The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

November 25, 2012

Yule tree crop weathers drought, storm

PITTSBURGH — Spring frosts, summer droughts and autumn’s Superstorm Sandy caused little damage to western Pennsylvania’s thousands of acres of Christmas pines, firs and spruces, tree-growers said.

At Camp Jo-Ann Nursery, owner Nanette McDonald was preparing her retail lot along Route 380 on Wednesday for the official start of the Christmas tree shopping season.

McDonald, who owns the 20-acre farm in Washington Township with her husband, Alan, said this year wasn’t one of the worst, weather-wise.

“We lost some seedlings from the drought, but you lose trees every year,” McDonald said.

McDonald said she lost some Douglas firs affected by a fungus that causes brown or bare patches when the ground is too wet. She said they sprayed the firs five times this year with fungicide to minimize the damage.

Gregg Van Horn, president of the Indiana County Christmas Tree Growers Association and owner of his own tree nursery, said growers there are seeing strong crops this year.

Some growers had Douglas firs affected by the fungus or lost some seedlings to drought, but most farmers make up for losses when they plant the next year.

“It’s looking real good for a live tree,” Van Horn said.

Growing conditions can’t be tied to any particular harvest year, said Rick Dungey, public relations manager for the National Christmas Tree Association in Chesterfield, Mo.

“Every year in North America, they have a dry summer somewhere. Every year when farmers plant seedlings, not all of them survive. That’s the nature of the beast,” Dungey said.

Dungey said he finds the weather during the tree sales season has a bigger impact for tree growers. Nice weather brings more people out to tree lots or to farms to cut down their own trees, he said.

At E-Mar Acres Tree Farm in Saltsburg, Ron Mancabelli, who owns the farm with his wife, Margie, was setting up his tree station in the parking lot of his barber shop Wednesday.

Mancabelli said “ideal” temperatures and plenty of rain this spring made for excellent new tree growth.

“We have the perfect climate and the perfect precipitation for growing trees,” Mancabelli said.

“That’s why they do so well in Indiana County and the (surrounding) counties.”

Christmas tree growers in the eastern half of the state, however, weren’t so lucky.

Growers in and around Bloomsburg, Harrisburg and Schuylkill County had to replace trees this year lost in last fall’s flooding, said Melissa Holby, president of the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association.

Some growers lost trees this summer because deep roots, which rotted off last year when flooding raised the water table, weren’t in place to sustain the trees during hot, dry periods, she said.

Holby, a third-generation grower at Berkey’s Nursery in Crawford County, said the northwestern portion of the state saw better weather.

“For us, it was a perfect – almost perfect – growing season. We definitely got rain when we needed it,” Holby said.

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