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Christmas Trees In High Country Fare Better During Wet Weather Than Other Crops

Fraser Firs near Grandfather Mountain. Photo courtesy of N.C. Christmas Tree Association

By Mark S. Kenna

July 11, 2013. Besides general upkeep and muddy fields, the wet weather over the past few months has been good for the Christmas tree crop, David Tucker, president of Watauga County Christmas Tree Association, said.

Of the 5,000 trees planted in April at Tucker’s Tree Farms only one has died, Tucker said.  He added that it is normal to lose 10 percent of the trees planted in the spring.

There are many advantages to growing Christmas trees during such wet weather. 

Spider mites usually attack when it is dry and have not been seen yet.  The mites turn the tree a rust color and cause it to lose needles. Natural fungus that forms during the wet weather also helps ward off insects.

But the wet weather can have its drawbacks—much of the fertilizer that was spread has been washed away by the rain; the fields are hard to access because of mud; the weeds grow faster.

“It’s too wet to weed-eat or to put out a herbicide,” Jill Sidebottom, an area extension specialist with N.C. State University, said.

Wet weather increases the risk of phytophthora root rot, a fungal disease that causes the bottom branches to fall off, killing the tree by eventually rotting out the roots.  It is a disease that can only be avoided by practicing preventative measures.  Once the disease enters the soil future Fraser fir planting becomes futile.

The main harvest window runs from Nov. 1 to 20.

Tucker also stated that if the wet weather continues through the rest of the growing season harvesting becomes more difficult.

North Carolina ranks second in the nation in live Christmas tree production distributing trees all over the United State and the world. With over 25,000 acres of trees in the state, N.C. ranked second in the nation with this $100 million a year industry. The Fraser fir makes up 96 percent of all the trees in N.C.

Fraser fir Christmas trees are the major cash crop in Watauga County.  Growers sell approximately 12,000 Fraser firs annually for more than $700,000 with additional proceeds earned from wreaths and garlands, according to the Watauga County Economic Development Commission.