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April weather cut down this year’s Sierra Christmas tree crop


For many families, it’s an annual tradition: driving into the Sierra Foothills to find that perfect Christmas tree.Dedrian Kobervig and her family have been growing Christmas trees in El Dorado County for over 20 years. Kobervig said that getting those trees ready for cutting is a bit like raising kids.”Once you get ’em to teenagers, they’re pretty much on their own,” she said, jokingly.Once Christmas trees are several years old, their root system is much more established. That makes the trees to be more tolerant to drought and other environmental stresses. That certainly helps during a years-long drought like the one that Northern California is currently experiencing. But this year, another weather factor played a role in limiting the number of trees that farms could offer to families this year.”We have never had this bad a frost before,” Kobervig said.That’s right, even Christmas trees are susceptible to frost damage. Like most plants, these trees do most of their growing in the warmer spring and summer months. This year, that growing season started early with a very mild second half of February and near-record warmth in March. That was quickly followed by several days with morning temperatures near freezing in April, resulting in a killing frost.Many of Kobervig’s trees had a small amount of brown growth on the end of each branch; new spring growth that had been killed off by the cold nights.”And it’s not just us, it’s a lot of people,” Kobervig said. “We cut down our trees last year and then we estimated that these trees would grow. But we didn’t have the growth so we don’t have the inventory.”Kobervig said that the frost damage on the trees this year is temporary. It breaks off and makes room for new growth next season. But it takes up to 12 years to grow a new tree and that means that even one slow year can make a big difference in the long run.”We depend on Mother Nature and what we can do to get trees to grow as fast as we can, so when the process is slowed down, it just cuts everybody back on the number of trees they can sell each year,” Kobervig said.As average winter and spring temperatures rise with climate change, the odds of a late-season killing frost like the one this year are increasing. That’s because an earlier spring thaw cues plants and trees to begin the growing process earlier and that new growth is fragile.Climate change is also increasing the likelihood of longer and more intense droughts throughout the west. Kobervig said those weather events multiply the stress on trees and that leaves them susceptible to pest damage. Earlier this summer, she says she saw something she has never seen in her 26 years of tree growing: beetles boring into the bark.”It really concerns me on what’s going to happen next year when these trees start taking off again,” Kobervig said.Despite the many weather challenges that come with running the farm, Kobervig is hopeful for the future. She says that rain late this spring dampened the soil, creating perfect conditions for planting this year’s crop of about 1,000 seedlings. It’s a good start for what could become your family’s perfect Christmas tree in about 10 years.

For many families, it’s an annual tradition: driving into the Sierra Foothills to find that perfect Christmas tree.

Dedrian Kobervig and her family have been growing Christmas trees in El Dorado County for over 20 years. Kobervig said that getting those trees ready for cutting is a bit like raising kids.

“Once you get ’em to teenagers, they’re pretty much on their own,” she said, jokingly.

Once Christmas trees are several years old, their root system is much more established. That makes the trees to be more tolerant to drought and other environmental stresses.

That certainly helps during a years-long drought like the one that Northern California is currently experiencing. But this year, another weather factor played a role in limiting the number of trees that farms could offer to families this year.

“We have never had this bad a frost before,” Kobervig said.

That’s right, even Christmas trees are susceptible to frost damage.

Like most plants, these trees do most of their growing in the warmer spring and summer months. This year, that growing season started early with a very mild second half of February and near-record warmth in March. That was quickly followed by several days with morning temperatures near freezing in April, resulting in a killing frost.

Many of Kobervig’s trees had a small amount of brown growth on the end of each branch; new spring growth that had been killed off by the cold nights.

“And it’s not just us, it’s a lot of people,” Kobervig said. “We cut down our trees last year and then we estimated that these trees would grow. But we didn’t have the growth so we don’t have the inventory.”

Kobervig said that the frost damage on the trees this year is temporary. It breaks off and makes room for new growth next season. But it takes up to 12 years to grow a new tree and that means that even one slow year can make a big difference in the long run.

“We depend on Mother Nature and what we can do to get trees to grow as fast as we can, so when the process is slowed down, it just cuts everybody back on the number of trees they can sell each year,” Kobervig said.

As average winter and spring temperatures rise with climate change, the odds of a late-season killing frost like the one this year are increasing. That’s because an earlier spring thaw cues plants and trees to begin the growing process earlier and that new growth is fragile.

Climate change is also increasing the likelihood of longer and more intense droughts throughout the west.

Kobervig said those weather events multiply the stress on trees and that leaves them susceptible to pest damage. Earlier this summer, she says she saw something she has never seen in her 26 years of tree growing: beetles boring into the bark.

“It really concerns me on what’s going to happen next year when these trees start taking off again,” Kobervig said.

Despite the many weather challenges that come with running the farm, Kobervig is hopeful for the future. She says that rain late this spring dampened the soil, creating perfect conditions for planting this year’s crop of about 1,000 seedlings.

It’s a good start for what could become your family’s perfect Christmas tree in about 10 years.