Coring-injection method of applying compost to Christmas tree plantations

2013 Annual Report for FNE12-764

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2012: $13,491.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Fred Salo
Northeast Kingdom Christmas Trees

Coring-injection method of applying compost to Christmas tree plantations


Soil health has become an issue on Christmas tree plantations in the Northeast. Some soil is unhealthy or has become unhealthy because the organic quality of the soil was destroyed during land clearing and by “rotational problems” caused by continued planting of trees on the same acre of land depleting the organic content of the soil.

Poor soil health not only causes unhealthy trees, but results in  the overuse of chemical fertilizer to compensate for it. No matter how much fertilizer is applied to the unhealthy  trees  the dark green color is lacking,  slow growth is evident  and soil born diseases such as Armelleria root rot runs rampant killing more trees  than normal. The end result of these issues shows up in the profitability of the grower.

 I proposed the following field trial using what I call the  “coring injection method of applying compost” to show  all Christmas tree growers that it is “doable”  to apply compost to an existing  block of trees that has trees of different ages growing. An application should make economic sense because it results in higher quality trees, less die back and by reducing reliance on chemical fertilizers.  And will be friendly to the environment and their community

This is not an attempt to grow trees organically or revolutionize how trees are grown. Rather a way to improve soil and tree health on some areas of the farm.  Also to address some of the environmental issues that farmers are facing today . These issues, whether actual or perceived, just don’t go away on their own. Letting the community know that composting is going on should have a positive affect.

Since starting this project I have learned a lot about compost but make no claim of being an expert. My attempt is to prove that it is doable to apply compost to areas on the farm that have “struggling” trees growing at different stages and sizes, and that enough positive results will be seen that will justify the expense.

  * Armillaria ?       

  *Planted too deep ?

 * Too much water?

* Not enough water?

* Soil health ?

Year two has been very active in an attempt to prove that adding compost to an existing parcel of trees by using the Coring injection method is doable. Certain positive results  recorded from testing  tend to substantiate this fact.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Jeff Carter, Agronomist, UVM Extension , project advisor remained very active in 2013. Jeff gathered soil samples from trial block #1 and submitted them to Cornell University for Soil Health testing. He then compiled all the test data received from Cornell and from the testing done on all test blocks by farm personnel ,  then made comparison charts showing changes from year one to year two. All this was then used to create a final Power Point presentation used for the Farm meeting held in September.

Robert Schindelbeck, Cornell University,Soil Health Labs was a quest speaker at the September Farm meetiing.  His presentation was not only about soil health test techniques  but  included field demonstrations as well.

. The Christmas tree inventory acres in production remained  constant.  4500 Balsam and Fraser Fir were harvested for the wholesale trade. New plantings were lite because of adverse weather conditions in the spring. Between early warm weather, snow ,rain several  late frosts there was no window of opportunity to plant new trees.

 Year  2013 Notes:

1. Snow cover was lite with most of the winter having about 6” max.

Early warm weather, then very cold with a 6”snow late May. Lots of cold rainy days

2.   2 frosts on the Balsam     Fraser narrowly escaping a frost on the 18th/19th of June

3.Twig aphid very heavy

4. June 21st showing “fir Fern Rust” or some additional needle cast caused by excess moisture. The farm soils are well drained so no actual die back from water was noted.


Year two of the project required only regular cultural practices on the test blocks. No additional aerating or adding compost required. Annual  testing was accomplished.

The major part of the project was a Farm/Field day held on September 14th.  Growers from five of the Northeast  SARE States attended the all day event.

Research Trials Field Day~ Soil Health

September 14, 2013 at

Salomaa Tree Plantation, in Stannard, Vermont. This was a day long workshop going over the second year results of

composting trials. Sponsored by a SARE grant to investigate coring injection method of applying compost to Christmas trees.

Soil health has become an issue on Christmas tree plantations in the Northeast. Some soil is unhealthy or has become

unhealthy because the organic quality of the soil was

destroyed during land clearing and by “rotational problems” caused by continued planting of trees on the same acre of land depleting the organic content of the soil.

The morning included speakers on the research project it-self presentations on compost, soil health, soil testing, weeds, soil borne diseases, and demon-strations of the coring compost method. In the afternoon field stations were led by leading experts from UVM and Cornell. 

PRESS RELEASE                               9/18/13

A  farm meeting,  illustrating the compost by Coring Injection method, was held at Salomaa Tree Plantation in Stannard, Vermont , Saturday ,September 14th. Growers from six northeast SARE States were present for this all day event.

Fred Salo, Grower and the SARE grant recipient, gave opening remarks and then presented the project in general, with specifics on test results to date. With the help of Jeff Carter,UVM extension,Agronimist (also a tree grower), advisor to the project,  discussed the outcome of the composted trial blocks as opposed to the “control” areas.( As a grower, increased bud set for next year appears significant but because this is a three year project final results will be reserved for after the 2014 testing.)

Then we heard the following guest speakers. From Cornell soil test labs, Robert Schindelbeck demonstrating the most up to date method of testing soil health and lecturing on the importance of caring for your farm soil. It turns out soils are much more delicate than one would think. His passion for the subject will not be forgotten. A great educator! Tom Gilbert, past Executive Director for Highfields Composting, located in Hardwick VT delivered  facts on compost, defining the derivatives of a perfect mix and the other sources that, although may not be complete, act as a good soil additive. He reminded everyone to use caution as to the source to assure no unwanted ingredients. Without question Tom is a leading GURU on the subject.

A big hit was the “Parade” of equipment thru the trees. Greg Crown,employee demonstrated a Classen Core aerating machine that was key to the project. Then the real jewels, two self propelled Top Dresser-Compost Spreaders, made by Ecolawn were  demonstrated by Keith Schuler, sales Manager and Larry Moffett from Precision Works Inc. a distributor from Long Island,NY. No question of the ease of application of compost as opposed to the five gallon bucket brigade actually used for the project.

An addition to the outreach portion of the project  is an invitation to speak at a  NY State Christmas Tree Association late January 2014. This meeting will include Robert Schindelbeck from Cornell speaking on Soil Health.

 All three test blocks were tested using the same guidelines as year one. Adverse weather conditions mentioned made testing more difficult. Frost damage actually stopped the new growth on many of the trees under two feet in height so testing was not possible

Legend of test data collected for SARE FNE 12-764 Salomaa Tree Plantation     3/1/12

“Coring injection method of applying compost to Christmas Trees”

Trunk diameter/caliper-Measured one inch above the ground (inches)

Shoot length-length of a shoot in the barrel (mid height) of the tree (inches)

Bud count-Number of buds on the shoot that we used to measure shoot length

                1: 0-5

                2: 6-10

                3: 11-15

Color-Light/Medium/Dark   Dark probable subjective max is forest green Benjamin Moore  2047-10

Leader length-Length of main leader prior to shearing  more or less than 12 inches

–: less than 12 inches

+: more than 12 inches

Number of leaders-Total number of leaders prior to shearing including leaders from lesser whorls

Leader buds– Number of buds on the main leader prior to shearing

-: less than 10 buds    

: 10 or more buds


Terminal buds-Number of terminal buds on the terminal of the main leader prior to shearing.

 2013 Testing produced no negative results.    The most significant positive results were an increase in bud count and darker green color in the aerated/composted sections compared to the control groups. Increased Bud count will result in increased density next year, which in turn will in all probability l produce a marketable tree sooner.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Reducing the time required will to grow a tree is the saving grace as to the cost to compost.

Compost cost per tree is as follows:


Compost A          48 yards      $1200

Compost B         46 yards        $1840

Trucking    both sources          $800

Labor to apply                          $2489

Rental                                           $718

Lab tests:   soil Cornell            $225                              

         Compost       UVM            $100

Postage                                    $11.35

Gas       farm trucks/tractor   $125.

                                                Total cost:  $7508

                                                3000 trees composted     = $2.50 cost per tree

 Miscellaneous : Other expenses such as signs, buckets ,testing are not included because they are not part of a normal compost application

  Next year is the final year of this project. The decision has been made that, unless visually  we see the need,  only one test block will receive soil health testing and the individual test trees in all blocks  will only be tested for density, bud count on new shoots, color and any new tree dieback noted. The other tests will not produce results that are meaningful to the success or failure of this project.

 The top dressing compost machines demonstrated at our September field day show promise as to the ease of adding compost or other additives to a field of trees. Wet material proved unworkable with the machines but drier worked extremely well.


Jeffrey Carter

[email protected]
Extension Agronomy Specialist
UVM Extension
23 Pond Lane, Suite 300
Middlebury, VT 05753
Office Phone: 8023884969