HAZEL GREEN—Tucked away in a little valley along the Illinois-Wisconsin state border, the Stangl Tree Farm provides a fresh-cut option for Christmas tree shoppers.
The tree farm, located at 1632 Sinsinawa Road, Hazel Green, started as a corn field with marshy spots.
“It wasn’t ideal for farming,” Glen Stangl, who maintains the tree farm with his family, said. “Then dad started a construction business and it wasn’t worth the time and effort to farm. He planted a small Christmas tree patch on 40 acres. He planted some hardwoods, too, for conservation. People started to see the Christmas trees and asked if they could cut one.”
The original tree plot was planted in the spring of 1978 with a tree planter. Now the family plants new seedlings each spring to replace those harvested or damaged the previous year. They plant approximately 500 to 1,000 new trees each year.
“Not all grow and not all become full Christmas trees,” Glen said as he pointed out a tree damaged by a buck rubbing his antlers on it.
They have narrowed the varieties of trees on the farm due to susceptibility to bugs and diseases that require extra maintenance or may kill the trees. Now they plant mostly Norway spruce and Canaan fir.
“We stick to those two,” Glen said. “That’s what most people seem to want. We have some white cedar, too. A few people come every year for them.”
The tree farm requires year-round maintenance. The new trees are planted by hand in the spring. With the rows so narrow with full-grown trees, getting large equipment in to assist with planting is nearly impossible. The family mows between the rows a few times during the summer to keep the weeds down. Then, in July, several family members work on trimming the trees with a machete or hedge trimmer.
“If we don’t cut them back, they will look odd,” Glen said. “We cut the excess growth and give them more of a traditional Christmas tree shape.”
He said having multiple people trimming the trees gives some variety in the shaping. They all have their own style so the trees aren’t all shaped exactly the same.
Some people like the wild look,” Glen said. “There is no perfect tree. It is what you make of it.”
He said there are things you can do to improve your tree’s appearance. He recommends watering the tree daily after it is cut and not allowing the base to dry out. The color will improve as the tree absorbs water.
“The pre-cut trees are often cut months before Christmas,” Glen said. “The fresh cut trees will last much longer in your home, as longas you keep them watered.”
Glen recommended families looking for bigger trees to come earlier in the season, as they take longer to grow and are harder to find.
“We don’t have an unlimited supply,” Glen said. “Our busiest weeks are the week after Thanksgiving and the following week. Weather really drives the sale of trees.”
He said the idea is to grow the trees as quickly as possible to replenish the supply. It takes approximately seven to 10 years for a tree to mature to 5 feet. The trees are planted 4-5 feet apart.
“Fir is a slow-growing tree,” Glen said. “The first few years they don’t appear to be doing much, but then they’ll have a big growth spurt each year after their roots are established.”
He said the trees are on their own after they are planted. They rely on Mother Nature to provide the nutrients needed to grow. The family doesn’t provide any additional water after the trees are planted.
He said they see some customers who want to choose their tree before Thanksgiving, but most wait until December. He said they don’t typically sell trees during the deer hunting season because most of the family hunts.
The family’s construction business is located at the same property, meaning someone is typically around.
“People can come by whenever,” Glen said. “Someone is usually here. It’s mostly a weekend thing, though.”
He said his nephews help out on the weekends.
“It is cut your own,” Glen said. “If people need help, we are willing to help them.”
When they started selling the trees, they charged $10 each. The price is now $40.
“We try to keep the price down and still keep a good supply,” Glen said. “Some families have purchased a tree every year since we started selling them. Everyone has a different way of doing it, too. Some will be here five minutes. Others will be here two hours.”
They even had a man ask if he could set up something special to propose to his girlfriend. He had good results.
“It’s fun to see people come for their tree,” Glen said. “It is really a social thing.”
Glen’s mother, Evelyn Stangl, still resides at the property. She has four sons: Glen, Steve, Jerry and George; and 19 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.