Surviving Christmas Trees In Demand Down South

This year's historic drought killed thousands of evergreen trees in Texas and Oklahoma. Now Christmas tree farmers are scrambling to meet holiday demands. Host Scott Simon checks in with Karen Barfield, owner of Tinsel Time Christmas Tree Farm in New Caney, Texas.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This year's Christmas Grinch may be Mother Nature. The Associated Press reports that historic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma have killed thousands of evergreen trees in those states, including trees being grown for sale at Christmas. Karen Barfield joins us now. She runs the Tinsel Time Christmas Tree Farm with her husband in New Caney, Texas.

Mrs. Barfield, thanks for being with us.

KAREN BARFIELD: You're welcome.

SIMON: What's your farm look like now after the drought?

BARFIELD: It looks pretty brown. We probably lost between 100 and 200 trees. And the remainder of them are pretty thin because during a drought situation you can't trim because the trees are already in shock. And trimming is what actually makes the trees fuller. You know, a lot of our trees have survived. We've been probably more fortunate than most. But a lot of the trees that have survived don't look as good as they normally would.

SIMON: They look kind of like the only one left in the tree lot that Charlie Brown got?

BARFIELD: For Charlie Brown.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BARFIELD: Yes. We're really fortunate, though, because we have a lot of people that actually look for Charlie Brown trees.

SIMON: Yeah. I don't know much about agriculture at all, but I do understand you just don't sprinkle a few seeds in the ground in the spring and get a mature Christmas tree in the fall, right?

BARFIELD: Oh no, sir. No, sir. It requires a lot of work.

SIMON: And it takes years, doesn't it?

BARFIELD: Yes, it does. Trees are kind of like children. You know, you can plant two side by side and one will be six foot tall and one will be four feet tall. But typically, between five and seven years is how long it takes to grow a mature, pretty Christmas tree.

SIMON: So this isn't just a bad season for you. This could be several bad years.

BARFIELD: Absolutely. Absolutely. Even the small saplings that we planted last year probably aren't two feet tall this year. They probably won't live.

SIMON: So do you raise prices?

BARFIELD: No, sir. No, sir. Because we can't compete with, you know, the Lowe's and the Home Depots and the imported trees. We have a farm up in North Carolina where we get trees that are actually cut the day before they ship them to us.

SIMON: What kind of tree are you going to have?

BARFIELD: I'm going to have one of my own trees that I grew.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Have your eye on it already?

BARFIELD: Oh, absolutely. Because they're all beautiful to me. My grandchildren and I and my husband, we'll go out and we'll cut a tree. And it won't really matter what it looks like whenever it gets to the back door. But once it's decorated and it has that special touch of each one of their ornaments, it'll be beautiful no matter what.

SIMON: Mrs. Barfield, nice talking to you. Think you're the first person I've said Merry Christmas to this year.

BARFIELD: Thank you. Merry Christmas to you.

SIMON: Karen Barfield, Christmas tree farmer in New Caney, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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