Gary Thomas, PCTGA summer meeting chair, estimates the growth of young trees on mounded rows. Photo by Sally Colby

by Sally Colby

If there was a perfect place to hold a Christmas tree summer meeting, it would be in a bucolic setting among rolling hills and neatly trimmed trees.

That’s what attendees at the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association (PCTGA) were treated to during the organization’s summer meeting hosted recently in Orwigsburg, PA.

PCTGA Executive Director Lisa Ruggiers said this year’s attendance of 280 was the highest attendance for the meeting in 20 years. She attributed high attendance to interest in seeing the host farm, J.C. Hill Tree Farm, where owner Jeff Hill grows a variety of evergreen and deciduous trees on nearly 1,000 acres. Quite a few attendees traveled from other states, including a grower from Maine who commented that he travels to the Pennsylvania meeting for the high-quality educational content.

Lori Zelesko, events director for PCTGA, noted that with the cancellation of many meetings this past winter, the PCTGA summer meeting allowed attendees from Ohio, New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to obtain necessary credits to update pesticide licenses. Credit sessions covered pesticide formulations and adjuvants, sprayer calibration, pest and disease problems of Christmas trees and growing a better tree (fertilization).

Other sessions included business planning and succession and the H-2A program. During the business meeting, past president Gregg Eshelman was also recognized for his service.

One of the highlights of the meeting was a farm tour that included several educational stops. At one stop, Hill explained why he grows some of his Christmas trees, even those in high elevations, the way he does.

“I decided to go to mounds,” said Hill, discussing tree loss to Phytophthora. “It helps when it’s wet and it helps when it’s dry, but it’s a lot more work to shear and mow. Some places where there’s enough slope, I don’t mound, but water accumulates where it’s flat.” He added that trees thrive on mounds and grow faster. Hill’s crew built a special plow and roller to form mounded rows, which he establishes where ground is flat and without good drainage. Prior to planting, Hill applies composted manure to improve soil structure.

One stop included a field demonstration of PGR application to control leader growth and preserve stem buds. A shearing demonstration compared gas-powered and electric units. During a stop in a field of blue spruce, a demonstration showed the options for colorizing trees to suit just about any taste. Heavy rain prior to the event forced the cancellation of a tree-planting demonstration.

The wagon tour also stopped at Hill’s custom-built tree loading building where trees are brought in after harvest. The operation allows trees to be efficiently unloaded from wagons and dropped to waiting trucks below the dock. Throughout the meeting, attendees had ample time to visit vendors, view Hill’s collection of Massey-Harris tractors and share ideas and challenges.

The 2022 summer meeting of the PCTGA will take place at TLC Tree Farm in Hegins, PA. Learn more at