Drought will trim Christmas tree selection

By Anna Yee

November 13, 2012 Updated Nov 14, 2012 at 10:29 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- It's about that time of year again, frost on the ground and Christmas trees growing sky high.

At Prairie State Tree Farm in Peoria, owner Frank Virant is making sure his trees are ready for customers the day after Thanksgiving. But, there won't be as many trees, thanks to this year's drought.

"We were hand watering trees, the new planting," said Virant. "They looked good, but then by Labor Day, you knew that it was too little, too late."

The hardest hit were the seedlings planted this past spring. Virant had to remove about 60 percent, or 200, of them that died prematurely.

He says that's going to hurt selection and could even inflate prices a few holidays down the road.

"In three to five years, you'll have people looking for a smaller tree," said Virant. "That is going to be tighter because you'll have very few of those to get."

So, how can you tell the difference between a healthy and unhealthy tree?

The tree farm owner says signs of damage are obvious: the needles would be brown, not green, and the stems would look dehydrated.

"The bark, instead of being full and plump and green if you scrape it with your fingernail, will look like sort of a raisin," said Virant. "By that point, there's very little you could do to save them."

Virant says what has survived should be able to last you through the year, if you keep them watered.

As for future holidays, Virant hedged his bed and ordered more out-of-state trees to plant here.

He says it's all worth being able to give customers the traditional tree-cutting experience.

"You can still wonder through all the trees and make a nice day of it," said Virant, "and you can't replicate that on an asphalt parking lot."

For a list of local Christmas tree farms, visit http://www.pickyourownchristmastree.org/ILxmascentral.php

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