For many years, the beginning of the Christmas holiday season was marked at our house by the search for the tree. With about fifty acres of woods, there are always a few balsams worthy of a place in the livingroom. As I get older, I find the long trek back to the house hauling a tree to be less enjoyable. Not to mention the endless searching for a balsam full enough to serve as a Christmas tree. Most young balsams are understory trees, tall and thin-branched. The best Christmas trees grow in sunny locations. Years of harvesting the best trees left the pickings thin.
I had a flash of inspiration one day when I found a young balsam situated right beside a tree soon to be cut for firewood. The baby balsam needed to move or it would die. I dug it up and transplanted it to a rough area below the garden that was under-used. As time passed, I saved more little trees from the middle of logging roads, from under the branches of apple trees in the orchards, or from certain death near a hardwood destined for firewood.
Once the little trees found themselves in a place with fertile soil and plenty of sunlight, they thrived. Now, there are over a dozen young future Christmas trees right out in the yard, only a few steps from the house. No more tramping the heavily wooded hills, sometimes through foot deep snow, to find a tree!
I prefer my Christmas trees to look natural, not over-trimmed like commercial varieties. To me, a traditional tree has nice, full, even branches with a good leader, but is not so thick it can’t be seen through. For this reason I don’t prune the balsams as tree growers do. I let them develop natural fullness from the influence of sunlight. A couple times during the summer I cut the weeds around them so the lower branches develop. The biggest trees in the photos are over six feet tall and are about five to seven years in the plot. They all started as small, spindly things, less than two feet in height.