Christmas tree growers: Drought not seriously hurting crop

HARTFORD, Conn. – New England Christmas tree growers say the region’s drought is having only minor effects on their crop.

The losses were confined mostly to seedlings planted in the spring, said Jim Horst, executive director of the New Hampshire-Vermont Christmas Tree Association. Unlike mature trees, those planted this year do not have established root systems, experts said.

Horst, who farms in Bennington, Vermont, says he plants 6,000-7,000 trees a year and normally loses 1 or 2 per cent of them, but lost 10 to 15 per cent this year due to dry conditions.

“That’s not catastrophic — it’s not what I want to have happen — but it’s not catastrophic,” he said.

Farmers in some parts of Connecticut lost more than half of their newly planted trees, while others were unaffected, said Kathy Kogut, executive director of the Connecticut Christmas Tree Growers Association.

But customers won’t see any difference come December in the supply of fully grown trees, which have weathered the drought, she said.

“A mature tree isn’t really affected that much,” she said. “If a tree goes through one really hot, dry summer, it still is in great shape for this harvest season. It might leach out a little colour in the next season, but with a cold winter and a lot of snow, they’ll come right back.”

Jamie Jones, a sixth-generation farmer in Shelton, Connecticut, did some hand-watering this year on his more than 400-acre farm to save some of the young transplants.

“That is something we only have to do, I’d say once every five or 10 years, and you hope you really never have to do,” he said. “But it’s an inevitability at times.”

Experts said some extra-large trees also may have some drought-related problems because like people, the oldest and youngest trees are most vulnerable to heat.

The dry weather can bring with it other problems, such as funguses and grubs and insects looking for water by burrowing into their roots, Kogut said.

“They are much more likely to die of that than a lack of water,” she said.

Officials in New Haven said they harvested a 65-foot tree from a municipal golf course for the city green after their first choice, a donated tree, was found to be too stressed from drought.

Diane Holmes-Brandt said she’ll have to replace about half of the 12- to 18-inch transplants on her more than 30-acre farm in York County, Maine, but isn’t “freaking out about it.”

“When you’re a farmer, you go the way the weather goes,” she said. “You take your knocks when you have to, whether it’s ice storms, blizzards or droughts or too much rain.”


Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland Maine and Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire contributed to this report.