By Darryl Brown
If you frequent the PlanetChristmas forums then you will know there have been a ton of post about these megatrees and it can be a bit confusing. There are really only two basic types of megatrees, one that go all the way to the ground and the other is a tree with a trunk (as seen in picture to the left.) They seem to be as small as 6’ and over 100’ tall.
A short definition of mega is as follows; “great, extended, powerful.” In my personal humble opinion a mega-tree starts at 20’ and goes up from there.
Okay, to get started we need to know how high we want to build the megatree. Once we know how high we can easily figure out the diameter of the bottom. Diameter is figured by dividing the height by two. So for this megatree we will be talking about a 20’ tree. If you follow these guidelines you can apply it to almost any size tree. For a 20’ tree we will need a 10’ base (20’/2=10′).
There are two ways to build a tree, one is having the lights go all the way to the ground and attached to a ring or build a base that will give your tree the shape with a trunk and/or a skirt. If you would like for your lights to go all the way to the ground, this is the simplest way. You can go buy some gray electrical PVC pipe at the home center.
Now we need to do the math. If you are not good at math open up your calculator on your computer, click on the view tab and select “scientific”, this will give you more options. I am going to show how to figure the amount of PVC pipe you will need to get a 10’ diameter. The area around the circle is called the circumference. To find the circumference, enter you diameter (10′) and then multiply it by Pi (3.1416). You should get the figure 31.42. This number represents the number of feet in PVC pipe that you will need. Since PVC pipe comes in 10’ lengths we can round the number down to 30’ and use three lengths of gray PVC pipe. I recommend 3/4″ or 1″ pipe. When you get your electrical gray PVC you will notice that it is really flexible and has a built in coupling. Now connect the PVC end to end and you will have a nice complete circle with a diameter to match the height of the tree. To hold this down on the ground you can make some U shaped anchors out of ¼” rod to drive in the ground. This is important otherwise the wind will blow your strings and possibly get them tangled. Once the ring is secure, you can run your strings from the top of your tree to the bottom, space them out accordingly and tie them down using a zip tie. I recommend that you look for 5″ reusable ties. From my experience they can be removed much quicker then regular ones that have to be cut off and you can reuse these next year, plus they have UV protection built in. Now if you want to build a base to hold all the lights in the shape of a tree with a trunk you can click here for some free plans.
Center Support Pole
What you will use depends on your budget. Some have used wood, galvanized pipe, PVC pipe or a flag pole. Whatever you use needs to be set in concrete. Right off the bat I want to say, using PVC for 20’ or higher is looking for disaster. Once you get past 15’ in the air, everything changes. Your PVC becomes more wobbly and the wind can be more fierce. My first year building a mega tree, I used a telescopic flag pole from Sunsetter Flag Poles. It was a 20’ pole. The drawback to a telescopic flag pole is that it gets smaller at the top. Think of it as the telescopic antenna that pulls off a radio. The top piece is the section that always breaks off. The telescopic flag pole is not that weak, but it is the weakest where you need the most strength. It will work, but you are limited to the number of light strings you can use because of the total weight. I used 128 strings of 100 mini lights (lighted length 33’) on my first year tree using a telescopic pole and it was too much weight for the top segment to handle. Your average 100 mini string weighs about 1 pound, so that totals 128 pounds pulling down on the top section. All that weight caused the top section to slightly show a bend. To resolve this problem we lowered that segment about three feet into the section just below the top section.
In the picture at the top, Wayne Kremer used 1.5” (2” OD) galvanized pipe. He put a 3” nipple cemented in the ground. You can read in detail how he built his at his website.
The most important thing is to guy wire the center pole. Some have used three guy wires and others have used four. I say the more the better. After my experience with extremely high winds in 2005, I feel like somewhat of an expert now. We had high gusts of wind come through and destroyed most of our display three days before the show started. We got everything back up and got even worse winds the next day. You would have thought we were safe and this should not happen again, but the winds came a week later and were the worst ever, but this time we beat the wind. So that is why I say you cannot have too many tie downs. If you get lazy and try to take the short cuts, you will have problems. So a little extra work is like insurance and will help you sleep better at night. I personally use four guy wires. Even more important than guy wires are the stakes that hold them into the ground. The stakes need to at least be 18” long. I personally try to go 24” or deeper. There is no such thing as overkill.
The Tree Topper
The tree topper is what holds the light strings. I made mine using a bun foot (round piece of wood), metal floor flange and a piece of 1.25” pipe, you can see the details by clicking here. Since Wayne K. used 1.5” galvanized pipe he was able to screw the metal flange on to the top end of the pipe.
How Many Lights
The amount of lights comes down to preference, power and/or budget. I prefer to have as many lights as possible. You can never have too many, but as a general rule I like my lights to be spaced 3″ to 4″ (I recommend not going over 6″ in spacing) apart. To figure how many lights I want on my tree, I take the circumference of the circle, which we figured out earlier by multiplying the diameter times Pi (3.14159). Earlier we came up with just over 31′ and decided to reduce it to 30′ since we could use three – 10′ lengths of gray PVC pipe. Now let’s take 30 (feet) x 12 (inches) = 360 (inches), then divide that number by 3 (inches) (our desired spacing) and we come up with 120 light strings.
If you are going to hook this tree up using computer control (light controller) this can also affect how many lights you will have, so we will have to either round up or down the figure we came up with (120 sets of mini lights) earlier. First we need to figure up how many amps we are going to be pulling. Mini lights can pull anywhere from 0.22 to 0.42 amps. I will use an average figure, lets say 0.32 amps. So 0.32 amps x 120 = 38.4 amps. This tells me that I can get away with one light controller if I wanted too, but I think I am going to use two light controllers, because if I use 16 channels, then one channel (slice of the pie) will be 22.5″ wide. I came up with this figure by dividing 120 (mini light set) by 3″ (spacing between lights). There is really nothing wrong with that width except that I cannot make that channel width smaller if I wanted too. In this case I will go with 32 channels and my width will be half of that. 11.25. But now this averages 3.75 light strings per channel. This is not going to work so it looks like we will round it up to four light strings per channel which will give us 128 light strings total when we multiply 4 (strings) x 32 (channels).
The World’s Biggest Christmas (Mega)Tree
Indianapolis, Indiana. claimed to have the world’s biggest Christmas tree in 2007. They use a monument that was 284′ tall. Supposedly it is 15′ shorter then the statue of Liberty. I would have liked this tree better if they used a center pole rather then a statue. The biggest I built is a 40′ tree. Click here to see the video. Click here to see the YouTube Video.
If you are going to start with a 30′ or higher tree and have never done any type of tree I highly recommend that you start with a 20′ or less to get some experience. I was a little naive with my first tree. I used 10″ anchors in soft ground and got lucky one night and walked out just as the wind pulled one out. Another thing about the wind…it does not sleep. The Mega tree is the central piece in your display, please don’t try to take short cuts, it will ruin your Christmas and disappoint the people that come to see your show. Good Luck and if you have any questions please email me, Darryl Brown.
A special thanks to Darryl Brown for submitting this story for our newsletter.
Anthony Vetrano also has a great Megatree calculator. Click here if you have Microsoft Excel