Home Is Where Your Trees Are

Trees As Futures. Part 3

But not all trees are top value, nor in perfect condition. The Armstrong committee laid it down that appraisers should rate trees in five grades of perfection, twenty per cent off for each lower grade; and it similarly divided all the familiar trees into five descending classes of value. These grades vary and shift according to where the trees are grown, in seven regions of the United States and Canada. Thus in New England, the East, the Central States, and Midwest the hardy sugar maple ranks in Class 1 (100%); in the South and Far Northwest it is relegated to Class 2 (80%); in California it vanishes from the list. In nearly all regions the lowly ailanthus and boxelder rank only in Class 5 (2.0%). Evaluating your trees in dollars can come in handy when pricing a property for sale, or when damage by a storm or errant vehicle makes you feel like claiming a loss. To make your appraisal stick, it should be made, for a modest fee, by a Certified Tree Expert. To be realistic he will take into account the position of the tree in your grounds as well as the prime factors.

For a hypothetical case, suppose a runaway truck were to shatter irremediably a fifteen-inch willow oak standing in your Ohio back yard. In Ohio, the willow oak is Class 1 (100%). Suppose this tree had one moderate cavity but no other blemishes. The evaluation equation on it would look like this:
less 20% condition=$706.86
less 40% position=$424.12 appraised value.
Some shade-tree men think that the Armstrong formula should use a higher factor than five dollars for valuable low trees with slender trunks. Present practice is to appraise small trees, especially ornamentals, at actual replacement cost. Translating their trees into dollars is purely academic for most people most of the time. But there are circumstances in which the home owner can well think of trees primarily as future cash, and convert them into it quite profitably. Often the specific purpose served is quite literally academic.

Many a foresighted parent puts Junior through college by growing Christmas trees. For this ploy, at least one acre of ground not otherwise used is needed. Better are five acres, and if you have ten acres some states, like New Jersey, will supply you with seedlings for a song, provided you let half your crop grow on up into saw timber.A nice thing about all the conifers used as Christmas trees is that they will grow on land that is not much good for growing anything else. Worn-out pastures, thin-soiled barrens, and north slopes unblessed by warmth or water will yield quite well with just a little fertilizing. Three negatives define the requirements better than any set of positives: no swamp, no shade, no livestock. Tastes in trees for Christmas vary surprisingly in different sections of the country. Largely preferred in New England and New York are balsam fir and white or Norway spruce. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the spruces used to lead in popularity, but the aristocrat now is Douglas fir. In Michigan and Ohio, the long-leafed pines - Scotch, red, and Austrian, in that order, trailed by white - now outsell the firs and spruces.

Thus one of the first things to do before you go into Christmas trees is to check your regional markets and learn which kinds to plant. Besides salability, there are differences too in growth rates, care, and price. Douglas fir takes ten to fourteen years to reach six feet but fetches about $2.50 per tree at that size, on the stump. Norway and white spruce bring only half as much but reach market size two to four years sooner. Scotch pine, where it is salable, is in the $1.25 bracket for trees that take only six to eight years to grow, but the pines are prey to sawfly and pine-shoot moth and require watchful spraying. The spruces' enemies are aphids, weevils, and mites, not quite so destructive. Of them all, the fir is hardiest as to climate and parasites. All types need some pruning or shearing to perfect their shapes.A rough idea of how many Christmas trees one acre of ground can carry is conveyed by the following table:

Often there is also a market for the boughs from cut trees or misshapen ones. These bring as high as four dollars per hundred pounds. Christmas tree crops are planted in early spring, usually in generations a year or two apart. Be sure to heel-in your hundreds of seedlings as soon as you get them home, and water them well. Carry into the field, with their rootlets kept soaked in a bucket, only as many as you can plant on that trip.

The quickest way to open the ground is to plow spaced furrows, but doing so may provide rodents with runways, which you will regret. More laborious but safer is to "scalp" your planting spots with a mattock, cutting out sods at least six inches square. After their first year, be prepared to weed around your seedlings; after their fourth, to shear and prune them; after their sixth, eighth, and tenth years to spray, and to "finish" them with more shaping. Pamphlets on the culture and care of Christmas trees are among the most popular publications of the Conservation departments of States where they can be grown. From which fact, take this warning: almost everywhere the markets are glutting, or soon will be. In Michigan, for example, as against 1,205,000 trees sold in 1957, about 30,000,000 were reported maturing for 1962. Perhaps only half of these will reach market, and only the best half of that half actually be sold. More than in most tree lines, and nowadays increasingly, in Christmas trees only top quality pays off.