Archive for Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Christmas tree farm decked out for business

November 17, 1999

From taking root in 1976, the Wilderson tree farm has grown to 18 acres upon which an estimated 12,000 to 13,000 Christmas trees now grow.

The tree farm began as a project for David Wilderson when he was a high school freshman.

His parents, Charles and Jane Wilderson, took over the operation of the farm in the late 1980s.

It's been a good business, Charles Wilderson said.

"The tree farm paid for the last three years of our son's education at K-State."

From the time a seedling tree is planted, it takes from eight to 10 years to grow a Christmast tree to maturity, Wilderson said.

During some years, depending on the weather, the seedlings do better than others.

"This year we planted 1,250 trees," Wilderson said.

"They did really good in the spring until the middle of June. Then in July and August, a lot of the baby trees didn't make it. Out of 1,250 trees, we lost about 500."

In 1998, the Wildersons planted 1,000 trees and lost 100, good odds for a tree grower in Kansas, he said.

The first year is always the hardest on the trees, he said.

"They do better in the second year after they develop a tap root," Wilderson said.

Although it sounds like a lot of work, Wilderson said when it comes to operating a Christmas tree farm, his favorite time of the year is planting season.

"I love to plant new seedlings," Wilderson said. "We plant them all by hand, seven feet apart in a 10-inch-deep hole."

The Wildersons grow three kinds of trees on their farm. The Scotch pines are known for their short needles, the Austrian pines for their long needles and the white pines for their soft needles, Wilderson said, adding that their most popular-selling tree is the Scotch pine.

Wilderson, who is retired from the oil and gas industry, said he's doing now exactly what he likes to do: "Growing Christmas trees."

One of the things he likes about the farm is the opportunity to work with the teenagers hired to help.

Of course extra help is required during the planting season, and for trimming the trees in the summer. During the Christmas season, 15 to 18 teenagers are hired to help run the business.

"For a lot of the kids, this is their first job," Wilderson said. "I guide them and teach them how to work with customers. If you don't have customers, you won't last long in any business."

He also likes having schools and families bring children to the tree farm.

"The kids get a chance to see the trees and run around," Wilderson said. "It's a family tradition for many of them. I get a lot of pleasure out of that."

From late November through the first half of December, the tree farm will bustle with visitors and activity. Each year more customers return, thanks in part to a personalized letter Wilderson sends to all of them.

His goal for the season? This time it's to sell 1,000 trees, which would make it the farm's best year ever.

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