Georgia researchers are fighting Christmas tree root fungus

5 Ways to Dispose of Your Christmas Tree.1- Recycle your tree - Many counties have Christmas tree drop-off centers.2- Plant them in your personal garden - Christmas trees can be used as a barrier to prevent grazing animals from eating fruits and vegetables as they grow.3- Use tree needles to make craft projects - The needles of trees can be used to create wreaths.4- Turn it into woodchips - Use a large wood chipper to create decorative landscaping materials.5- Donate it - Many organizations, including zoos, accept used trees

Christmas tree costs are on the rise, and climate change is partially to blame. According to a recent report by local outlet Savannah Morning News, the warming temperatures brought on by climate change have created ideal conditions for a root fungus, Phytophthora, that his having a serious impact on Christmas trees in Georgia.

“Once that disease is in the soil, it’s there forever,” University of Georgia associate professor and extension specialist Mark Andrew Czarnota told Savannah Morning News. “The tree will start to die, start losing limbs and it becomes unsellable as a Christmas tree.”

To combat the growing threat of Phytophthora on Georgia’s annual live Christmas tree inventory, Czarnota and his colleagues have secured a grant backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to rescue embryos from Georgia Momi fir trees that “could be cultured to produce hundreds of thousands of seedlings in less than six months if (a) propagation system could be developed.”

These Christmas trees would not only be resistant to pesky root fungi, but also easily cross bred with other species of trees for optimal traits and characteristics.

“It could provide an endless supply of a Phytophthora-resistant hybrid fir trees for the Christmas tree, ornamental and forestry (industries) in Georgia and the Southeast,” Czarnota said. “This could open up fantastic financial opportunities for all of these industries.”

Czarnota is seeking another grant to help fund his efforts.

“With any luck, these hybrids will be Phytophthora resistant, and forever change our abilities to grow firs,” he said. “We just don’t have enough people growing these trees for sale for people to purchase.”

According to a 2,000-person survey by the National Christmas tree Association in 2022, roughly 22.34 million real Christmas trees were purchased within the U.S. last year. The median priced paid for each tree was $80. While inventory is tight, the association said most buyers will be able to find a suitable Christmas tree this year.

“Supplies are tight and some locations will sell out early, but there are enough real farm-grown Christmas trees for everyone who wants one to get one,” according to the National Christmas Tree Association. “Supplies of real farm-grown trees have been tight since 2016, but each year shoppers have been able to find a tree.”

About the Author