The Lifecycle of a Christmas Tree

Years of labor go into making your living room’s decoration.

The raising of Christmas trees takes patience. Depending on the age at cutting, a tree can remain in a farmer’s soil for more than a decade. Glen Feltham founded Country Side Trees in the 1980s, and customers didn’t cut many of the first trees he planted until the 1990s.

Now his two adult daughters, Ruth Feltham and Holly Van Dreser, are preparing to take over the 75-acre cut-your-own farm near Delavan, in addition to another 83-acre parcel with a herd of elk that look suspiciously like reindeer. Both went to lead lives elsewhere, but something drew them back.

“One year it clicked,” Ruth says. “I changed my mind, and I decided I liked planting trees.”

Here’s How They Do It

Year 1

Each spring, the Felthams undertake two weeks of heavy planting, where they put 3,000 to 5,000 new trees in the ground, using specialized equipment. To avoid the early sapling stage, they purchase 3- to 4-year-old trees, a foot tall but with extensive root systems.

Year 4

By this point, the new trees have established themselves on the farm’s rolling hills, risen to about 5 feet tall, and are ready for pruning and sculpting to ensure they grow into Christmas-ready specimens. “They don’t grow that way,” says Ruth.

Year 10

Somewhere around year 10, spruce trees tend to reach “full size,” about 7 feet (pines grow faster). Despite advances in artificial trees, demand for real trees still ranges between 25 million and 30 million a year; Wisconsin is consistently among the top 10 producers.


The farm is constantly re-planting squares in its overall patchwork with new trees, and right now, a new area of Scotch pines is in the ground and growing. Different species go in and out of style, and occasionally people come in asking for trees that don’t exist.

Fun Fact: The tallest tree ever sold by Country Side Trees was 35 feet. It was cut down and loaded onto a semi-trailer about five years ago.

‘The Lifecycle of a Christmas Tree’ appears in the December 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning November 27, or buy a copy at

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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.