‘Tis the season to deck the halls. Millions of Americans flocked to Christmas tree farms and retailer lots to pick out their holiday centerpiece over the weekend. There were plenty of trees, but what about the cost and tree choices?
Prices are rising country-wide as the weather has recently taken a toll on Christmas trees.
This summer was the third-warmest on record for the U.S., and major producer states Oregon and Washington suffered from floods and heat.
"The trees we planted in the summer took a pretty hard hit because their roots hadn’t grown enough to deal with that hot heat we had," Christmas tree farmer and retailer Glenn Bustard told FOX Weather. "I think it was more of the heat than lack of water. But the big trees, they were fine."
After 59% of the northeast reported "abnormally dry" conditions and another 24% in drought in August, the Lansdale, Pennsylvania farm lost 10% of the newly planted trees. Hurricane Ian soaked the area in October, but the rain only relieved the bigger trees.
But farmers say it's not just one year of extreme weather that impacts tree production. A 3 to 15-foot Christmas tree takes 8 to 12 years to grow.
Bustard plants his trees when they are 3 years old, which means each is susceptible to weather extremes for 5 to 9 years.
"For Christmas tree growers, for the life of that tree, we have to worry about every year of weather," Lucas Dull, co-owner of Dulls Tree Farm in Indiana, told FOX Weather. "And one year of drought or heavy rains and flooding can affect several years worth of Christmas trees."
So farms are still recovering from the record wet autumn in Seattle in 2021, which followed a deadly heat wave. Hanford, Washington hit 120 degrees setting an all-time state record.
The top Christmas tree-producing states, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, all experienced prolonged weather extremes in just the last 12 months:
"The last couple years, the supply has been tight depending on what area of the country you are in," said Dull. "However, there has always ended up being enough trees for people, but sometimes people may have to choose a different size or species than they are used to."
Prices are up across the country, according to the Real Christmas Tree Board. And after surveying Christmas tree sellers from coast to coast, the board feels that some aren’t even covering their costs. Inflation, especially on transportation, has skyrocketed.
"They told us they would be increasing their wholesale prices between 5 and 15%," Marsha Gray, executive director of the Real Christmas Tree Board. "But that may be more moderate than actually their input costs."
A shopper at Bustard’s Christmas Trees said he spent less than he expected to pay for a tree in Pennsylvania. But his son in California shelled out quite a bit more.
Currently, 99% of the Golden State is under moderate drought, 85% under severe drought and over 40% under extreme drought, according to NOAA. The West spent the last 22 years in the worst drought in 1,200 years, a megadrought.
"It’s outrageous. For some of the trees, it’s about $300, and the 3-foot, 4-foot about $100," Leon Padilla said about his son’s tree shopping. "He was thinking about coming out here with a truck picking up some of these trees, and doing transport."
Nature is hard on trees even before we factor in weather extremes.
Only about half of all seedlings in plantations make it to a Christmas tree stand. For every tree harvested, farmers must plant 1 to 3 seedlings, says the National Christmas Tree Association.
The business of Christmas
In 2021, the country spent a collective $984 million on about 21.6 million holiday trees, according to the American Christmas Tree Association. The almost 15,000 Christmas tree farms employ about 100,000 people full-time. Almost 350 million trees currently cover about 350,000 acres.
If you don’t have a tree yet, don’t delay. One tree retailer sold 60% of their trees the weekend after Thanksgiving. Pickings will be slim the closer we get to Christmas.