Keeping It Real

Home to nearly 700 Christmas tree growers, Michigan ranks third nationwide in evergreen production and generates more than $40 million for its harvest each year.
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Country Christmas Tree Farm
In Greenwood just northwest of Port Huron, a day at Country Christmas Tree Farm includes cutting your own spruce or fir or choosing from a pre-cut tree variety, wagon rides, hot chocolate, real holiday wreaths and other crafts to peruse and a free professional family portrait by T. Dalton Photography (countrychristmastreefarm.com). Photography by Todd Muma/T. Dalton Photography

IT ALSO ENGENDERS generations of tradition at family-owned farms.

Originating in Grand Junction but transitioning to Gobles just beyond Kalamazoo, Wahmhoff Farms Nursery has been in the holiday tree biz for more than 60 years. The first seedlings were planted and harvested in the 1950s by Carl Wahmhoff Sr. and Carl Jr., grandfather and father of present owners Dan and Ken who acquired the farm in 1996 and work it full-time with siblings Tom and Betsy and Dan’s wife, Lorie.

“Fourth-generation children have already worked on the farm as well,” notes Betsy Wahmhoff Parales.

While the 150-acre Choose & Cut draws crowds seven days a week until almost Christmas with its array of quality pines, firs and spruce, weekends with live reindeer, free popcorn and horse-drawn wagon rides attract families back each season, too.

“We also host a Trees for Troops event here every year,” Parales shares. “Volunteers come from all around to help us load the trucks…it’s one of my favorite things on the farm.”

Making annual tree farm visits memorable is something hundreds of growers across the Mitten achieve each season by offering fun “agri-tainment” and nostalgic traditions of their own. Memories, they agree, outlast any artificial tree.

“I love what I do,” says Sigmond Zielinski, owner of Hagen Nursery and Christmas Tree Farm in Muskegon. “I have a hand in making the holidays special.”

Fresh Traditions

Carl Wahmhoff, Jr. & neighbor
Carl Wahmhoff, Jr. (pictured above left, with a neighbor) helped plant the first of his family’s high-quality crops; over the years, state and national award-winning trees produced here have been presented to the Governor of Michigan and Vice President Joe Biden (2011). Photography courtesy Betsy Wahmhoff Parales

While an average of 3 million are harvested in Michigan each year, Christmas trees are a crop, planted and grown to be cut down and replanted in a cycle. Like other farms statewide, “Our small farm typically plants more new seedlings each year than we harvest,” note Mark and Hilde Janke of Janke Tree Farm in Allegan.

Live trees, meanwhile, can be put to good use after serving their Christmas purpose.

Bird feeder. Set your live Christmas tree outside for birds to use as shelter, and begin a tradition of stringing it with treats like orange slices and popcorn. “We’ve always used Cheerios,” says Zielinski, “and we add peanut butter-stuffed pinecones rolled in birdseed. Birds love that.”

Mulch. Branches can be removed, chipped and used as garden mulch. “Tree recycling and mulching programs are a fast-growing trend,” notes the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA, realchristmastrees.org). “Check with your local department of public works.” In Saginaw, Kluck Nursery redeems a Christmas tree returned for use as on-site mulch with a 15-inch live spruce in spring (klucknursery.com).

Erosion barrier. Some communities use real Christmas trees to make effective sand and soil erosion barriers, especially for lake and river shoreline stabilization, the NCTA says. Read about how Christmas trees are aiding sand dune recovery from Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and other reuse/recycling programs nationwide at realchristmastrees.org.

Fish sanctuary. Sunk into private fish ponds, trees make an excellent refuge and feeding.

Landscape memory. With special care, a container-grown Christmas tree can be used indoors, then planted in the yard. A few top spots to learn more include Dutchman Tree Farms in Manton, Lodi Farms Nursery in Ann Arbor and Candy Cane CHRISTmas Tree Farm in Oxford.

Find these growers and Choose & Cut farms nearest you by visiting the Michigan Christmas Tree Association online (mcta.org).

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