Get Real at an Illinois Christmas Tree Farm - Illinois Farm Bureau Partners Get Real at an Illinois Christmas Tree Farm - Illinois Farm Bureau Partners

Go Green and Get Real at an Illinois Christmas Tree Farm

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Rena Welch, left, and Judy Dampman, right, make wreaths at the Dollinger Christmas Tree Farm near Shannon. The farm does a brisk wreath business and has a gift shop onsite as well. Photo by Daniel Grant.

A growing number of Illinoisans want to return to their roots and are opting for the experience of picking out and cutting a real Christmas tree at tree farms across the state.

“People are so anxious to get out and do things with their family and go outside,” says Janie Dollinger on the family’s farm in northwest Illinois. “I recently had one customer who said she came out because she had such good memories of getting a tree with her family when she was young.”

Ned Dollinger started the Christmas tree farm at Lake Carroll nearly 65 years ago, and his son, John, planted the first trees on the current site in 1971, where they now grow fir, spruce and pine trees.

John and Janie’s son, Mark, and daughter-in-law, Shanna, continued the tradition with their sons, Cooper and Maddex, as they branched out and planted about 10 to 12 acres of trees in a nearby field.

“It’s fun. I still enjoy it. It gives me something to do,” says John, 75. “Our grandchildren help. It works well.”

Illinois Christmas tree farm

John Dollinger shows off some of the family’s trees on his 40-acre Christmas tree farm in Carroll County. His father started growing trees in 1956 and John has continued the tradition at the current location since 1971. Photo by Daniel Grant.

See more: 9 Fun Facts About Christmas Trees

Keep It Fresh

Whether you cut your tree or select a pre-cut one, Ryan Pankau, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, recommends some simple tips for keeping your Christmas tree fresh:

  • Put your newly cut or pre-cut tree inside your car, not outside, when transporting. “As soon as that plant is severed from the base, it’s starting to dry out, it’s starting to desiccate,” says Pankau, who has also worked as a forester and arborist. “All that wind blowing across those needles, it’s really going to speed up that desiccation process.”
  • Recut the base before you bring your tree inside. There’s very much sap at that cut end,” says Pankau. “Recut that. Sap hardens up and it clogs that conductive tissue that would otherwise draw in some water.”
  • Keep a clear path for watering and do so faithfully. “Leave a nice route to get water to it,” says Pankau. “I’ve seen folks use a variety of things, from a funnel to get in there around the presents to just your basic plant watering can.”
Illinois Christmas tree farm

Some Christmas tree farms have a limited number of cut-your-own trees every year. Janie Dollinger says growing demand for larger trees in recent years requires the tree farmers to keep a close eye on inventory to allow trees to grow and meet requests in future years for taller Christmas trees. Photo by Daniel Grant.

In addition to Christmas trees, the Dollinger farm sells popcorn grown locally by a neighbor as part of an FFA project and constructs and sells hundreds of wreaths each season. They even keep detailed records of wreath orders for customers who want the same specifications for their wreaths every year. Their recipe for the farm’s famous hot apple cider also has fans calling all hours of the day, so they posted it on their website.

Another plus to buying your tree at an Illinois Christmas tree farm? Real trees are recyclable and renewable, as promoted on the Dollingers’ sign near the entrance of their farm.

To find an Illinois farm where you can cut your own Christmas tree this year, take a look at the Illinois Christmas Tree Association’s map.

Podcast: Hear more from tree farmer Janie Dollinger and forester/arborist Ryan Pankau with University of Illinois Extension on this Partners podcast.

– By Daniel Grant and Mike Orso

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