The traditional colors of the Christmas season are red and green; green is the only suitable color for living Christmas trees. However, many growers across the Pacific Northwest saw red Christmas trees in their fields this year. This Summer’s “heat dome” reached temperatures as high as 117 degrees in the Willamette Valley. According to Oregon State University, the high temperatures led to needles burning to a crisp, killing 70% of all Noble Fir seedlings. Needles burning to a crisp means that the needles on the tree have dried out and turned brown.
Chal Landgren, a Christmas tree farmer, and OSU Extension’s Christmas tree specialist, said this Summer’s extreme weather was unlike anything he had ever seen.
The extreme heat mixed with the already dry Summer didn’t just affect seedlings; the weather also had adverse effects on mature tree stands.
On Landgren’s tree farm, his harvest rates were down 10% because the trees were almost completely burned. Landgren and other valley tree farmers hope that the buds on the mature trees are still alive and will be able to be harvested next year.
The state of Oregon grows nearly a third of all US Christmas trees, at a value of $106.9 million as of 2020.
The Oregon Christmas Tree Growers Association president, Tom Norby, hopes that the industry can get creative, mixing last year’s surviving trees, this year’s surviving seedlings, and the mature trees that will survive this year to try and fill the void created by the heat dome.
The hit that farmers took from this Summer affected their long-term investments. A Noble fir seedling takes 8 years to mature into a 7 to 8 foot tall Christmas tree.
The effects of this Summer’s weather have already begun to start a shift in the Christmas tree industry. Growers are trying to adjust their farming practices to survive longer, hotter, and drier summers. Norby has his own Christmas tree farm, where 70% of his seedlings survived. Norby attributes his increased survival rate to his utilization of cover crops between his trees.
Christmas tree breeders like Landgren have even started developing tree varieties that are more drought and heat resistant to try and adapt to global warming.
So how did the weather this Summer affect your Christmas tree this year?
Trees this year may have more burnt or wilted tips and branches. This amount of damage varies based on where you sourced your tree. For example, trees sourced from the Corvallis, Dallas, and Banks areas experienced minor damage. In contrast, trees on the East side of the valley near Oregon City, Molalla, and Estacada experienced more damage.
For more information on Christmas trees and Agriculture, visit your local Extension Service office!
By John Stables
Chastagner, G., & Benson, D. M. (2000). Christmas Tree: Traditions, production, and diseases. APS Commons. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/apsnetfeatures/Pages/ChristmasTree.aspx
Landgren, C. OSU Extension Service. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/people/chal-landgren
Norby, T. Trout Creek Tree Farm. http://www.troutcreektreefarm.com/
Plaven, G. (2021, December 1). Christmas trees show damage from summer heat wave. Capital Press.