing, depending on what stage of growth they are. Sometimes we have to control the very top, the leader. We manipulate it either by cutting it off or restricting the growth. You don’t want a tall, leggy tree. It needs to be ‘the perfect’ Christmas tree.” Trimming and preening continues, for up to 10 years in fact. This is a relationship you certainly have to be in for the long term! “Every year you learn something new,” admits Jeff. “Each tree is different and you have to think about how you’re going to shear and prune the tree. One method doesn’t suit all, every stage is looked at.”
Various species have fallen in and out of favour with us Brits over the last 25 years. Norway Spruce began as our tree of choice, but its tendency to drop needles meant there was room for a new species to move in to the top spot. That soon belonged to the Nordmann Fir which was being imported from Turkey and which retains its needles well. However, Jeff insists that if you choose to buy a freshly cut tree that’s been cut in December, there’s no difference in the rate they lose their needles. “A lot of my customers are actually going back to the Norway Spruce.”
Choosing a fresh tree is the most important consideration for those coming to Newbury Christmas Tree Farm each November and December. As well as walking among the trees there’s plenty to fuel the festive spirit, including a cup or two of mulled wine. After a year’s worth of preparation for the most important few weekends of the year, even Jeff has reason to be jolly: “I love seeing people out on the plantation, picking their tree, looking happy. That makes me happy. Busy weekends are fantastic, there’s a real buzz, the car park’s full, there’s kids running round, it’s just really good fun.”
• Wherever you get your tree from, when you get it home take it out the net, cut an inch of the bottom and stand it in water for as long as you can.
• Put your tree in a stand you can fill with water. Trees on a block might look good but are impossible to water so won’t last long.
• Keep watering your tree until it stops taking up water. That could be three or four litres over the first couple of days. After this, they will probably slow down, but keep topping it up.
• Try not to stand it near a radiator; if there’s nowhere else for it to go, turn the radiator down. Trees dry out too fast if they are near a heat source.
• If you buy a tree from a farm you don’t need to take an inch off, unless there’s a height issue, as it’s been cut fresh.
• If you buy a tree after 21 November there’s no reason it shouldn’t last until Twelfth Night, as long as it has been looked after during cutting and transport. Problems arise where they have been cut, netted, packed on a pallet, transported and left on a pallet for some time as they start to compost.
Locally grown real trees
• Newbury Christmas Tree Farm - Newbury Christmas Tree Farm, Bagnor Road, Newbury, Berkshire RG20 8BN; 01635 524432
• Yattendon Estate - The Forestry Yard, Yattendon, Berkshire RG18 0XA; 01635 203901
• Peterley Manor Farm - Peterley Lane, Great Missenden, Bucks HP16 0HH; 01494 863566
• Chesham Christmas Tree Farm - Amersham Road, Chesham, Bucks HP5 1NE; 01494 794031
• Wendover Woods - Upper Icknield Way, Aston Clinton, Aylesbury, Bucks; HP22 5NQ