Homegrown Holiday at Whitetail Tree Farm
At many Hoosier homes, a well-decorated tree serves as the main attraction throughout the holiday season. Where better to find this essential element of your Christmas celebration than right here in Indiana?
The 2012 Census of Agriculture ranks Indiana 17th nationally for number of Christmas trees produced, with a total of 89,252 trees harvested that year.
“There are tree farms from one end of the state to the other,” says Tom Dull of Dull’s Tree Farm in Thorntown. Dull serves as national director for the Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association and president-elect of the National Christmas Tree Association.
If you’re near Henry County, Whitetail Tree Farm may be the perfect place to pick up this year’s tree. Owners Phil and Linda Gibson purchased the farm in March 2011. “We’ve just been thrilled ever since,” Phil says. The Gibsons operate the farm with the help of farm specialist Mike Virgin, their daughters, Tricha and Shauna, and their families, their son, Evan, and a roster of seasonal staff. In addition to growing trees, the Gibsons also host field trips, special events and overnight guests throughout the year, as well as the farm’s annual Pumpkin Fest in September. In 2014, readers of the state’s tourism website, visitindiana.com, voted Whitetail Tree Farm one of the 10 best Christmas tree farms in Indiana.
Tree Growing Basics
Whitetail Tree Farm currently has approximately 19,000 to 20,000 trees in various stages of growth. Its growing process starts with bare root seedlings purchased from nurseries, which are hand-planted in 8-inch deep augered holes, Phil says. The farm’s planting season is divided by tree type – spruces and pines in the spring, firs in the fall.
Seedlings typically measure between 10 and 14 inches at planting, and ideally they grow about a foot per year. About 60 percent of the trees planted survive to maturity, reports Phil. The trees receive fertilizer and are sprayed for pests such as gypsy moth and bagworms.
However, the tree farmers are very cautious about the pesticides used, since the trees depend on “good bugs” such as bees for pollination.
Some may be surprised to learn that perfect cone shape doesn’t happen by chance. Growers must monitor each tree’s “leader,” or main stem, to make sure it isn’t growing too quickly. Whitetail Tree Farm’s more mature trees also receive an annual shaping.
“When a tree reaches about 3 years old, we start figuring out how to shear that tree and make it look like a Christmas tree,” Phil says.
While the farm sells trees in a variety of sizes, many customers come in with the same request. “Everyone wants an 8-foot tree,” he says.
Picking the Perfect Tree
Whitetail Tree Farm grows five main tree varieties on site: Canaan fir, Norway spruce, blue spruce, Scotch pine and white pine. The Gibsons favor the Canaan fir, a short-needle tree that is soft to the touch and will hold heavier ornaments.
“It’s just a great tree,” says Phil. He believes the Scotch pine, a long-needle tree, is the most popular variety with customers due to its reasonable price.
When choosing a tree, look for even coloration throughout, says Phil. This indicates the tree has received a steady supply of water.
If you’re purchasing a tree from a retail lot instead of cutting your own, Dull suggests checking for freshness by bending a needle. “If it breaks, steer away from that tree and go to another one,” he says.
Whichever tree you choose, you can feel good about your purchase.
“The real tree is without a doubt the environmentally friendly choice,” Dull says. He explains that real trees are both renewable and recyclable. Old trees can be turned into mulch, repurposed as fish habitat or burned in campfires.
A Day at the Tree Farm
Whitetail Tree Farm’s Christmas tree season starts the day after Thanksgiving – which the Gibsons call “Green Friday” – and runs through Dec. 20. Guests choose their desired tree type, then walk or ride wagons out to the fields, Phil says. There, they can either cut a tree themselves or have one cut for them.
Back at the shop, farm staff will shake the tree to remove dead needles and drill the stem to fit in a tree stand. A tree baler then wraps the tree tightly in twine for the trip home. Of course, not all shoppers want a cut tree. The farm sells around 200 live “ball and burlap” trees per year.
Whitetail Tree Farm also offers other attractions during the holiday season. Guests can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, shop for home décor in the gift shop, or sip a special beverage. In fact, some visitors come just to enjoy “Santa’s Magic Hot Chocolate,” Linda says.
Whether it’s the hot cocoa, the fresh-cut trees or the festive atmosphere, something is bringing visitors to Whitetail Tree Farm. The Gibsons currently sell about 1,500 trees annually and strive for a 15 percent increase each year.
“We’ve pretty much hit that right on the mark,” Phil says. This type of success would be enough to put any farmer in the Christmas spirit.
Plan Your Visit
In addition to its trees, Whitetail Tree Farm in Springport also operates a bed-and-breakfast, as well as a catering and banquet facility. To plan your visit to pick out a tree, stay the night or host a special event, go to whitetailtreefarm.com or call 765-755-3345 or 765-744-3378.
To find additional Christmas tree farms in your neck of the woods, visit my-indiana-home.com/christmas-trees.