Maybe Money Does Grow on Trees

To anyone that’s ever told you money doesn’t grow on trees, you can tell them this: money may not grow on trees, but you can certainly make money from growing trees.

“This is our retirement plan, this is our 401k and nursing,” South Carolina tree farmer Walt McPhail told

Walt McPhail and his wife Barbara were named the National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year by the American Tree Farm System. They have invested in hundreds of thousands of trees and grow them on their 2,800 acres of land in South Carolina.

“The thing about a tree is it grows all the time,” said McPhail. “It’s growing while you’re sleeping, it’s growing while you’re doing something else.”

Of  all things, why trees? Many experts say trees are one of the safest investments you can make with your land.

“Studies have shown that you can approach 10-13% rate of return from land which beats just about anything you can put your money in,” South Carolina State Forester Gene Kodama told

If you have vacant land, you can buy seedlings to plant on your land. If you buy in bulk, the price can be low as 6 cents per seedling. Once the trees are full-grown and ready to be harvested, they can yield you $3000 an acre, but there’s a catch.

“Trees are a good investment, it’s just a long-term investment,” South Carolina Tree Farm Committee Chairman Dr. George Kessler said. “You plant a tree and it’s 15 years before you get a first harvest,” said McPhail.

When you buy the seedlings, the trees are sometimes just a few feet high. But in 40 years the trees could be 100 feet high. Experts say if you have the available land, it’s worth the wait.

“When you make an investment in forestry, you’ve got a lot of things going for you,” said Kodama.

According to the American Tree Farm System, families, not the federal government, own most of America’s forests. Eight million family forest owners own less than 50 acres. The harvested trees from these family farms are used for typical paper products like newspapers and cardboard boxes. But the best and biggest trees are harvested and used for telephone polls.

“If you have land that’s not being used for some purpose, trees make an ideal use of that land,” said Kessler.

“I encourage planting of young trees on vacant land right now,” said McPhail.

And the best part about having your own tree farm is an unlimited supply of wood.

“We’re not going to Lowe’s and Home Depot to buy lumber,” McPhail said laughing. “We go build it with what we’ve got on the farm!”