Santa, Christmas tree growers strain Kansas climate during annual tradition – The Lawrence Times ” Kansas

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CEDAR CREST — Heavy is the head that bears the presidency of the Kansas Christmas Tree Growers Association.

David Wilderson said he was very proud of his first year at the helm of the association, representing Christmas tree growers across the state at the annual Christmas tree welcome at the Governor’s mansion. Each year, horses deliver a Christmas tree and ride at Cedar Crest, about five miles west of the Statehouse in Topeka.


But a drought in Kansas could threaten the future of this tradition, causing Christmas tree crops to die off at unusually high rates.

Christmas tree seedlings typically have a 70-80% survival rate, but this year growers are seeing about a 50% loss of seedlings, Wilderson said.

“The survival rate has gone down because of the drought,” he said. “Especially this year I have spoken to many growers in our organization. We had a much lower survival rate of the seedlings we planted this year.”

Wilderson said drought and several dry summers have forced growers to find new approaches to keeping their trees healthy. Some have switched to other trees, moving away from white pine and trying new irrigation methods. He and other growers have spoken to Kansas Forestry officials to resolve the issue.

David Wilderson said the drought is affecting Kansas' Christmas trees.  (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
David Wilderson said the drought is affecting Christmas trees in Kansas. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Wilderson has operated his 4,000 tree farm in Basehor since 1976 and said he believes drought will continue to be a problem. He said breeders would have to adapt to the new reality.

This year’s governor’s tree is a Virginia pine that tolerates lower soil moisture than some other pines.

“We have to react and try different types of trees and assume that we need to irrigate more,” Wilderson said.

At the Christmas tree event, Wilderson wasn’t the only one trying new things.

St Nick Services’ Santa said he was offering a variety of sweet treats alongside the traditional candy cane. Soft chews are better for people’s teeth, he said.

“We’re trying to be a little healthier,” said Santa.

Santa, who has been part of the Kansas Santa scene for about 12 years, claims to have gotten into the business when elves “grabbed” him.

Kansas Reflector could not verify this.

He assured the Reflector that Kansans had been particularly good this year, with more cookies, toys and candy to look forward to than coal on Christmas morning.

Santa Claus will cheer up the children present at the welcome ceremony on Monday. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Outside the governor’s mansion, Bess and Betty, the 2,000-pound draft horses who pull the tree wagon every two years, stood quietly.

Robert Carter, who runs 3C Carriage Service with his father Cecil, said horses are often better trained than people.

“They know more how to trade than people know how to trade,” he said.

Carter said his family moved to Kansas and started the business after his father retired from the military. The two have always been involved with horses and cattle and are happy to share their experience with the public, welcoming the annual tree for around 10 years.

One courtesy they use is what Carter calls “diaper bags” for the horses collecting droppings. Carter said they have used this method for years as a matter of decency at the governor’s mansions and other events such as weddings.

“We’re doing this as a courtesy so we don’t leave a mess in front of the governor’s mansion,” Carter said.

Lt. gov. David Toland, who planted the tree in place of Gov. Laura Kelly said all he wanted for Christmas was another year of economic growth.

“I want 2023 to be another year of economic growth like we had in 2022,” Toland said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith with questions: [email protected] Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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