Christmas tree farmer: ‘We are definitely seeing the impact of climate change’

What I Do: Karen Morton is a Christmas tree farmer at Killakee Christmas Tree Farm

Our farm is nestled in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains. It’s a bit challenging for farming, but it gives you incredible views right across Dublin. My husband was involved in the scouts growing up, and sold Christmas trees. He was fortunate to have a bit of land, and he decided to plant some trees.

When I met him, the trees were babies. We hatched a plan to offer people the experience to come and pick their own Christmas tree. That will be 20 years ago next year.

The work is seasonal, so we can fit it around other things, but there is something to be done all year round. Over the summer you are pruning to make sure the trees get that really perfect Christmas tree shape everybody is looking for.

For me the work starts in September, when you start planning for the upcoming season. This year we opened our doors on November 24th – there is always demand for a tree on the day of the Late Late Toy Show. It can be a little bit early for a fresh tree, but everybody’s different and houses have different temperatures.


From then on, it’s 24-7, all hands on deck. The children all help out. Ciara (16) bakes cookies. Jamie (14) likes the social media stuff, so he’s my TikTok manager and he’s great on the booking system. My youngest Max (12) is a total farmer, just like his dad. He loves lifting the trees, trimming and netting them. My dad comes up from Limerick every year and manages the car park. My husband’s parents are nearby, so the whole family is involved.

It’s very exciting to see the first bookings come in. I’m amazed to see how organised people are. They will create a lovely day around picking their tree. They’ll come dressed up in their Christmas gear and they might be going to see Santa on the same day. We try to give them joy and happiness.

People can pick a tree themselves from our forest and we also have precut trees. We do trees up to 18ft, but it’s up to 8ft for a typical Irish home.

Nordmann Fir is by far the most popular Christmas tree in Ireland. It’s really bushy, full with branches from top to bottom. We do noble fir, too, it’s more of a silvery-blue and fragrant. It has very firm branches; brilliant for heavy baubles.

The tradition around December 8th is still a very real thing. Both weekends either side of that are the peak every year.

Some people pick the bushiest tree you can imagine and you’d wonder: how will they even get it in their front door? We’ve had five people on either side of the netting machine trying to haul it through. Putting a tree in the boot or on the roof: we’re dab hands at this point.

Some people will come with a van. We had someone who had to put the roof of their convertible down to fit the tree in the back. There is always a way.

When things are busy, it feels magical: you would just love to bottle it and have it last longer. When the choir is there and the fire is going, there is a real buzz about the place.

You get to know people over the years. You hear how everything has been for them over the past year. I really love that part.

It’s a short, intense period of time and you just run on adrenaline. But everybody is happy and you just feed off that. We’ve got better over the years at getting as much help as possible.

From December 16th, we start to welcome the eastern Europeans or people in the Russian Orthodox church, who celebrate their Christmas in January. The gate will be buzzing on December 24th with people still looking for a tree.

When it’s over, you are absolutely exhausted. The last thing you want to think about is cooking on Christmas Day, but somehow it happens.

The biggest challenge is the weather. Last year we had two snow days, which were beautiful but very challenging when you want to safely welcome people to a farm on the side of a hill.

We are definitely seeing the impact of climate change. You need a couple of good hard frosts before you harvest the trees. They need to be dormant; that’s ideal. Otherwise, when the tree is in a nice warm Irish house, it thinks it can start to grow again and it sheds.

There’s a perception that cutting a real Christmas tree is bad for the environment. Artificial trees are being shipped in from China, they are made of plastic and are going to end up in landfill. If people didn’t buy real Christmas trees, they wouldn’t be grown. Every acre of Christmas trees provides clean air for up to 18 people a day. They are recyclable too. For every tree we cut, we will replant at least one in spring.

Before I had children, our Christmas tree was probably the last tree left, but the kids now keep nagging us: “Please can we go pick out our tree before all the nice ones are gone?” It can be a family battle trying to decide.

We’ll put ours up around December 8th. We’ll often put up a couple because we can. We’re spoilt for choice. We can have the pick of the crop.

In conversation with Joanne Hunt