Drought conditions this summer took a toll on Christmas tree seedlings planted by some growers in Nova Scotia, although more mature balsam firs made it through fairly unscathed.

Richard Levy, who has been growing Christmas trees with his brother for more than 40 years, said at least 20 percent of his seedlings died off because of the extremely dry weather. He typically sees only a five percent loss.

“It’s a very rare thing,” he said. “This was an exceptionally dry year.”

Levy lives in Bridgewater, and is president of the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association. He and his brother manage 43 acres of tree land near the Kings County community of White Rock, near Wolfville.

The pair sell some trees at a choose-and-cut operation in White Rock, but the majority head to an exporter and are shipped to the United States.

While most of their trees take root by natural seed regeneration, each year in late spring the Levys also plant a couple thousand seedlings to increase the per-acre density of trees and ensure maximum harvest.

This year, a fifth of those planted were lost.

Costs of seedling die-off

Levy said the seedlings he lost this year succumbed to insufficient moisture and couldn’t be saved. New seedlings aren’t rooted very deeply, and are more vulnerable to harsh weather conditions than natural growth.

“There’s really not much you can do,” he said. “It’s not like a nursery where you can go out and water them because you have to walk all over the lot [to] find the seedlings planted and it would be quite an effort to even attempt to do that.”

The die-off means Levy will have to cover the extra expense of buying new seedlings, which cost 40 cents each, and cover the cost of labour to replant them.

Once planted, it takes seedlings about 10 years to reach 1.8 to 2.4 metres tall, at which point they are ready for harvest.

Levy said he can’t plant new seedlings to replace the ones he lost until next spring, which means he will have to wait until 2027, not 2026, to cut the crop.

Other growers lost seedlings too

Levy isn’t the only Christmas tree grower to lose seedlings this years.

T & D Nurseries near New Ross sells about 100,000 Christmas tree seedlings, and supplies Levy and roughly 40 other customers, mostly from Nova Scotia.

Debbie Reeves, who has run the nursery with her husband Thomas for almost 30 years, said she heard from customers that it wasn’t an ideal summer on seedlings. The plants need enough moisture to take root in the first two or three months of their transplant and then normal conditions with periodic rains after that.

“It will depend on how much vegetation was around them and what their sun exposure was as to how dried out they get,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll really know until next spring how bad it was on them.”

Your Christmas tree will probably be fine

Levy said the rest of his stand wasn’t affected by the dry weather, a sentiment echoed by other Christmas tree growers in the province.

Producers who grow Christmas trees entirely by natural generation, with no seedlings at all, saw little damage due to the drought.

Sherm Embree and his wife Cindy own a choose-and cut lot in East Sable River near Shelburne, a part of the province hard hit by the dry weather this summer. His Christmas trees fared better than wells in the region.

“The weather has hardly affected them at all. They’re in real good shape.”

Embree said a few trees may have a little extra dryness close to the stem, but that may or may not be weather-related and is not much of a concern.

“I might just have to knock them on the ground a little bit more or shake them a bit more before I have them go off the lot,” he said. “It’s only minor.”