Family Business

No faking it: The art of growing a real Christmas tree

The Kavanagh family has been selling trees since the 1950s.

Irish Christmas Trees's Photos - Irish Christmas Trees | Facebook Christy with one of his award-winning trees. Facebook Facebook

CHRISTY KAVANAGH IS one of Ireland’s leading Christmas tree growers. His business, Kavanagh Christmas Trees, produces trees sold throughout Ireland, as well as the UK and France.

The tree farm is located in Glendarragh in the Wicklow Mountains. He took over the family business from his father after studying horticulture at college.

Kavanagh recalled watching his father, who began growing trees on a small scale in the 1950s, when he was younger:

He’d collect the seed, treat it and mow it. There was a lot of fascination of when these tiny green Christmas trees – 1/2 inch tall – popped out of the ground.

It takes 12-14 years to grow a full-sized Christmas tree. They are kept in a nursery for four years, before being planted outdoors for a further 8-10 years. Kavanagh said the trees grow just one inch in their first year.

In the run up to Christmas, he can work up to 18 hours a day.

I get up at 6am to have everything ready for the park at 6.45am. Then it’s just chaos until 11 or 12 at night.

In 2014 the farm delivered 4,000 trees to Northern Ireland and 1,000 to France. They sell about 8,000 trees each year, the most popular of which are  7 – 9 foot.

The farm is located 900 feet above sea level, providing perfect growing conditions for their award-winning Noble Firs and Nordmann Firs

Over the years, Kavanagh’s trees have been displayed everywhere from Leinster House to College Green and the Late Late Toy Show.

A family affair

It’s a real family business with his wife Kathleen running the office and their children – Niamh and Conor – helping out too, with smaller jobs like bud picking and pulling weeds. Kavanagh said he enjoys “every minute” of his job, but isn’t sure if he’d like his children to take over the farm.

I don’t think I’d like to see the children doing it, it’s a hard job. It’s very very tough and the hours that you do are savage: 16-18 a day.

Kavanagh has named fields on the farm after Niamh and Conor so they “take pride” in the family business and, being a little competitive, like to look after their own patch.

In previous years, the Kavanaghs and other tree growers had to deal with thieves targeting their farms. However, he said the gardaí have been “a great support” and increased patrolling – on the ground and via helicopter – has meant no trees have been stolen this year.

Don’t fake it

Kavanagh is a member of the Irish Christmas Tree Growers Association (ICTG) – a group that promotes the benefits of buying a real tree.

He said a real tree can be mulched and be put back into the ground, whereas fake trees are usually imported are often made from crude oil and metal. “Crude oil is non-renewable and can last for 1 million years in a landfill,” he noted, urging people to choose a real tree this Christmas.

Irish Christmas Trees's Photos - Irish Christmas Trees | Facebook Facebook Facebook

On 6 December, ICTG donated 500 trees to raise funds for the Jack and Jill Foundation. Four-foot trees were sold for €16, the equivalent of one hour of home nursing care for a sick baby.

First published 9.15am

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