Drought Kills Seedlings at Christmas Tree Farm

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The Eckarts, who own Pine Grove Christmas Tree Farm in Charleston, said  they've lost nearly half of their first-year seedlings because of the drought this summer.

In an effort to keep the rest of the seedlings alive, the Eckarts have built their own irrigation system.

"We opened back in 1979, and we've never had to deal with heat like this [in the last two years]," said Betty Eckart.

Last summer, the Eckarts lost more than 75 percent of their first-year seedlings to the heat as well. That's part of the reason why they were prepared to irrigate early this summer.

"We've been using soaker hoses, and a drip system," said Eckart. "Some days we'll even fill up a long line of buckets to dump on the trees."

So far, Eckart said the drip irrigation system has been the most efficient because less water is wasted. Drip irrigation works by trickling water out of a tiny tube attached to the hose over several hours. But Eckart says it's much more time consuming to use drip irrigation.

"That means you've got to move it - move the pipes and move the hoses - every hour and that takes a long time," she says.

The Eckarts are spending a handful of hours outside every day this summer to keep their trees well-watered.

"Right now, during the summer is the crucial time," said Eckart. "But it looks like Christmas will be safe. This year, our big trees seem to be doing well."

The Eckarts won't know the full effects of damage done by this year's drought for the next year or so. Eckart explained that the trees that have died this year wouldn't have been ready to sell for another four or five years.

"When they should've been ready, we may be a little low on trees," said Eckart.

They're not sure how to make up for the trees lost right now. Eckart said perhaps they'll plant more seedlings next year.

Thinking about what Pine Grove looks like around Christmas is what keeps the couple motivated during times like these.

Pine Grove Christmas Tree Farm will be open for business the day after Thanksgiving.