Drought having an impact on the local Christmas tree crop

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - There are thousands of trees at Valley Christmas Tree Plantation in Huntsville - from Virginia Pines to White Pines, Leyland Cypress to Arizona Cypress.

Owner George Brown works year-round to ensure his customers can select the perfect tree for their homes, each holiday season.

Brown has more than 40 years experience growing Christmas trees. Many of the parents, bringing their children to his choose-and-cut farm, started coming as children, themselves.

But this year, the drought may mean those trees are a little shorter and slightly less full.

Brown typically shears the trees twice a year, in the spring and fall.

"Normally we would have a good foot and a half, two feet of new growth from the spring shearing and then we would have shaped it," he says. Pointing to an unsheared tree, Brown adds, "as you can see.... we don't have much growth."

Brown estimates the Virginia Pines are about six inches shorter than normal. All the trees have also dropped more leaves than is typical.

However, it's the White Pines that are seeing the greatest impact.

"The White Pine is getting very, very low numbers but that is a cumulative effect of all the droughts we have had over the last several years. They are not drought tolerant."

Brown estimates he's planted the same field of White Pines three times in the last six or seven years, yet still only about half the plantings remain.

As for irrigating, the professor emeritus at Alabama A&M University has learned through his research that Christmas trees respond poorly to that type of watering.

Brown says trees much prefer the natural cycle of rain followed by dry periods. When the "ideal moisture" rate is continuous, he says grasses, weeds and soil microorganisms flourish, leaching nutrients from the tree.

As for the hundreds of customers who will descend on the farm, just off St. Clair Lane, the day after Thanksgiving - Brown promises a tradition that no drought can destroy.

"They're going to get a fresh tree and they're going to get the Christmas experience with their kids."

Valley Christmas Tree Plantation is located at 482 St. Clair Lane in Huntsville. It's open daily from 9am-5pm from the Friday after Thanksgiving until Christmas.

Bow saws and measuring sticks are provided.