Zach Hannum is one of the only people growing Montana Christmas trees.
After seeing farms in the Flathead struggle to grow firs, the type of tree in highest demand, he saw an opportunity. Now as the owner of Montana Nursery and Landscape Supply, Hannum grows his trees, sells them to wholesalers across the state and sells them himself at the nursery in Helena.
“A lot of people like a Montana grown tree,” he said.
Hannum previously specialized in nursery stock farming where he would grow trees as large as 48 feet and dig them up alive to be delivered to developers or builders who didn’t want to start from scratch by planting a sapling. But in 1990, he planted his first crop of Christmas trees on his land in Trout Creek in Sanders County.
“We get 26 inches of rain a year,” he said. “The only two counties that get that moisture is Lincoln and Sanders County.”
He’s navigated obstacles along the way like when to shear a tree or grazing elk forcing him to fence his crop.
“Elk ate them down to the wood,” he said. “It’s like candy.”
Hannum says he’s the only one in the state growing Fraser firs and Grand firs.
“They smell good, look good and hold their needles,” he said.
Now Hannum said the Christmas tree season is one of his favorite parts of his business. He gets to meet families and be a part of their tradition.
“I get to know the customers a lot better this time of year,” he said. “They’re happy. Kids run around and you can sit by the fire.”
It takes about seven years before a tree is ready to be cut. Hannum said he’s set to sell out of his 350 trees this year, although he’s gone back to Trout Creek before to cut more. He remembers one year he went back with a friend for a semi-load that they sold right off the back of the truck.
Montana Nursery and Landscape Supply sells mostly Fraser and Grand firs, a few Scotch pines and a few wild-grown Douglas firs. Trees typically start at $30 and go up to $115 for an 11-foot tree. Hannum’s trees are cut at the last possible moment. He said trees that are brought from out-of-state can be cut as early as mid-October.
“We not only have a better tree, we cut it later.”