If you have not already secured transplants for the 2014 planting season, do not delay. For several reasons supplies of Fraser fir nursery stock are expected to be low. Many growers were unable to buy all they wanted last year, due in part to recent droughts across the Midwest that increased the level of replanting. Further, many US nurseries either cut back or stopped growing Fraser fir seedlings after having to destroy beds of overgrown Fraser fir seedlings during the last several years. Nurseries that were burned once by lost sales may be slow in responding to industry demand with increased supply. On top of these factors, many NC growers are feeling more optimistic after 2013 sales and are considering increasing 2014 planting goals from their recession lows. If you cannot find the plants you need this spring, you might have to consider raising them yourself or contracting with a local grower to provide them to you. Anyway you go, expect to invest more time getting transplants this year.Even with scarce supply, take care to purchase healthy seedlings. Excessive rainfall in 2013 over much of the US provided ideal conditions for Phytophthora root rot. Observe the beds where plants were grown if possible (look for off color or dead seedlings, gaps where seedlings have died, and healthy/dead feeder roots on seedling root systems). An out-of-state nursery location does not guarantee root-disease-free-status. If not possible to visit the beds, discuss seedling health and disease prevention practices with the nursery manager who grew them. Consider requesting some guarantee of seedling health. It would be better to plant nothing at all than to infest good ground with this potentially permanent disease.
By Jeff Owen, Area Christmas Tree Extension Specialist, NC State University