The drought has taken its toll, but the Texas tree industry is ready for the holiday

Severe drought that year across most of the state did not distribute gifts to Texas Christmas tree growers.

The bad news is that some of them have lost up to 20% of their small seedlings. The good? There shouldn’t be a shortage of bigger trees when they go on sale right after Thanksgiving.

It’s a pause for shoppers and for Texas growers who have cultivated a $250 million annual industry off the holiday staples.

“The trees that were affected by the drought were seedlings. Most of the big trees are still good and as far as I know all are pretty much ready for this Friday after Thanksgiving,” said Stan Reed, executive director of the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association.

The closest choose-and-cut tree farm to the Rio Grande Valley is Devine Acres Farm south of San Antonio in Devine. Operated by Ken and Debi Capps, Debi says the drought wasn’t the problem per se.

“We irrigate drop by drop so that we can irrigate regardless of the drought; However, last summer’s extreme heat was very hard on our trees, regardless of how much we irrigated,” Debi said via email.

The Texas Christmas tree business involves driving to the farm and buying fresh, which is called “choose-and-cut.” It will take a short drive to get to one from here in the valley, with Devine Acres Farm being the closest at 250 miles.

Still, a holiday tradition is a holiday tradition.

“We have customers from the Valley,” Debi said.

Reed said the lack of tree farms in South Texas is probably not due to the climate, but is most likely due to the soil not having the right pH.

“I don’t think there are too many farms down there because I don’t know if they can grow there,” he said. “The Christmas trees we grow in the state are state-owned or imported that grow in the same soil type.”

Christmas trees grown in Texas almost always include the following: Virginia pine, Afghan pine, Leyland cypress, or Arizona Blue Ice cypress.

“If it’s a Virginia pine or an Afghan pine or a Leyland cypress or an Arizona Blue Ice tree, it’s usually a Texas tree,” Reed said. “If it’s any kind of fir, it’s from North Carolina, South Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington.”

These tree species are the ones we usually see for sale here in the valley at the street stalls.

“What I always say is if you can get a live tree for a Christmas tree, buy it early because if you wait too long, most of our people sell out in the first two weeks,” Reed said. “We have one farm in particular where they usually sell out the first week of Thanksgiving. They make $250,000 this week on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving.”

Reed said the choose-and-cut farms are now busy selecting and counting trees that are appropriately sized for this holiday season.

They also plan for next year to replace seedlings lost to drought, and many will double plant in January to make up for the losses.

“We typically sell close to 120,000 seedlings a year,” Reed said. “We’re selling 150,000 this year. A lot of people order extra.”