Christmas Tree Farms Adjusting to COVID-19 And The Ongoing Drought

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While drought conditions are beginning to improve, the record dry summer left a lasting impact across parts of our state. One industry that will feel the effects for years to come are Christmas tree farms.

"The drought was most intense in this part of Southington since 1964,” explained Michael Karabin of Karabin Farms in Southington. “So with that in mind it was difficult for trees to grow and we lost a lot of trees."

Karabin Farms in Southington is feeling the impact of the ongoing drought, and they're not alone.

"It's been a very tough weather year on a lot of levels," said John Dzen of Dzen Tree Farm in South Windsor.

Dzen Tree Farm planted 7,000 new trees this year, but after a record hot summer and devastating drought conditions, only an estimated 2,000 survived.

"Little baby Christmas Trees when we plant them in the ground have a very small root system,” explained Dzen. “So it's very difficult for those small trees to survive the drought."

Most Christmas tree farms don’t irrigate their large farms, which contributed to the loss of trees this year. But thankfully the trees you'll be buying this year have much larger root systems and were not impacted.

Dzen said, "although there's less moisture available those very large root systems are able to take up more moisture."

It will take seven to eight years from now for the losses from this season to be felt. Dzen said he plans to plant twice as many next year to mitigate the impact.

As weather extremes become more common, Dzen Tree Farm is doing everything they can to get ahead of the changing climate.

"We're using more and more of a wood chip composted as a mulch to try and control weeds and increase moisture that's available to the trees,” said Dzen. “We're planting larger baby trees to they're most established and have more of a root system and a better chance of taking hold. We're trying every trick we can."

While it may seem early to some, between the late date of Thanksgiving and people just looking to add a little extra joy and normalcy these days, Christmas tree farms are getting ready for a busy weekend.

"It's a much earlier season than it had been in the past,” says Karabin.  “People have been calling for two weeks now wanting trees and we find that what used to be an after Thanksgiving and really mid December type of business has really moved to an early December, late November business."

But Karabin Farms and many other Christmas tree businesses across the state are experiencing an unexpected impact of the ongoing pandemic.

A large number of pre-cut Christmas trees offered here in Connecticut come from Canada. But border crossing restrictions due to COVID-19 have left some without their normal tree supply.

"The delivery has not come on time and it's going to be a week late,” explains Diane Karabin. "Normally we would have trees right now."

"There are a whole bunch of new hurdles and hoops,” said Dzen. "We're able to bring trees and wreaths in. A lot of the smaller operations are not going to have an ample supply of trees and wreaths."

If you aren't already, you may want to get in the holiday spirit and purchase your tree sooner rather than later.

"It's very possible in the middle of December the supplies are going to dwindle," Dzen said.

Just keep in mind that the experience will be a little different this year to keep you and your family safe.

"Everything you do at the department store or the grocery store you need to do when you come to the farm." 

When it comes to social distancing at Dzen Tree Farm, you're asked to stand one adult reindeer apart, which comes out to be 6 feet.

And if you're worried about getting your tree a little earlier and it making sure it lasts through the holiday season, just remember to cut a fresh inch off the base of the tree before you put it in the stand and give it plenty of water. You might be surprised at just how long it can last!

"Our family we keep our tree up until the 4th of July,” said Karabin.  “We decorate it for Valentines Day, we decorate it for St. Patricks Day, we decorate it for Easter and so forth."

And yes, he is talking about a real tree!

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