Review: Christmas Tree Grow Kits and More

Photo of Jonsteen's Christmas Tree grow kit canister.

Here is the ultimate Christmas gift for a young child: a Christmas tree.

Watch it grow with your child through the years, and make it part of your family’s celebration each December.

That’s what my parents did. They grew trees in pots in our backyard — one for each of their sons. Every winter one of the trees was brought inside and decorated to full fanfare.

I’ve been thinking how nice it would be to do the same for my kids. Or hey, you could plant it instead of pot it, and have an outdoor Christmas tree.

Enter the Jonsteen Company, a wholesaler of live tree seedlings and seed grow kits. The business began 17 years ago with a live seedling sold in the visitor center of Muir Woods National Monument. Today, they’re in national parks and many museum gift shops, among other venues. They also have a retail website for you and me.

Jonsteen sells redwood, cypress, pine, maple and oak seedlings (already growing trees). Meanwhile, their seed kits include a few extra options, such as sunflowers, flowering dogwoods, California poppies and Bonsai trees. They even have a Tyrannosaurus-emblazoned canister that touts a “Jurassic Tree.” It’s a Dawn Redwood, a species that dates back to the Mesozoic Era, long thought extinct until its rediscovery in China in the 1940s.

Jonsteen seed grow kit canisters for sunflowers, Christmas trees, Bonsai trees, Venus Fly Trap and one labeled Jurassic Tree.

Now, the name Jonsteen is young by comparison, comprising the two guys who founded the business, Jonathan and Steen. I recently learned that Jonsteen is just 10 minutes from my home, so I packed my daughter in the car and we visited our first tree nursery.

There we were met by Tim, the guy you’ll likely talk to if you e-mail or call the company. He’s Jon’s brother, and he gave us a tour.

Photo of Tim inside the Jonsteen warehouse. He is holding a tube filled with a Giant Sequoia seedling.

That’s Tim shown above, of course.

It’s a cozy operation on 20 acres situated between the Pacific Ocean and redwood forests in northern California. They raise a half-million seedlings across 50 species in their greenhouses every year and will soon be tripling their size “under glass” to grow a greater variety of trees.

Before they moved to their present location 10 years ago, the land had been used as a calla lily farm. Most of the acreage is laying fallow, allowing nature to retake the land. Alder and spruce are taking hold, as well as berries bringing deer and birds. It’s a nice place for a tree nursery is what I’m saying.

Now, about the idea of growing trees from a kit, I’m a natural skeptic. Are they just novelty items sold in museums? Well, if you don’t actually use the kit, yeah. Tim’s response boiled down to: you get out of it what you put into it. He had a much grander way of saying it though:

“The bottom line is the tree. There are a lot of levels kids can relate to. Many people are brought in experiencing nature through the gateway tree, the giant sequoia. It’s fascinating; truly awesome. You just can’t beat nature. It’s giant. It’s even got the word giant in its name. If you go to Sequoia National Park and consider the life of those trees reaching to the stars, you’ll get it.”

In other words, what better way to nurture a child’s interest in nature than to grow a tree? And what better way to kick start that process than to give a tree as a gift?

The Christmas Tree Kit

Jonsteen offers Christmas trees “appropriate to any location in the world.” Well, maybe not Antarctica. You get about 5 seeds for the species you select: Balsam fir, Douglas fir
Serbian spruce, Norway spruce, Jerusalem pine, Giant sequoia or Colorado blue spruce.

The idea is to nurture everything that sprouts to ensure the success of at least one tree.

When I asked Tim for advice on how to select the correct species, his response was simple: “Call or e-mail for advice on a specific tree. We invest in my role, which is heavy into customer service. It’s a priority to keep everyone growing.”

Photo showing what's inside a Christmas Tree kit: printed instructions, a clear plastic canister, a baggie of dirt, a baggie of silica and a baggie of seeds.

The kits are essentially mini-greenhouses. They contain: a capped clear plastic tube, soil, seeds, silica pebbles and instructions. For a sense of scale, that tube is 4.25 inches tall.

After you’ve dampened the soil and arranged the ingredients, the “greenhouse” gets placed in your refrigerator for 20 days to trick the seeds into thinking it’s winter. This is a process called cold stratification. Once out, keep the soil moist and seeds should sprout in 15 to 45 days.

A seedling needs moderate temperatures, so it’s best to wait until spring to begin. When the seedling(s) grow beyond the top of the greenhouse, transplant them into outdoor 2-to-5 gallon pots. “A happy tree can grow more than 1 foot each year,” the instructions state.

When the pot is outgrown, plant the tree in your yard in a sunny location 12 feet from buildings and other trees. That’s the optimal idea.

Knowing that I plan to relive my childhood by keeping our trees potted, I asked Tim for Christmas advice:

“Life indoors is tough on Christmas tree species, so the less time in a heated living area the better. More than three weeks inside is not a good idea. Cool temperatures are best with no direct sun through the window or by heater vents. Long-term container living is quite appropriate for some trees; our home page features the dwarf Alberta spruce [photo] which is a slow grower ideal for long-term life in a container.”

Ding: I called my father and indeed we had dwarf Alberta spruce when I was growing up.

Sprouting Guarantee

Did I say how I learned about Jonsteen? It’s a good story.

I was given a Venus Fly Trap seed kit a few years ago, but it was quickly lost into the distraction that came with the birth of my first child.

When the kit recently resurfaced, I e-mailed the company seeking a copy of the (now lost) care instructions and a guess at whether the seeds might still be viable. Without identifying myself as a blogger, Tim e-mailed the instructions and asked for my address so he could ship me fresh seeds.

It was then, reading the physical address in Tim’s e-mail signature, that I realized the company was nearby, and I had to visit.

The thing that most impressed me on my visit was an old, faded printout tacked to the wall in their workroom. And mind you, this place isn’t set up for public visits. My daughter and I walked into their work space.

I expect a company to display customer praise on an employee bulletin board, but this was very different. It was an angry e-mail from a customer whose seeds didn’t germinate. Added to it was a handwritten message reminding staff to check seed freshness. When I saw that, I knew the company was founded on customer service.

Jonsteen guarantees you’ll get a viable sprout from its seed grow kits. If not, they’ll send you replacement seed at no cost. They ship internationally (although there may be a USDA fee for inspection and certification).

For a live seedling kit (one where the tree has sprouted and is growing), there is a $4.60 charge in the US because of the bulkier packaging and shipping costs.

Look for a report next Christmas, or perhaps sooner, about the progress of our tree, as well, I should think, about our Venus Fly Trap and a few other trees we’ll be growing.

The Christmas Tree Grow Kits are US $8.25. Order by Wednesday, Dec. 17th for standard delivery before Christmas. It’s never too late to order though because if you’re in the northern hemisphere you probably won’t plant the seeds until spring.

International customers should contact Jonsteen for information on potential export fees.

And now, a few extra photos from the visit…

Photo taken inside the work room showing stickers hanging on rolls underneath a lamp.

It was a sunny day and the warehouse door was open, but there were plenty of shadows in the workroom. These stickers under a lamp struck me as quiet and peaceful.

Close-up photo of Tim holding a tube containing a Giant Sequoia.

The Giant Sequoia seedling is their best-selling item.

Photo of my daughter skimming her hand over the tops of Giant Sequoias that reach up to her armpits in outside planters.

Look, it’s Giant Daughter making some Giant Sequoias feel inferior.

Photo of my daughter's face visible between rows of baby Giant Sequoias in a greenhouse.

Daughterzilla contemplates laying waste to an itty bitty Giant Sequoia forest.

Close-up photo of itty bitty Giant Sequoias in a greenhouse.

A close-up of the mighty Giant Sequoia.

Photo of Grand Fir seedlings growing outside.

Some Grand Firs.

Photo of an open box filled with white canisters emblazoned with red maple leafs.

These Maple tree canisters were headed to Planet Foods in Canada. Jonsteen doesn’t arrange them in the box so the leaves line up like that. I hastily did it for the photo, but I like to think I brightened some Canadian stockroom employee’s day by one or two lumens.


One Response to “Review: Christmas Tree Grow Kits and More”

  1. mapsgirl says:

    What a great stocking stuffer!!

    And seeing the Canadian maple leaves in the box made me smile! Thanks!

    December 11th, 2008 at 4:26 am

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