Finding the perfect Christmas tree

Jerry Apps
Finding the perfect Christmas tree has been a tradition in the Apps family since 1967.

We started the tradition in 1967, the year after we purchased our Roshara Farm.  We have searched for the perfect Christmas tree every year in late November. 

That first year, our kids were five, four, and three. Finding the perfect tree was not a small task.  We began planting pine trees at Roshara in 1966, mostly red pines.  Some years we planted several thousand trees.  It takes about 8-10 years for a pine tree to reach Christmas tree height. So, during those early years we searched among the trees that were self-seeded—meaning nobody planted them. 

During the 1930s, the drought years in much of the country, the Coombes family who owned our farm at that time, planted two long rows of white pine trees to prevent wind erosion. By the 1960s, when we bought the farm, these white pines stood tall and thick, and were dropping white pine seeds on our sandy soil.  Many little white pine trees were now appearing near these now “way too tall for a Christmas tree” white pines.

White pines are beautiful trees.  They have soft, long needles that grow in clusters of five.  But they grow fast and the branches are too far apart for a perfect Christmas tree.  Sometimes there were exceptions, especially when they grew out in the open and had access to more sunlight.

We also have a considerable number of jack pines, which are native to this part of Wisconsin.  They are tough trees, able to withstand drought and whatever weather Mother Nature brings to our farm. They have short, sharp needles.  But not candidates for Christmas trees. And finally, Scotch pine trees grow wild on the farm. They do make nice Christmas trees.

During those early years the kids, with Sue, who was the oldest, leading the way on the Christmas tree hunt. “How about this tree?” Sue would ask, standing by a tree that was many times taller than she was.  “It’s a dumb looking tree,” Steve would say, as Jeff tagged along not saying anything.

And so it would go as we moved from tree to tree, until we found one that the kids agreed would make a decent looking Christmas tree.  We did this for many years, eventually including grandchildren in the hunt. A couple weeks ago, my son-in-law, Paul Bodilly, and I went searching for the perfect tree. By now we had planted more than ten-thousand trees at Roshara.  They were of every size and shape.  So, selecting the “perfect” tree was no small task.

“What about this one?” Paul would say as he stood by a Scotch pine.

 “How does it look on the other side?” I asked.

 “A little thin,” he said, as he began looking for different one. 

And so the afternoon went until Paul had decided on two good looking trees, both Scotch pine.  One was little, one was big. Upon returning home he brought the little one into their house.

“Isn’t the tree a little small,” Sue said with a bit of a concerned look on her face.

Before going too far with his little trick, Paul brought the larger, beautiful tree into the house.  Sue was smiling. The tradition of searching for the perfect tree has remained intact.  Hard to believe that we have been doing this for 55 years.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS:  Searching for the “perfect” Christmas tree is a fun thing to do.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to or contact him