Richards Christmas
       Tree Farm
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Name:          Richards Christmas Tree Farm

Location:     849 State Road                     

                      Mapleton, Maine  04757

Phone:          207-764-6093




Hours:         Seasonal beginning Nov. 15

                     through Dec. 20

                     10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Products and Services:

-family-owned Christmas tree farm

-horse-drawn sleigh rides during first two

weekends in December

-Balsam and Fraser Fir Christmas trees

-wholesale and retail


-kissing balls

-swags and garland


What Makes the Richards Christmas Tree Farm Unique?

The use of evergreen trees to celebrate the holiday season can be documented as far back as the sixteenth century.  Some historians assert that the custom began even hundreds of years earlier. Placing small candles on  a Christmas tree for illumination dates back to the seventeenth century. Up until the mid 1900’s, most Americans cut their own trees in nearby forests.  The emergence of Christmas tree farms took hold in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Today ninety-eight percent of Christmas trees in the United States are grown on managed tree farms or plantations.  It has become quite a significant agricultural industry since, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are over 15,000 Christmas tree farms in our country with sales of over twenty-five million trees each year.

For individuals not familiar with Christmas tree operations, the incredible amount of work which is involved in running a tree farm may come as a surprise.  Some people have this pre-conceived notion that the Christmas tree farmer digs a hole, plants a seedling, and waits for it to grow.  A visit with the Richards family who run the Richards Christmas Tree Farm in Mapleton, or with any other of the 120 to 144 members of the Maine Christmas Tree Growers Association,  can soon set you straight.  Growing Christmas trees, like other farm endeavors, presents many challenges.

Gaye and Frank Richards, and their daughter, Heather Copeland, grow balsam and Fraser fir Christmas trees.  Balsam trees are native to the northeastern part of our country and known for their pleasant fragrance.  Frank’s father and mother, Gary and Mary Etta Richards, had started growing balsam, white pines, and Canaan fir trees on the Mapleton property in 1982.  Frank and Gaye purchased the farm operation from them in 1999, and concentrated on growing balsam trees at first.  They introduced Fraser fir trees in 2001. Fraser fir trees are an exotic species restricted to the southeastern Appalachian Mountains in parts of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

The Richards’ tree plantation now consists of thousands of trees in six different locations, some of which are grown on leased land. They sell their trees wholesale to a few growers in the state and also have them trucked to out-of-state tree dealers in New York and Massachusetts. The Richards conduct a retail operation on their farm from approximately November 15 through December 20, where visitors can purchase a tree that has already been cut or roam their farm and choose a tree to their liking and cut it themselves.  Some customers actually make arrangements to tag their tree in August before a college student in their family goes away to school.  During the holiday season the Richards also sell a large variety of wreaths, centerpieces, kissing balls, and swags, that they make with the assistance of two workers.

It can take up to ten years for a Christmas tree to mature.  To grow a marketable Christmas tree, a full bushy symmetrical shape is desired.  To achieve that classic shape each tree must be trimmed annually. Trees that have not been pruned properly can result in considerable gaps in the shape of the tree and such gaps would make the tree unsuitable for purchase. When you have thousands of trees as the Richards do, the amount of time needed to prune each tree that is in the stage of needing to be trimmed is overwhelming.  The repetitive motion and constant reaching  and bending can do a number on a person’s back and shoulders.  Make no doubt about it, trimming trees is extremely arduous work.

The responsibilities of growing and caring for Christmas trees involves commitments throughout the year.  Gaye explained that they attempt to begin the planting of new trees each May.  They plant many balsam trees and Fraser fir trees each year.  After planting the trees, they spray herbicides to keep the weeds under control.  Fertilizing all the trees then follows.  The little trees are fertilized by hand. The cones must be picked and removed from all the Fraser fir trees.  Gaye explained that if these soft fir cones are not picked, then the energy of the tree will be directed towards the development of the seed.  Some trees can have as many as 100 to 300 fir cones! June is the month dedicated to mowing.

Around  July 4, the trimming of trees begins. Only one leader is selected to remain on the top of the tree.  In mid-July, the Richards employ about eight local students to help with the shearing that takes place by hand.  In mid-August, some of the workers who are skilled with the state-of-the-art trimming machine help operate that.  This innovative machine was designed by Jim Bouchard of Van Buren.  After the students return to school, Gaye and Heather continue working outside through October until all the trimming is complete. 

By the end of October, it’s time to order all the wreath supplies and move all the farm equipment in the lower area of the barn to the outside and then transport all the wreath equipment from the upstairs in the barn to the downstairs area.  During the November 11 weekend,  the harvesting of the trees for the wholesale orders begins.  Gaye explained that they try to hire family members to assist with the baling of the trees for the wholesale orders each year. Shipping of all the trees ends around November 21-22.  And then the retail operation begins in earnest through around December 20.  In January and February, attention is focused on all the accounting, taxes, and paperwork. 

A whole array of challenges can arise on a Christmas tree farm.  Weather can wreak havoc.  The roots of the tree can be damaged by exceptionally wet years without good drainage and by rodents such as squirrels.  Abnormal drought years can cause dieback. Hail storms and ice storms can affect the health of a tree.  The munching of branches by deer and moose can transform a tree into an hourglass shape in no time at all. Wild turkeys and certain species of birds such as the pine grosbeak can consume all the plant buds. Crows and robins that land on the upper branches often end up bouncing and causing the branches to break. As in an apple orchard, excessive weed and undergrowth can compete for nutrients and water in the soil and also harbor insects.  Disease and insects are other threats.

Larger Christmas tree farms rely on quite a bit of equipment. The Richards have three small tractors and two large ones.  They have a mechanized planter, industrial sprayer, fertilizing and mowing equipment, a mechanized trimmer, and an assortment of clippers, knives, safety chaps, work gloves, etc. A special cutter with a 28” blade is used to cut the trees. An expensive baling machine (that often seems to need fixing) for the wholesale operation is used to wrap the trees to prevent damage to the branches in transport.  When the trees from a particular area have all been sold, the Richards need to plow the field many times until it can be seeded with timothy.  Frank uses an old potato digger to scoop out the stumps and workers often sign up to earn a little money in helping to remove the stumps from the field.

The Richards Christmas Tree Farm has established some special traditions.  For the past seven years they have donated seventy-five wreaths pictured at the Presque Isle Fairmont Cemetery on Route One. Since 1991, they have offered horse-pulled wagon rides on Saturday and Sunday during the first two weekends of December.  They have a semi-retired team of horses at their farm and they also hire out two other teams of draft horses from Chad and Charlie Putnam. Visitors can ride the wagon through the plantation and choose a tree and have it wrapped in netting and brought back to the farmstand where they can enjoy some hot cider. Channel 8 WAGM TV posted a video on the wagon rides which included a segment about Lucas Richards actually proposing to his fiancee on the wagon ride in 2013.

Members of the Maine Christmas Tree Association donate three hundred trees annually to the National Christmas Tree Association’s Trees for Troops program.  Jim Corliss, who owns Piper Mountain Christmas trees in Newburg, Maine, has spearheaded this project for many years.  The Maine Christmas Tree Association also donates ten ornaments to go with each tree.  They always welcome the donation of handmade unbreakable ornaments.

Gaye Richards is presently serving as the President of the Maine Christmas Tree Association, and her daughter, Heather Copeland, is serving as the Executive Secretary. This non-profit organization was incorporated in 1962, to promote real Christmas trees and share information about fresh Maine Christmas trees and wreath products with its members. There are between 120 to 144 members who are family farms that produce real Christmas trees and wreath products for retail, wholesale, mail order, or choose’n cut operations. They host two meetings each year and hold educational classes on various topics such as invasive insects, disease, fertilizers, pesticides, growing techniques, and recycling efforts.  They publish a Maine Christmas Tree Association newsletter and distribute a Christmas Tree Magazine and the Christmas Tree News.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to visit the Richards Christmas Tree Farm in Mapleton and observe the Richards family trimming, planting, fertilizing, or spraying their trees, probably realizes in a very short period of time that their farm operation involves a “treemendous” amount of work!  Just about everywhere you look there are trees for as far as you can see. Caring for all the trees keeps this Maine Christmas tree farm family busy throughout most of the year.  Purchasing and enjoying a Christmas tree is a seasonal activity.  Growing and caring for Christmas trees involves a year-round commitment of many years. It involves a whole lot more than just  digging a hole and planting a seedling.

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(Photo courtesy of the Richards Christmas Tree Farm)

Gaye Richards (on left) and daughter Heather Copeland.

Horse-drawn sleigh rides take place during the first two weekends in December.

Frank Richards explains the workings of the state-of-the-art tree trimmer designed by the

Bouchard Family.

(Photo courtesy of the Richards Christmas Tree Farm)