Tip-top Christmas trees

A few years ago I interviewed Warwick Gilmour, a lovely chap who runs the Tauranga Christmas Tree Farm at Te Puna. Having been a dairy farm worker in Waikato, Warwick, his wife and their seven children moved to what was a citrus orchard in 1996 but found it hard to make a living.

“I’d always had a hankering to do farm forestry but this is what God gave me instead,” he said during the interview. “The fluffy bit on the top.”

He grows a variety of Pinus radiata known as Christmas tree and says that although  customers want the pine scent, they also want their trees to be conical, like a spruce, meaning a fair amount of pruning and trimming as the trees grow (his prime Christmas trees are three years old, after four years they’re getting too big for most homes).

“We thought our goal should be to run out,” he says of sales, “but in fact it’s better if there’s a surplus. I don’t want a customer going away having said, ‘that’ll do’. I want people to be able to come here on Christmas Eve and get the tree they want.”

Warwick is a bit of an individual (he was more than happy to don a Santa coat and hat and peep out from among his trees for a photo) –  and a firm believer in looking on the bright side. Any trees still with him on December 26 and in their fourth year he describes as “lovingly tended firewood”.

Warwick’s top tips for caring for a living Christmas tree:

  • Saw a few centimetres off the base of the tree when you get it home
  • Steady the bucket by placing rocks or bricks around the base of the tree
  • Three-quarters fill the bucket with water
  • Dissolve two Disprin or asprin in the water to act as a preservative
  • Add half a cup of lemonade (to feed the tree) and 1 teaspoon of bleach (to keep bacteria down)
  • Add more water regularly, living trees drink a lot.
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