Drought Stunts California Christmas Trees

California Christmas tree (Jesse Wagstaff / Flickr / CC / Cropped)
Jesse Wagstaff / Flickr / CC / Cropped

California’s record drought has caused widespread water shortages, damaged crops, and caused thousands of lawns across the state to turn brown. Now, just in time for the holiday season, the drought has claimed its latest victim: Christmas trees.

Growers in California say the drought has stunted the growth of Christmas trees this year, in some cases by up to a foot in length, while others have simply lost trees due to the brutally dry conditions.

“What’s happened is the drought has kept the trees smaller than they have in the past,” Castro Valley Tree owner Paul Illingworth told local Bay Area ABC affiliate KGO. “The buds aren’t quite as large as they should be and the needles aren’t as long as they should be.”

Real Christmas trees can reportedly require up to a gallon of water per day to keep them growing, a problem during California’s devastating four-year-long drought. A recent survey by the American Christmas Tree Association found that nearly one-third of Californians say they will consider the drought when choosing a tree this year.

While shorter-than-average trees could prove annoying for Christmas purists, some growers, like Norm Nystrom of NYS Christmas Tree Farm in Happy Valley, say they’ve lost trees at an alarming rate this year due to water shortages. Nystrom told ABC affiliate KRCR that he lost 1,000 trees to drought this year, in addition to the 500 he lost the previous year.

“That’s the tough part about growing a Christmas tree farm,” Nystrom told the outlet. “I’m glad I’m not doing this to become rich. “With the drought hitting so badly, I can’t stay in business with losing as much money as I am.”

Still, some growers are adapting to the drought by planting less water-hungry trees. Scott Martin of Living Christmas Co. told the Los Angeles Times that his South Bay tree rental outfit planted 200 less classic pines this year, a 40 percent cut over last year, to favor more drought-tolerant varieties like blue spruce.

“We’ve also asked our customers to start using ice cubes,” Martin told the paper. “It’s a more effective way for the tree to absorb the water.”

With El Niño still in its early stages in California and significant rainfall yet to be seen, the drought puts a new twist on the age-old classic Christmas dilemma: real tree, or fake?


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