Trees withstand summer drought

Even with the drought last summer, the trees at Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards were still in good shape for the fall Christmas tree harvest season. Younger ones were hurt from the lack of rain, but the more established ones were not affected, according to A.J. Huber, who manages the Christmas tree production farm near Starlight.

“We face droughts every four to five years,” Huber says. “This wasn’t new to us.”

Key Points

Good spring rains prior to the summer drought in 2010 aided trees.

A drought late in the year is less likely to harm tree development.

Young or weakened trees are more susceptible to drought impact.


According to Michael Saunders, assistant professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, last year’s drought had a strong impact, but it was not as bad as it could have been due to the significant amount of rainfall earlier in the year. The drought didn’t occur until after Aug. 1, and by that time, trees have reached their growth potential for the season.

Why trees survived

“A single year of drought will usually not cause mortality in mature trees,” Saunders says. “Instead, trees will not photosynthesize as well, resulting in less production of sugars. This affects the growth and development of trees. Trees may respond to the lack of water by dropping their leaves early.”

Daniel Cassens, also of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue, manages a 20-acre Christmas tree lot. He agrees that the drought last year was significant, but that it didn’t have an impact on healthy, mature trees. However, younger trees or ones that were weakened by disease or insects were affected by additional stress.

Tree growth typically occurs in the spring and early summer. Therefore, since the drought did not occur until later in the year, it didn’t have a big impact on tree development, Cassens says.

Future impact

Saunders and Cassens both agree that last year’s drought will leave minimal effects on trees in the next few years.

The good, strong rain that came before the ground froze late last fall will aid in maintaining the trees’ healthy condition, Saunders says. The drought will have only minor impacts.“Their growth might be less, but it will not be noticeable,” Cassens says.

The needles are the main aspect of a conifer tree to consider when testing to
see if it has been affected by drought. Saunders used what he described as a “needle-pulling system.” He pulls on some needles to see how strong a pull is needed to detach them. If they come off with little effort, the tree is too dry.

During the first weekend of November, 2010, Huber’s employees cut down some of the trees to test if the drought had caused any damage. According to Huber, the trees stood firm and didn’t lose their needles.

Roberts is a senior in Purdue University Ag Communications.

Christmas tree grower battles the challenges of drought, artificial trees

Penny Sidebottom and her family stood by as their freshly cut Christmas tree was prepared for transportation just after Thanksgiving. They gazed as the loose needles fell to the cement from a machine shaking the tree, and then watched another machine drill a hole in the bottom of the trunk.

Before they knew it, the third machine had the tree tied up, ready to be taken home and decorated for the holiday. The Sidebottoms have made Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards, Starlight, a family tradition since 1993. Huber’s is open seven days a week year-round except for certain holidays. Tree sales begin the day after Thanksgiving. Huber’s has both precut and you-cut trees.

A.J. Huber, manager of the tree production farm, says they’ve had the tree-farm lot about 25 to 30 years. The farm harvests pines, spruces and firs. Tractor-pulled wagons haul people to the lot where customers can roam and cut down their perfect tree. Then they’re brought back to the main area where their trees are shaken to rid them of loose needles, drilled to fit the tree stand and tied up for easier transport home.

Trends affect business

Although their trees survived the drought and were of good quality, Huber went into the season expecting to sell fewer trees than in previous years. “With the increase in fake trees, we’re selling probably under 1,000 per year, when we used to sell twice that much,” Huber says.

Though this could be true in some areas, overall the number of artificial trees sold each year is greatly less than that of real trees.

In December 2009, the website for AccuVal, which provides corporate valuation and advisory services, reported that although artificial trees are a tough competitor, Americans are still buying a greater number of real trees for the holidays. In 2007, 17.4 million artificial trees were sold, compared to 31.3 million real trees. Both of these numbers declined in 2008, but there were still 28.2 million real trees sold, compared to 11.4 million artificial trees.

Even with the decrease in demand for trees at Huber’s, its employees continue striving to satisfy customers, both new and old.

“We treat our customers like our family,” says Todd Adams, an employee at the tree lot. “We have 100% customer satisfaction. Once they get their tree, we even send them inside for some free apple cider.”

It’s the friendliness and warmth of Huber’s employees that bring families back each year. “We look forward all year to coming to Huber’s,” Sidebottom says.

“Some of our kids come down from Ohio, and the rest of the family comes from all over Indiana, and we meet up here at Huber’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving to pick out and cut down our trees for Christmas.”

She says that coming to Huber’s every year gives her family complete satisfaction.


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Survivors! Extreme heat and drought late in the season likely didn’t impact mature trees, experts say.

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Family outing: A family admires their selection while an employee cuts the tree at Huber’s tree farm lot, Starlight. Christmas tree growers battled two obstacles in 2010: artificial trees and drought.

This article published in the March, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.