Christmas tree farms are businesses that holiday joy to both their owners and their customers.
Christmas tree farmers Douglas Luers of Luers Christmas Tree Farm in Crown Point and Steve Wagner, owner and operator of Valparaiso-based Santa’s Holiday Forest Christmas Trees, both agree family time has become what their business is really about.
Getting the perfect Christmas tree may their customers’ initial goal, but the experience often is the real reward for families who cut their own.
“Now it’s more of an experience for people,” said Luers, who took over the business from his father Arnold “Bud” Luers 13 years ago.
“They’re not too concerned about the exact tree,” he said. “It’s the family time they really care about. Maybe they don’t spend enough time together and this is one activity where they do, and that is more important than the tree.”
Wagner has seen many of his customers’ families grow.
“As they grow up and have kids we see second and third generations coming out,” he said. “It becomes a family tradition.”
Luers' father, who died in 2011 at age 92, began planting Christmas trees more than 30 years ago on a small section of his 600-acre farm, which was unsuited for growing corn and soybeans. The project grew to about 50 acres and thousands of trees, all destined to be the focus of a home’s holiday decor.
The Luers’ family-farm grows Australian, White, and Scotch pine; Blue, White, Colorado and Norway spruce; and Douglas and Canaan fir. Plus, Luers imports Fraser fir trees from Michigan.
Wagner, who has been growing and selling Christmas trees for more than 44 years, said it’s a wonderful business.
Prices can vary depending on the type of tree and what size it is. For example, at Luers long-needle trees are $4.50 a foot and short-needle ones are $6 a foot.
“Kids running around with snotty noses, of course I love it,” he said. “I’m an 85-year-old decorated World War II vet. I’m enjoying these young kids. I also enjoy the spirit of sharing and giving at Christmas and seeing families coming out, going in field, cutting their own tree, having tailgate parties."
Of course, growing the trees also means a lot of hard work, both men said.
During March, April and May, Wagner plants about 1,000 trees and removes between 700 and 800 trees that have died after being girdled by rabbits or for other reasons, he said.
“In June and July we sheer,” said Wagner, whose has 23 acres of White Pine, Scotch pine and Fraser firs. “You’ve got to make their shape look like a Christmas tree. Then we spray for weeds in September and October and in November we tag the trees – that’s putting ribbons on the ones to be harvested.”
Luers, a Purdue University graduate who gave up his position with Hormel Foods to take over the business when his father wanted to retire, said growing Christmas trees is a year-round job.
“We have to spray weeds, mow grass,” he said “We plant 7,000 trees every year.”
Neither Luers nor Wagner would elaborate on their exact sales volumes other than to say they can fluctuate from year to year.
But Luers said “thousands of trees are sold every year” at his farm.
Wagner says “business is picking up.”
“But what I sell depends on my advertising,” he said. “It can be from 400 to 800. If I concentrate on PR, I’ll sell 800. I also sell gift cards so people can give the perfect gift: a Christmas tree.”
It usually takes about 45 minutes for people to choose and cut their tree, Wagner said.
“That’s an average,” he said. “Some see the first tree and that’s it. Some, well I’m afraid I’ll have to go pick them up in the morning.”
The first two weeks of December, especially weekends, are the busiest time for cut-your-own Christmas trees sales, which annually start during the week of Thanksgiving.
Both Luers and Wagner appear to love the Christmas tree business.
Luers said he likes working outside, meeting the people and helping them with something that is making their holiday special.
“Christmas is a special time of the year,” he said.
Wagner, who annually donates trees to charitable organizations, said he enjoys the spirit of giving and sharing.
“From Thanksgiving to Christmas, I feel I’m on a holiday,” he said.