For many people, bringing home and decorating a freshly cut Christmas tree is a memorable tradition each holiday season. In a land so abundant with evergreens, the Northern Wilds offer several options for those looking to find the perfect tree: from tree farms to roadside stands and even hiking in the forest for wild-grown trees.
Doug Hoffbauer is the owner of Farmer Doug, a family farm near Duluth’s Spirit Mountain. In addition to locally grown foods and maple syrup, Hoffbauer first planted Christmas trees in 1987, and together with his son Jesse tends 50 acres of Christmas trees.
“I have a degree in forestry from the U of M and always had an interest in growing things,” Hoffbauer said.
The farm has nine varieties of Christmas trees, predominately balsam fir, and offers both wholesale and choose-and-cut trees. Farmer Doug’s trees can be found at the Duluth Farmer’s Market and at the West Duluth Super One parking lot (beginning November 26). In addition to Farmer Doug’s trees, other members of the Hoffbauer family also provide balsam wreaths: Hoffbauer’s son Derek is the owner of Duluth Flower Farm, which makes holiday balsam wreaths and garlands. The Duluth Flower Farm’s wreaths can be found at Dan’s Feed Bin in Superior, as well as online at: balsamwreath.com.
Farther up the shore, the Surbaugh family also operates a Christmas tree farm. Located on Pike Lake Road in Cook County, the Surbaughs bought the business from longtime Christmas tree farmer Karen Smaby.
“She was a neighbor who had seen our kids grow up, and last year she came to us and said that she was no longer able to operate the tree farm,” said Steve. “She asked if we wanted to operate it on a lease. We acquired the farm in the spring of 2020 and had our first season of sales in the winter.”
Smaby passed away in the summer of 2020, but the Surbaugh family is keeping the tradition of the Christmas tree farm alive with a mix of wholesale and retail sales. Their trees can be found at Holiday in Grand Marais, as well as Isak Hansen’s in Lutsen. Last year, the Surbaughs also opened up a few weekends for people to come to the farm and pick their own tree to cut, announcing dates for tree cutting through local Facebook groups. Steve said that the plan is to do something similar this year, and will announce tree cutting dates in December.
Despite the seasonal nature of sales, Christmas tree farming is a year-round endeavor, from cutting trees in preparation for the holiday season to planting hundreds of seedlings in the spring for future years. Christmas tree farmers also shear trees to keep them growing in a balanced, classic cone shape, and check for trees that are not growing well and may not make it to maturity. While the length of time to maturity varies depending on the tree species, many take 10 years or more to grow from a seedling to Christmas tree-size, making tree farming a long-term commitment.
In addition to tree farms, North Shore residents also have the ability to add a little more adventure into their Christmas tree tradition by cutting a wild tree from the Superior National Forest. Every year the Forest Service offers tree harvesting permits, which allow purchasers to cut one tree from public National Forest land (excluding wilderness areas like the BWCAW). Permits are available online or at a Forest Service office, and permit-holders can enjoy a day of hiking through the beautiful Superior National Forest while hunting for the perfect tree. Permit-holders are encouraged to harvest balsam fir away from roadways and plantation sites. More information can be found online at: recreation.gov/tree-permits.