Real Christmas trees have been easier to find this year but prices are nonetheless about +10% to +15% higher in most parts of the country. The American Christmas Tree Association predicted earlier this year that consumers could expect to pay an average of $80-$100 for a real Christmas tree this year. Of course, depending on the tree, the true cost can be much higher. One news story reported a 13-and-1/2-foot-tall Fraser fir being sold for $1,750 in New York City!
Christmas tree inflation is due to several factors, including an ongoing supply shortage that actually dates back to a significant downturn in plantings in 2008. The shortage has been exacerbated by the loss of mature trees during the 2021 heat dome over the Pacific Northwest. And like most of the agriculture world, the Christmas tree industry is also dealing with significantly higher production costs, as well as labor and transportation challenges. Below are more details about what’s driving Christmas tree inflation, as well as some fun facts about everyone’s favorite evergreen!
US Christmas Tree Acreage Has Declined More Than -40%– USDA reports Christmas tree production in its “Census of Horticultural Specialties” report, which was last updated in 2019. The acreage under production in 2019 was 171,867, down from 295,162 in 2017 and 295,162 in 2002. Between 2014 and 2019, nearly 500 Christmas tree farms shut down. The number of acres and growers have all likely declined further since the last survey in 2019.
Production Hits in Top States – The top Christmas Tree producing state is Oregon, which was responsible for some 30% of US supplies as of the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the most recent data available. Oregon is followed by North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Washington as the top Christmas tree producing states. Oregon’s production declined substantially in the decade from 2007 to 2017, with harvested trees dropping to around 4.7 million 2017 versus more than 6.8 million in 2007. Over the same time frame, production also dropped in the other top states with the exception of North Carolina. The state harvested over 4.0 million Christmas trees in 2017 compared to 3.0 million in 2007.
Canada’s Tree Farms Also Dwindling– Some US Christmas tree sellers source them from Canada, though that’s also become tougher in recent years. Canada had about 1,360 tree farms in 2021 compared to 2,381 in 2011, meaning approximately 1,000 farms have vanished in the past decade, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada. Shirley Brennan, the executive director of the Canadian Christmas Trees Association, based in Hockley, Ont., says Canada has lost close to 20,000 acres of Christmas tree farms as growers retire or die, with nobody eager to take over the difficult business.
Bigger Trees Come With Added Costs– Christmas trees take a very long time to grow. A 6-foot Fraser fir – a pretty typical American Christmas tree – takes about 7 years to grow. A 15-footer, close to the one sold in New York, could take as long as 20 years reach such heights. So basically, the taller the tree, the more time and money has been invested in it by the Christmas tree grower. Taller trees also require special and more expensive transportation, which adds to the cost. There is also a smaller supply of tall trees – over 10 feet – which drives up prices even further.
Helicopters Used for Harvest – Actual harvest times vary according to species and climate, but most plantations begin cutting trees during the first few weeks of November. Usually, trees that will be shipped outside the originating country are harvested first. Then, those set for domestic sale will be cut from mid-November to mid-December. Several plantations in the Pacific Northwest use helicopters to move bundles of trees from the field to truck beds. Watch a video of helicopter harvest HERE. It’s pretty cool!
A History of Christmas Trees by Year
- The first decorated Christmas was in Riga, Latvia in 1510.
- The first printed reference to Christmas trees appeared in Germany in 1531.
- Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United States since about 1850. Nineteenth century Americans cut their trees in nearby forests.
- The first Christmas tree retail lot in the United States was started in 1851 in New York by Mark Carr.
- In 1856 Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was the first President to place a Christmas tree in the White House.
- Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees in 1882.
- Christmas tree lights were first mass produced in 1890.
- In 1900, large stores started to erect big illuminated Christmas trees.
- President Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923.
- Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has given a Christmas tree to the President and first family.
- In 1963, the National Christmas Tree was not lighted until December 22nd because of a national 30-day period of mourning following the assassination of President Kennedy.
- Since 1971, the Province of Nova Scotia has presented the Boston Christmas Tree to the people of Boston in gratitude for the relief supplies received from the citizens of Boston after a ship exploded in 1917 following a collision in the Halifax, Nova Scotia Harbor. Part of the city was leveled killing and injuring thousands.
- In 1984, the National Christmas was lit on December 13th with temperatures in the 70’s, making it one of the warmest tree lightings in history.