Shearing Pine Christmas Trees

Last August (2012) I wrote about the first steps in shearing Balsam fir Christmas trees. In this blog I will talk about shearing pine trees for Christmas trees. Shearing pine trees is very different from shearing fir trees. Shearing Christmas trees is part science (biology) and part art. Understanding how a tree grows, is the science and shaping a tree to end up with the most beautiful tree a customer could ever find, is the art. Of course Mother Nature is going to play a role and sometimes can upset the best intentions of the science and the art.  Insects, disease or weather can damage a tree at any time in its cycle of becoming a full grown Christmas tree.  Fixing small problems that often occur in trees is best achieved through a knowledgeable mixing of the art and the science.

The two most common tools for working on pine Christmas trees.  A shearing knife and hand pruners.

The two most common tools for working on pine Christmas trees. A shearing knife and hand pruners.

There are a couple of basic words I should explain before we go any further. As Christmas tree growers, we tend to throw words around that relate to Christmas tree growing and expect every one to understand what we are talking about. Shearing and pruning are two often used words that mean two very different things. Shearing refers to the shaping of the foliage of the tree to create a pleasing shape and greater density.  Shearing pine trees is usually done with a long shearing knife, made specifically for this purpose.  Pruning refers to the removal of the lowest branches on the tree to create a branch free “handle”.  The handle is the base of the tree that a happy customer will use to put their tree into a stand.  Pruning is typically done using a pair of hand pruners.

Tip of a branch showing the developing new buds for next year's growth.  Most pine only have buds at the tip of the branch.

Tip of a branch showing the developing new buds for next year’s growth. Most pine only have buds at the tip of the branch.

Shearing of pine trees usually begins when the trees are quite small.  Pine trees, especially the white pine trees we grow, tend to have vigorous growth and put out a long main leader.  If left un-sheared the tree will produce open gaps that are almost impossible to fill in later.  Most species of pine only produce buds at the tips of the branches.  There are no side buds as there are in fir trees.  This is one of the main reasons why pine and fir are so different in their shearing.   Pine trees MUST be sheared during their active growing season.  This means that there is a very short time each year for the most effective shearing.  In Prince Edward Island, Canada this time will range from about late June to mid July.  If the shearing is not done during this time the results will be disappointing.   Because shearing removes almost all of the tips of the new shoots the tree needs time to set new buds at the point where the tips were cut.  If it is done too late in the season the tree will not have time to set new buds for next years growth.

Small White Pine Christmas tree with excessively long leader.   The leader should never be allowed to more than 30 cm (12 in.).

Small White Pine Christmas tree with excessively long leader. The leader should never be allowed to grow more than 30 cm (12 in.).

This is the same small tree after shearing.  Note the leader is 30 cm (12 in.) or shorter.

This is the same small tree after shearing. Note the leader is 30 cm (12 in.) or shorter. New buds will develop at the cut tips.

Different species of pine were tried at Watts Tree Farm. We tried Scots pine and Red pine but with little success. There are many varieties of Scots pine. We had some strains that we liked but the local nurseries could not supply the same strains consistently, so we gave up. Some strains are extremely “prickly” and not user friendly while others have softer needles. Some regions of Canada have large portion of their crop in pine. However, in Prince Edward Island there is only a small percentage of pine Christmas trees as Balsam fir is the dominant species. Most Christmas tree growers do not grow pine as it is such a small portion of their sales.  Years ago I recognized this as a niche in the market that I could use to get more buyers to my lot.  It seems to have worked.  I will get some customers who will travel further to come to our “Choose and Cut”  because they know we have pine trees.

White Pine Christmas trees before this season's shearing.   All of these have been sheared for several years.

White Pine Christmas trees before this season’s shearing. All of these have been sheared for several years.

After this season's shearing.  The taller trees will be ready for market this year.   They will grow out a bit more and lose that "just sheared" look.

After this season’s shearing. The taller trees will be ready for market this year. They will grow out a bit more and lose that “just sheared” look.

White pine can be sheared into very beautiful Christmas trees.  However, the one draw back to them is the fact that they are not only soft in appearance and touch but their branches are too soft and flexible.  I have to warn new buyers that they can be “tricky” to decorate.  They will not handle heavy ornaments the same way a fir tree will.   I have customers who come back the next year and say “Never again.” and others who come specifically for these white pine and have for many years.  I have seen some of the trees decorated by customers and they can be made to look absolutely beautiful.

As always, it is difficult to explain things in great detail I my blog.  However, I hope the photographs help to give a good visual reference to the explain better the work that goes into shearing pine trees.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

***Click on any photo to get a larger image***

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6 thoughts on “Shearing Pine Christmas Trees

  1. Very interesting. We don’t grow Christmas trees ourselves, but this area of the Pacific Northwest is a major producer of Christmas trees. I know they call it “culturing” here, when they shape/shear them. Mostly varieties of fir: Noble, Douglas, etc.

    • Hi Margaret
      Nice to hear from you again. It’s nice to share forest information of all sorts around the world. I’ll have to keep thinking of topics I hope people will find interesting. I do appreciate receiving comments from people.

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