By Greg Westrich
Special to The Weekly
Some time around Thanksgiving, many of us pile into our family cars and head out to find a Christmas tree. Maybe snow is falling; at least the weather is cold enough that the kids are bundled up with hats and gloves.
We look at dozens of trees in a lot or wander among the trees at a cut-your-own farm while trying to find that ideal tree. It could a native balsam fir — or maybe a Fraser fir, native to warmer climes — that has that perfect cone shape and proportion.
We walk around the trees, sizing them up. Eventually, we select a tree and load it onto the car and head home, not thinking of the work it took to grow that tree that attracted us.
Harvey Sprague spends time thinking about how to grow and shape just such trees. He is co-owner of G & S Tree Farms in Bangor with Dana Graves. At this year’s Fryeburg Fair, their balsam fir won Reserve Grand Champion, and their Fraser fir won first place for the third year in a row. Clearly, Harvey Sprague knows his Christmas trees.
G & S has been growing trees since 1974. Today the business has about 200,000 trees on 200 acres spread across the area, especially around Newport and Plymouth. “We’ve got trees everywhere,” Sprague says, spreading his arms.
He explains that growing Christmas trees is just like farming any other crop: Growers need good soil and lots of hard work. G & S buys 2-year-old seedlings from various suppliers. Once in the ground, the trees need to be tended regularly. The trees are fertilized every year; the type and amount of fertilizer is determined by soil tests and testing some of the trees’ needles. Generally, the amount of food each tree needs increases as it grows. “It’s expensive. Most people won’t use that much,” Sprague says with a shrug. It is one of the reasons that their trees win so many prizes.
The lanes between the rows have to be mowed annually, and the weeds around the trees sprayed. If they let the weeds get too big, it would make the tree’s bottom branches weak and less visually appealing.
After the trees have been in the ground for three years, they get trimmed and shaped for the first time by hand with knives. After the trees finish their spring growth spurt, G & S’s crew begins pruning the trees. “We’ve got a really good crew; they’ve got it down,” says Sprague. The crew is anchored by Graves’ nephew Jeff Jordan who has been working with Christmas trees since he was in high school.
The trees are ready to cut when they’ve been in the ground from six to eight years. More than half of G & S’s trees stay in Maine; the rest are sold in southern New England and New York. You can find your own G & S Christmas tree at Sprague’s Nursery & Garden Center at 1664 Union St. or one of the outlets they sell them to, or go to their farm on Gardner Road in Orono and cut your own.