Christmas tree farms are rare on the prairie, but they do exist
The labor intensive nature of the work, the length of time it takes for an evergreen tree in North Dakota to grow to a saleable height, and the competition from “big box” stores are deterrents to raising Christmas trees, said Tom Claeys, North Dakota state forester.
TOWNER, N.D. — Thirty years ago, Jerome Suchor planted 200 evergreen seedlings on a plot of prairie at the edge of Towner with a vision of growing a Christmas tree farm.
In 2022, Suchor Prairie Pines will have 1,500 trees in various stages of maturation. Each holiday season, Suchor sells about 50 trees, and then, in the spring, removes the stamps and plants seedlings to replace them.
“It’s one big cycle,” Suchor said.
Christmas tree farms in North Dakota are rare. The labor intensive nature of the work, the length of time it takes for an evergreen tree in North Dakota to grow to a saleable height, and the competition from “big box” stores are deterrents to raising Christmas trees , said Tom Claeys, North Dakota state forester.
“There aren’t many Christmas growers in North Dakota these days. He’s one of the few.” Claeys said. “In Towner, Jerome has a market, and he has provided service to folks in the past, and they tend to repeat.”
Suchor isn’t in the business to make a lot of money; he just enjoys nurturing his own evergreen trees when he’s not at work at the state nursery and visiting with the customers who come to the farm to buy the trees.
“It’s my hobby,” he said.
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Mary Podoll’s hobby also is growing and selling Christmas trees at her farm north of Bismarck, North Dakota.
She planted Black Hills spruce and Scotch pine trees on one-half acre in 2011 and has been selling them each holiday season for the past five years. Podoll, the North Dakota state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, likes the sight of several thousand trees and the wildlife that live among them.
Suchor has a total of about 50 years raising evergreens personally and professionally. He started working part-time at the Towner State Nursery in the 1970s when he was in high school and in 1985 moved to Walhalla, North Dakota, where he worked full time for the North Dakota Forest Service under Larry Klotchman, who was North Dakota state forester for 32 years.
“He had a big Christmas tree plantation. I learned from him,” Suchor said.
In 1986 Suchor returned to Towner to work for the Towner State Nursery. Six years later, Suchor founded his evergreen farm on 2 ½ acres of sandy loam ground he owns at the edge of the city of Towner.
“Sandy loam, that’s what they love,” Suchor said.
He planted his first crop of evergreens — Scotch pine and Colorado Blue Spruce — in 1992. Seven holiday seasons later, he harvested his first crop. About a dozen years ago, Suchor stopped raising Scotch pine trees because the deer damaged or destroyed so many.
“The Scotch pine definitely is candy to them,” he said. He substituted Black Hill spruce for the Scotch pine.
Other than damage from the deer, raising evergreens is relatively hassle-free, Suchor said. He plants the trees in the spring, fertilizes and waters them well, keeps the weeds at bay, and leaves them to grow.
If the Suchors have some evergreen trees left over in the spring from the previous holiday season, they sell them to customers who want to replant them on their property.
“The first priority is my Christmas trees,” Suchor said.
Podoll schedules appointments for her customers so she can give each of them a unique experience when they buy a tree.
“My motto is making memories,” Podoll said. “In my family, we have memories of my dad taking us out to the farm and having that cedar to carry in, the smell — and the mess.
“I load them on a wagon and I use my 4-wheeler or tractor to take them out to the farm. They get to choose the tree,” she said.
Once at the tree farm, she either cuts down the tree or allows the customer to cut it, then they head back to the house where she gives them a gift bag with hot chocolate mix, cookies and a simple craft.
Customers come from Towner and a 70-mile radius of there to buy trees from Suchor.
“They like a live Christmas tree,” he said. Many of the people who purchase the trees are return customers, and he now is selling to some of the children who came to the farm with their parents years ago.
Customers can cut their own trees or pick out one for Suchor to cut. Customers who want to walk through the tree farm to choose their tree before the weather turns cold can designate the tree they want and Suchor tags it. He cuts the tree when they call him and say they’re ready to haul it home.
“It gives me pleasure to give people a live tree during Christmas," he said. “It smells really nice when you get inside. “
His wife, Kristi, enjoys seeing the delighted families choosing their trees.
“The best part is the families that come out and people bring their kids and sleds,” she said.
Information: Reach Suchor at: 701-537-3390. Podoll at 701-391-7759.