Drought Devastates Christmas Tree Seedlings; Mature Trees Survive

Listen to the Story

Craig Patterson (left) and Brent Patterson own Mr. Tree Farm in Blacklick
Craig Patterson (left) and Brent Patterson own Mr. Tree Farm in Blacklick

Ohio is the 9th largest live Christmas tree producer in the U.S. No one seems to know just how many Christmas trees are grown in the state. But some growers were dealt a setback this spring and summer because of the prolonged drought.

“Right here is about a 2 ½ foot Norway spruce. Moving down the field to the South, you’ll see we have a combination of Canaan Fir and some Douglas fir and this field was all planted at the same time,” says owner Craig Patterson.

Patterson is giving a tour of part of his 30-acre Christmas tree farm. He and his brother Brent are the owners of the Mister Tree Farm near Blacklick. They say that Mister Tree is the largest Christmas tree farm in Franklin County. As Patterson describes the more popular offerings a family passes by carrying a long and stately freshly cut tree.

“Right now the rage is Fir and Blue Spruce,” Patterson says.

“What kind of tree have they got there?”

“They have a White pine cut out of our White pine field right next to Reynoldsburg-New Albany Road. We love White pine. Some Buckeyes don’t like it because it’s the state tree for Michigan,” Patterson says. “Oh, I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that.”

There are thousands of White pines and other types of trees here. All the mature, marketable, living-room-sized trees appear healthy. But Patterson says most of his seedlings were wiped out by the drought.

“We lost 95 percent of the seedlings we planted this spring and I planted more than I usually plant. And I planted a lot of white pine and I planted Blue Spruce and I planted 1,500 Canaan Fir. And usually they survive but this year they were totally wiped out,” Patterson says.

Daniel Struve, a retired horticultural professor at Ohio State University, says seedlings are especially sensitive to being dug up, shipped and replanted.

“Transplanting is a severe shock to the tree. It has to replace the roots that it lost; a lot of the roots are left in the seed bed when they’re dug and when you compound the transplanting stress with a very dry year like we had this year death wouldn’t be unexpected,” Struve says.

The Pattersons’ larger trees were able to withstand the extended dryness though a few did not.

“I lost 3-year-old stuff in the field. Canaan Fir just went brown over in this northeast field which we’ve just been pampering for years, it was just heartbreaking to lose a tree that was 3 ½ foot tall. Just sudden death,” Patterson says.

Even with this year’s setbacks, Craig Patterson says he and his brother Brent have no intention of giving up on their 46-year-old Christmas tree growing operation.

“We’re very satisfied with tree-growing. We love the business because people love to come and cut their own,” Patterson says.

A spokesman for the Ohio Christmas Tree Association says that nationwide some 30 million trees are sold during the holiday season. Only about 15 percent, though, are cut from Christmas tree farms.

The loss of this year’s seedlings won’t be felt for another five to ten years.