Tillmann aims to have people returning every year to his town of Scott Christmas tree farm

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt
For Green Bay Press-Gazette
Tillmann Christmas Trees is at 2535 Bay Settlement Road in the town of Scott.

According to the , 81% of people have artificial trees. For the 19% who bring home a real tree every year, there is nothing like the smell of it.

And for those who make the annual trek to a Christmas tree farm, there are also the memories.

Trevor Tillmann of Green Bay, owner of , 2535 Bay Settlement Road in the town of Scott, is passionate about giving customers a wonderful experience.

“My favorite part of this business is having people come and enjoy finding a tree,” Tillmann said. “There are a lot of return faces every year; it’s a big thing to see people keep coming back.”

The compliments he receives make it worth the hours spent working the tree farm. The land has quite the history; going back to the early 1900s when Tillmann’s great grandfather came over from Germany and eventually settled in Green Bay.

“The property where the tree farm is located was originally purchased for a landscaping business. Eventually, my grandfather (Ronald Tillmann) started growing Christmas trees there. When my grandpa semi-retired, my dad grew the nursery stock and my grandpa continued to grow Christmas trees,” Tillmann said.

Trevor Tillmann, right, is owner of Tillmann Christmas Trees, 2535 Bay Settlement Road in the town of Scott. His grandfather, Ronald Tillmann, started the tree farm.

Now, at 89 years old, his grandpa continues to help out. Although Trevor owns the business and leases the land with plans to eventually buy it, his grandpa is an instrumental part of it. He has been Trevor’s mentor and much of his inspiration.

“When I was forming an LLC two years ago, I did a lot of research myself. But, of course, I also talked to my grandpa,” he said.

Tillmann learned a lot over the years. He has a hard time recalling when he wasn’t out in the field working with the trees. He admits that there were occasions when he felt like he’d rather be hanging out with friends, but in retrospect, wishes he had been more fully invested in the process.

“At the time, I was just going through the motions and I wish I had known this is what I would want to do in the future," Tillmann said. "I developed a passion for it about five years ago. I went to college for criminal justice and was a correctional officer in the system, but I missed being outside in the trees.”

After giving it much thought, he left that job and took a full-time job with Schreiber Foods where he had a better work schedule. That allowed him to have more off hours to devote to the tree farm. It isn’t an easy schedule, however. Between the tree farm and his full-time job, he says he averages 80 to 100 hours a week from April to December. As he lists everything that needs to be done to grow excellent Christmas trees, there is little doubt that Tillmann has an incredible work ethic.

The season starts in April or as soon as the ground clears. Tillmann purchases transplants that are about 5 years old and spends two weeks planting them. After that, and throughout the growing season, he sprays for weeds so that nutrients aren’t diverted from the trees.

He fertilizes the whole tree farm and then picks pine cones off the trees.

“I pick the pine cones off of every tree by hand,” Tillmann said. “When a pine cone grows on a tree, it is a sign of stress and if it keeps growing pine cones, the branches won’t bud and are thin.”

Just how many pine cones are there? He says that some have a handful, but others have hundreds. There are thousands of trees that he attends to.

Then there is the mowing, and spraying, and trimming to ensure that the trees have a good shape. In between, by the first of June, he plants pumpkins that are sold in the fall. He also prepares his pay shack and makes a variety of wreathes and crafts that will be sold along with the trees. This year, he will be giving away free hot chocolate to enhance the experience of visiting the farm and cutting a tree.

He prides himself on the quality of the trees and the help provided to every customer.

“Come over, pull up, and we’ll greet you and ask if you’ve been here before. I’ll ask if you need help, and if you do, I’m here. If you’re new, I show you the layout of the tree farm and you can walk or park. I give you a hand saw to cut the tree and will offer help dragging it out,” he said.

The trees have a single price to make things easier. The tree farm is state-certified and the majority grown are balsam firs because they hold their needles very well. There are also some Scotch and white pine for customers who prefer longer needles. By the time the trees are OK for cutting, they have been growing for more than seven years.

The farm opens Nov. 24 and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends. Tillmann closes for the season when he drives around and sees that the mature trees are mostly taken. At that point, he is done selling for the year.

His grandpa, who does mowing, spraying, and advising, helps him year-round; his girlfriend also assists when needed. But Tillmann says he does most of the planting, growing, trimming, bookwork, marketing, phone calls, and the myriad tasks associated with running a business.

He developed his website (tillmannchristmastrees.com) and pages. People following him on Facebook can participate in the periodic give-away.

Tillmann continues to find new ways to promote and set goals for the number of trees he will sell as he ponders the possibility of expansion.

“I have about 20 acres and have to figure out how much I can sell in a certain year to have enough for future years," he said. "I am trying to maximize what I have, but I would love to buy a bigger piece of property to expand. Right now, I’m just going to see where this takes me.”

He has done a limited amount of wholesaling, but prefers working with his customers in person. The trees are his “pride and joy” and he loves hearing compliments from families as they haul away their special trees. There is competition in the area, but he says there is plenty of business to go around.

“You need to have a passion for this,” he noted. “I definitely enjoy it and would say that it’s a passion, but I know I won’t be a millionaire from it.”

As he awaits the annual rush, Tillmann isn’t giving much thought to taking a long break at season’s end.

“It is a lot, but I get used to the long hours,” he said. “In addition to my regular job, I picked up another job last winter building cabinets.”

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.