Drought thinned out Christmas tree crops

December 14, 2007|By Capital News Service

It was "a real tough year" for Maryland's Christmas tree farms, as the drought killed off many seedlings and saplings and stressed the mature trees that will go into homes this holiday season.

While there should be a ready supply of market-size trees for families looking to cut their own, they "do look a little bit more sparse than they normally look," said Mike Gagarine of Good Spirits Christmas Tree Forest in Hagerstown.

But Gagarine said he lost close to two-thirds of the 3,000 seedlings he planted this year, twice what he would lose in a typical year.

At Modlin's Tree Farm in Lothian, Cyndi Modlin said she lost 30 percent of the seedlings planted this year and about half of a field of 1,000 two-year-old trees.

"We had a real tough year," Modlin said. "We contemplated shutting down this year."

This year's losses put her several years behind schedule, she said.

Maryland had 263 Christmas tree farms in 2002, the last year with data available, and ranked 23rd in the country for the number of farms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"There's a lot of concern about the drought this year," said Wayne Thomas, president of the Maryland Christmas Tree Association and owner of Thomas Tree Farm in Manchester. "Seedlings took a real hit this year."

The stress of the drought causes mature trees to shed their inner needles to survive, Modlin said.

So she trucked in hundreds of Fraser fir trees from North Carolina, to give customers an alternative to suffering Maryland trees.

Other tree farmers around the state also are reporting good business despite the drought.

Ed Caporin, who irrigates all of the trees on Blue Heron Tree farm in Queen Anne's County, said he was "doing a lot better than last year. Our trees have gotten a bit bigger."

And at Good Spirits Christmas Tree Forest, Gagarine said business is still brisk despite conditions.

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