Local Christmas tree farms hit hard by summer's drought

CLEVELAND - Northeast Ohio Christmas tree farms were hit hard by the drought we saw in the summer of 2012.

"I just spent the day pulling out dead pine tree seedlings," said Dan Garey, owner of Morning Star Meadow in Thompson (Geauga County).

The tree farm specializes in live, fresh-cut Christmas trees.

"This has not been a fun summer," said Garey, who owns one of about 30 Christmas tree farms in northeast Ohio. Most of the farms took a big hit due to this past summer's extreme drought.

"We planted 600 new seedlings this year." said Garey. "We've lost about 450 of them."

And Garey is not alone. As the President of the Northeastern Ohio Growers Association, he's been in contact with the other local Christmas tree growers.

"They've lost between 50 and 60 percent of all the seedlings planted this past spring," Garey said.

Garey said the older trees, which are ready for harvest this year, fared much better, with only a few random trees dying out.

"We didn't get as much branch growth this year due to the drought," he said. "(We got) about four inches instead of 12 inches."

Since it takes seven to eight years for a pine seedling to reach saleable size, this year's loses will be felt several years down the road.

"That's a good portion of the sales in 2020," Garey said.

By then, a thin harvest may force many growers to ship in live trees from out of state to sell at holiday time, just to cover for the this year's losses.

Growers here can also expect higher than normal losses of mature Christmas trees in the next few years, due to the drought.  Many will die or decline as a result of our dry summer. Pine and spruce roots are very shallow and more susceptible to drought and heat. A weakened tree is easy prey for insects and disease. After a summer like this, a weakened tree needs at least three to five years of normal rainfall to fully recover.

One Christmas tree farm is faring better. Manners Tree Farm in New Lyme (Ashtabula County) did not lose one evergreen seedling this year.

"We mounded up the rows 18-inches high and mixed in a lot of compost," said Ruth Manners. "Then we covered the rows with a thick layer of straw to hold in the moisture."

It worked. All of the 2,000 seedlings planted this year survived.

"It was a lot of work," Manners said. "But it paid off!"

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