California Christmas Trees Could Cost More This Year Due To Drought & Shortage

If you live anywhere in California, you might just find Christmas trees will cost more this year, as growers have been hit by the ongoing drought. Other states are also having problems.

Yes, that iconic symbol of the holiday season is the latest victim of the devastating drought suffered in California over the last four years.

According to SFGate, Northern California tree farmers have been hit hard, with one farmer saying 90 percent of the seedlings they planted last year died. Jim Beck of Patchen California Christmas Tree Farms up in the Santa Cruz Mountains told SFGate they just couldn’t get water to them in time to save them.

According to Beck, he monitors the mature Douglas Firs on his farm closely and inspects and measures their needles to assess any signs of stress. While in a typical year, the needles grow between an inch and a quarter up to an inch and a half, this year they saw only a three-quarters-of-an inch growth.

He added that his Christmas trees grew only a little over a foot this year, while in previous seasons they have normally grown around two and a half feet. Beck, who has owned the farm with his wife, Marina, for 46 years said he has decided not to raise the prices for his Christmas trees this year and a six- to seven-foot tree will sell for $60 as previously in 2014, but they will suffer financially by absorbing the loss.

However, other farmers are being forced to increase the prices of their Christmas trees this year due to fewer trees being planted. According to Whole Foods Regional Produce Coordinator Taryn Wolf, “Trees are indeed more expensive this year due to the drought.”

“Fewer trees were planted and the wholesale cost rose significantly.”

With California suffering through a four-year drought, low water supplies are causing huge problems with both agriculture in general and, naturally, Christmas trees. As with Beck’s farm, established adult trees are generally growing more slowly and new seedlings that require more water, just don’t make it with the lack of water.

While many California farms buy trees wholesale from Oregon, the largest supplier in the U.S., even this is causing problems this year as that state is also in the midst of a drought. One farmer who grows prized silver tips for wholesale outside Auburn said they are not even selling those trees this year. Reportedly, they weren’t sure how much water the trees received this year and are worried about needle retention.

According to Ginger Armstrong who owns the farm with her husband Jim, a tree that has been starved for water becomes dry and brittle and after it is cut, tends to drop its needles within a few days, which is the worst aspect of having a Christmas tree in the home for the holiday season.

Debbie and Paul Garavalia at Reindeer Ridge in Sebastopol are reportedly doing everything they can to keep their trees alive. They normally water their trees in the summer months, as they tend to get less rain than the Sierra foothills and Santa Cruz Mountains.

However, this year they rented water trucks and then hand watered the seedlings using hoses. They reportedly also set up a drip irrigation system, using this to supply water through spring, summer, and fall. According to Debbie, most of the crop of Christmas trees is thriving, but she says the taller trees are clearly stunted.

Her husband Paul said he’s never seen anything like this before and they have never gone through such a long extended time without water.

“When we drive around the trees on the tractor, dust is blowing because the ground is so dry. It’s crazy.”

They reportedly brought in wood shavings to try and keep the moisture in and the dust down, but there is not always any moisture to be kept in.

According to Time, Northern Carolina, another major producer of Christmas trees, is also suffering a shortage of suitable trees, causing prices to increase in the Southeast as well.

Reportedly, the increase will only be by a few dollars and local businesses say on top of suffering a shortage of Christmas trees, the farms are providing them with trees that just aren’t mature enough.

Meanwhile, Christmas tree farmers in California are hoping this year’s El Niño weather system, projected to bring more rain to the region, will help to ease this dry spell.

“I hope these weather reports are right,” Beck said, “but I’m not holding my breath.”

So if readers live in any of the affected states, you have been warned. Your Christmas trees could cost a few dollars more this season.

[Photo via Flickr by anthony_goto/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]