Most of the tree species that we think of as Christmas trees are quite hearty, but as the climate warms some cooler species, like fir trees, might be less common. O’Neal has “touched the firs” and admitted that it just wasn’t cold enough for them to survive, but the Scots pines and white pines he owns are still doing well. The O’Neals have noticed an increase in insects during drier summers, especially mountain pine beetles. And although Tim says he has a few more tree problems than his father, he’s still doing pretty well.
Unsurprisingly, heat and drought threaten trees the most, especially in the first few months after seedlings are transferred outside of the more controlled conditions inside a greenhouse. Nationally, the brutal Pacific Northwest heat wave last June wreaked havoc on trees in Oregon and Washington. Conditions vary from farm to farm, but O’Connor said about 10% of trees in the ground in this part of the country have been damaged by the unprecedented heat.
To manage the heat risk, many larger farms have changed their planting schedules. Traditionally, seedlings are planted in the spring. Increasingly, they are now planted in the fall, to avoid the threat of high heat. Additionally, some farmers are using technologies and cooling facilities that already exist to force trees into dormancy, allowing them to grow faster once they emerge.