- Author: Lynn Wunderlich
Mike McGee grows Christmas trees in El Dorado county and has been using stump culture on his 19 acre Choose n' Cut Farm for 36 years. According to Mike, stump culture reduces the time to harvest for a White Fir from 8-10 years to 5-7 years. One stump can provide as many as eight harvested trees.
If you want a Christmas tree from McGee Tree Farm, you'd better plan on getting it early. Located at 3,000 feet elevation
For those of you who think growing Christmas trees is as easy as planting a few conifers and forgetting about them, beware. Christmas tree production and stump culture takes work to produce a good looking tree. The cut, number of nurse branches, and selection of final tree sprout all affect the resulting success and tree quality. McGee goes back to each harvested stump in January and recuts the stump using a sharp saw to produce a clean cut. He then paints the stump using a 4 inch roller and an elastomeric coating, which is dense and will stretch. The coating helps to prevent the stump from rotting until the tree's nature sap overgrows it, sealing the stump.
The bigger the tree stump, the more nurse branches that are left. Typically this means leaving 10-12 branches around a white fir. New trees will grow up from either a nurse branch limb that turns up-not desirable due to the bend in the bottom- or a new sprout which will grow straighter, and is therefore more desirable than a tree grown from a turned up limb. The limbs fold up and shade the cut stump, nature's way of protecting the cuts that heal better when they have shade.
“Every tree is a perfect tree”, McGee once told me, who actively grooms his trees to keep the farm looking neat. Stump culture work is best done during the dormant season when branches are still pliable and green, before the summer heat. In this way, cut branches are easy to pick up off the ground by hand, before they are dried out and too prickly to handle.
“On my farm, everything is an experiment”, McGee told me. “Growers have to try it and find out for themselves. Maybe what works for me won't work the same for them.” Opening a week early this year to thin out the crowds during Covid-19, the full parking lot at McGee Tree Farm tells me this experiment is working just fine.