Selecting Sites for Fraser Fir Production

— Written By Jeff Owen and last updated by Eve Kindley
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Christmas tree farm

Phytophthora root rot spread in runoff water from the low point in the road above the field

Too many Fraser fir fields tell their own story this spring – one of devastation from Phytophthora root rot disease precipitated by record-breaking rainfall in 2018 and 2019 compounded by severe drought last summer and fall. And yes, part of the story includes an illustration of site quality colored in green or red trees that depict better and worse conditions across each field. It is an agonizing tale when the trees that are dying are 5-6 foot Christmas trees that could have been sold last fall.

This mortality is a consequence of many things – unfavorable weather, human activity that spread contaminated soil or water, but also suitability of specific sites for Fraser fir production. Unfortunately, most marginal or poor sites for Fraser fir are great for the pathogen, Phytphthora cinnamomi. Much of the discussion about good vs. poor sites addresses factors to avoid or minimize this disease. Extended monsoons can overwhelm ideal growing conditions on the best fields, but marginal or poor sites are even more likely to fail when climatic stress occurs.

The Christmas tree note, “Selecting sites for Fraser fir production” has been updated to describe more of the micro-sites and conditions favorable to Phytophthora root rot. Knowing what they are is the first step in avoiding them. This note describes site, landscape, and soil factors that can contribute to tree survival or mortality. By learning to read a landscape, some problems can be avoided or minimized. Once trees are planted, knowledge of a site can help good farm managers mitigate the effects of root rot disease when it does show up. Successful harvest of mature Fraser fir Christmas trees depends on many other factors, but the site and soil on which trees grow is a vital foundation for everything else that follows. Like any farming, Christmas tree production is a gamble. Starting with better sites can “stack the cards in your favor.”

See Selecting Sites for Fraser Fir Production