O Christmas Tree

December 5, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

Phytophthora root rot is problematic on tree farmsIn December, many people are shopping for a perfect cut tree or live tree to decorate their homes. There have been recent reports in 2013 regarding root rot in fir, causing problems for Christmas tree growers.

Phytophthora root rot is problematic on tree farms in Oregon, North Carolina and many other states where Christmas trees are grown. Phytophthora is a fungus-like organism sometimes called a water mold, of which many species cause plant diseases including root rots on numerous host plants. Phytophthora root rot is favored by wet, saturated soils. The mid-Atlantic region had an abundance of rain in the spring of 2013, which led to saturated soils on many farms, especially those with poor drainage. Roots in saturated soil may be stressed and may be more susceptible to root invading microorganisms.

This time of year, though, when everyone is looking for a sale or a bargain, it is good to remember that our local Christmas tree growers deal with many challenges to growing a perfect tree, an expensive and time consuming process.

A Christmas tree takes 8 to 10 years to grow to a good size, and there are many hurdles along the way. Trees must be planted properly in good soil, not too shallow or not too deep. It may take up to three years for a transplanted seedling to establish a good root system. Young trees in particular may be killed in a few weeks by Phytophthora infections in the roots. Fraser, noble, concolor, and canaan fir are all susceptible, as is Douglas fir although it is not a true fir species (Abies). Nordmann fir may be less susceptible. Other root rotting fungi and microorganisms can attack roots of fir and pine. The best management strategies for root rot are the purchase of clean healthy seedlings and proper site selection, because the best possible control is avoidance of Phytophthora root rot in the first place.

If trees become established and growers avoid root rot, there are many other pests and diseases that attack Christmas tree species. There are needlecast fungi that cause spotting and discoloration of needles, and needle drop. Growers must scout their trees, apply fertilizer and pest control, trim to shape, and keep up with research on tree species and new varieties. Sales of trees, following the 10 year nurturing, all occur yearly within a 4 to 6 week period. Our Christmas tree growers are dedicated agricultural professionals who love to see smiles on the faces of people who purchase and enjoy the trees that they grow!

Article by Nancy Gregory