Trees withstand summer drought
Even with the drought last summer, the trees at Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards were still in good shape for the fall Christmas tree harvest season. Younger ones were hurt from the lack of rain, but the more established ones were not affected, according to A.J. Huber, who manages the Christmas tree production farm near Starlight.
“We face droughts every four to five years,” Huber says. “This wasn’t new to us.”
• Good spring rains prior to the summer drought in 2010 aided trees.
• A drought late in the year is less likely to harm tree development.
• Young or weakened trees are more susceptible to drought impact.
According to Michael Saunders, assistant professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, last year’s drought had a strong impact, but it was not as bad as it could have been due to the significant amount of rainfall earlier in the year. The drought didn’t occur until after Aug. 1, and by that time, trees have reached their growth potential for the season.
Why trees survived
“A single year of drought will usually not cause mortality in mature trees,” Saunders says. “Instead, trees will not photosynthesize as well, resulting in less production of sugars. This affects the growth and development of trees. Trees may respond to the lack of water by dropping their leaves early.”
Daniel Cassens, also of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue, manages a 20-acre Christmas tree lot. He agrees that the drought last year was significant, but that it didn’t have an impact on healthy, mature trees. However, younger trees or ones that were weakened by disease or insects were affected by additional stress.
Tree growth typically occurs in the spring and early summer. Therefore, since the drought did not occur until later in the year, it didn’t have a big impact on tree development, Cassens says.
Saunders and Cassens both agree that last year’s drought will leave minimal effects on trees in the next few years.
The good, strong rain that came before the ground froze late last fall will aid in maintaining the trees’ healthy condition, Saunders says. The drought will have only minor impacts.“Their growth might be less, but it will not be noticeable,” Cassens says.
The needles are the main aspect of a conifer tree to consider when testing to
see if it has been affected by drought. Saunders used what he described as a “needle-pulling system.” He pulls on some needles to see how strong a pull is needed to detach them. If they come off with little effort, the tree is too dry.
During the first weekend of November, 2010, Huber’s employees cut down some of the trees to test if the drought had caused any damage. According to Huber, the trees stood firm and didn’t lose their needles.
Roberts is a senior in Purdue University Ag Communications.
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This article published in the March, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.