Originally Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2012, 5:19 pm
Last Updated: Nov. 30, 2012, 10:18 pm

Drought has taken toll on Christmas trees

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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

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Photo: John Greenwood
Kayla Weber is the third-generation of the Weber family to operate Weber Christmas Tree farm in rural Geneseo. She said despite the summer drought, the trees look good and business has been brisk. There are 80 acres of standing trees plus a wide assortment of wreaths and monument pieces. She said flocked trees, which are live trees sprayed with artificial snow, are really big sellers this year. Weber said the drought will hurt the operation in roughly five years and that the public will determine if their Christmas tree business continues.

''Slim pickings'' is how one local Christmas tree provider describes this year's ''O Tannenbaum'' crop.

'"Everybody's been talking about how bad the drought was,'' said Don DeWitt, of Lakeside Pines in rural Hillsdale. ''We did get hurt, but not real bad. Some of our trees are holding up real good.''

Burn's Tree Farm in rural East Moline wasn't as lucky.

'"The drought wiped us out,'' Mike Burns said. "We're not open.''

He said it probably will be two years before he reopens for yuletide tree hunters, and it's the first time he's had to close in the 15 years he's been in business.

Mark Anderson, of Richland Grove Tree Farm, in Lynn Center, said it's "slim pickings," although the trees he has are in good shape, ''but I'm a little short of certain varieties of firs.''

Business at Voltz Tree Farm, in rural Geneseo, has been so brisk that owners closed for the season Friday night. But not because of drought-related reasons, but because ''we're sold out,'' Sue Voltz said.

That's not unusual at the Voltz farm, she said. '"This is our 11th or 12th year, and there's been only one time we made it to the third weekend of December. Twice we closed right after Thanksgiving.''

''We've had a lot of people call and ask if we have enough trees this year, and we do,'' said Kayla Weber of Weber's Christmas Forest in Geneseo. '"Summer wiped out all of last year's planted trees, and this year's babies, but you won't see the effect of that for another 5 to 10 years.''

Business has been steady at Weber's, she said. ''It's not as high as it could be, but it's been all right.''

The warm November weather has helped in one way, but not in another, she said.

Warmer temperatures have encouraged ''elder folk'' to come to look for trees, Miss Weber said. ''But we need colder weather to keep the trees dormant, and some snow certainly wouldn't hurt.''

Turnout may not be as high in past years, only because ''some traditions have gone by the wayside,'' she said. Plus, the competition between fake and real trees and those available at a tree farm compared to a big-box-type of store may be chopping down sales, Miss Weber said.

Scotch, red and white pines, and Douglas fir seem to be most popular this year, she said. Pines sell for $17.95 at Weber's, and firs cost $29.95. Wreaths start at $6.95.

Canaan firs are real popular, too, Mr. Anderson and Ms. Voltz said.

''They are a twin to the Fraser, but are more tolerant in this area,'' Ms. Voltz said.

''Frasers require more babying,'' Miss Weber said.

Free wagon rides are offered if time and manpower allows, Miss Weber said.

Lakeside Pines serves hot chocolate and candy to kids on the weekends, and supplies saws. Tree costs start at $25, Mr. DeWitt said.

Wreaths are another big draw at Richland Grove, Mr. Anderson said. Free hot chocolate, saws and a rope to drag trees out of the forest also are offered. Trees cost $7 a foot, or $5 a foot for pines.

Workers at Magerkurth Christmas Tree in rural Geneseo said they were too busy Friday to discuss seasonal sales.


Here is a list of some local tree farms

Weber's Christmas Forest
27356 N. Weber Road, Geneseo
(309) 944-3656
9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week

Lakeside Pines
3028 265th St. N., Hillsdale
(309) 658-2317
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week

Richland Grove Tree Farm
3358 Meadow Gate Road, Lynn Center
(309) 521-8229 or (563) 529-0912
8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Christmas

Magerkurth Christmas Trees
18820 E. 900 St., Geneseo
(309) 945-6719, (309) 944-7393, (309) 944-2497
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends, 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays