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Christmas trees thriving; good growing year won't bolster drought in South

The selection of Christmas trees was a family affair this fall as Joe Freeman, left, of Walker, joined his granddaughter, Macey, 4, and daughter, Megan Morris of Laporte, as they selected and cut down two spruce trees Saturday at the Smrekars Acres Tree Farm in Guthrie. Pioneer Photo/Bethany Wesley

While a drought has affected the crop of Christmas trees in the southern United States, locally grown Christmas trees are thriving.

"It's actually been a really good growing year," said Natascha Smrekar, the owner of Smrekars Acres Tree Farm in Guthrie.

Smrekar said the dry fall, though, means that trees will likely need lots of water once they get home so they don't dry out.

"The trees are really going to want to drink," she said.

Fred Pick, who operates Pick's Tree Farm northeast of Bemidji, agreed. He said the trees are dry, but still very nice.

"The most important thing to do, when you get a live tree, will be to start watering it right away," he said.

The Associated Press last week reported that thousands of trees have died throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Some died of thirst, others due to wildfires. Most planters, the AP reported, planned to ship in trees from North Carolina.

Jan Dolenson, the executive director of the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association, empathized, saying that would be "double whammy" for growers because they not only lose this year's and future crops, but they then have to pay to supplement what they do have.

Dolenson and her husband, John, operate Sand Country Christmas Trees in Clear Lake, Minn., as both a wholesale business and cut-your-own Christmas tree farm.

If orders are placed from the south for varieties that they grow, Dolenson said, Sand Country would certainly fill orders if they could.

But it's not that easy.

"It's important that you get the right trees for needle retention," she said.

The trees grown in Minnesota are very hardy for extreme colds. Minnesota, she explained, can't take the trees grown in the Pacific Northwest because if we get a freezing rain followed by a bitter cold, as we did last year, it would shatter all the needles.

Smrekar herself is not a wholesaler. She has 40 acres of land with about 17 acres of trees for the tree farm. The tree farm offers a selection of precut and cut-your-own Christmas trees.

"Our business is local," she said.

Pick, a retired forester, caters his Christmas tree business, too, to the public and does little wholesaling. He began planting trees in 1991 and started grooming them as Christmas trees around 1998. His farm, with about 20 acres of trees, is located northeast of Bemidji past Concordia Language Villages.

Another local Christmas tree farm, Christmas Forest Choose & Cut, is located just east of Bemidji. Its operator, John Hurlbert, could not be reached for comment.

"It's a big family tradition," Smrekar said of the cut-your-own Christmas market. She said families will come out to take their annual family Christmas portraits and, in December, the farm also offers hayrides.