More than spruce needles might be short this holiday season. So might be the supply of conifers.
That’s prompting some buyers and Christmas tree growers to start early.
Thomas G. Ford, commercial horticulture educator, Penn State Extension, expects the state’s Christmas tree supply to be short again. “I would suspect that there will be shortages for the next several years. Most of the trees that are entering the market were planted between 2008 and 2013.”
The Great Recession between December 2007 and June 2009 impacted the planting of new Christmas trees, spurring what has become a nationwide shortage, Ford said.
Not everyone sees a serious shortage, though.
“There isn’t a ‘shortage’ of real Christmas trees, there will be enough trees; everyone who wants one will be able to get one. The farm-grown Christmas tree industry has never run out of trees despite six years in a row of ‘shortage’ headlines in the media,” said Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association.
Some locations may sell out, but there will be others nearby that will have trees right up to Christmas day, O’Connor said.
Sellers Tree Farm in Bedford opened Saturday. “We opened that weekend last year and sold a few. I am taking a good many calls from people who want to know when we are opening. ... Our traditional opening was the first weekend in December,” said owner Rick Koontz.
Pre-tagging has become popular.
“I have a preseason tagging, which is weather-driven. I’ve had more than the usual number of people doing that. I started the last weekend in October,” Koontz said.
JB Tree Farm on Route 22 near Alexandria has been selling trees via its website.
Customers choose the tree they want by the photos and prepay. “We will have it here and ready to take home when they request it,” said co-owner Evelyn Bookhammer.
Most area growers start selling their trees on Black Friday.
Tait Christmas Tree Farm in Boalsburg opened Nov. 19, much earlier than usual. “We want to give people the opportunity to get a tree,” said manager Emily Zink.
Koontz said there Is definitely a shortage of trees. “I’ve got even more calls from people looking for trees. Last year we closed early, or we wouldn’t have any for this year,” Koontz said.
Mark Kline, owner of Kline’s Tree Farm, Carrolltown, and Martha Weidensaul, co-owner of Tannenbaum Farms near Centre Hall, also foresee a shortage of trees.
“The quality is good. We have had good growing weather, but there is a tree shortage. Mainly two things, a lot of the older guys got out of the business and people who had been buying artificial trees decided they wanted a real tree but the market didn’t have it,” Kline said.
Weidensaul said several years ago, there was a glut of trees and some growers went out of business.
“Last year we sold twice as many as we normally sell, because of that we are now in our last year. There are a limited number of trees at least here in Centre County,” Weidensaul said.
Bookhammer doesn’t foresee a shortage here, “though we have heard there are shortages elsewhere. We will even have large spruce available at the end of the season at the cut lot.”
Doug Banker, farm manager at Kuhn’s Tree Farm in Boalsburg, said, “Our busiest day was Black Friday. I sold more to people I had never seen before. They came out of the woodwork. We closed 12 days early last year. I was basically out of trees. I had never closed early in the last 25 years. This year is going to be bad, I have trees in the field but not enough. I will close early for the second year in a row.”
Tait Christmas Tree Farm closed early last year for the first time since the business started in 1980. “There are a lot of things involved, the rains in 2008 killed a lot of trees. A lot more Christmas trees are being sold. There are less farms and more demand,” Zink said.
With more than 1,400 Christmas tree farms, Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for the number of tree farms, accounting for nearly 31,000 acres and producing about 1 million cut trees each year.
Prices will be higher
“Trees produced locally will probably see a 15-18% price increase this year, but Christmas trees shipped in from outside Pennsylvania may see a 25-30% increase in price due to low tree inventories/demand and increased transportation costs,” Ford said.
Kline said, “Our prices are up $10 a tree. That is our third price increase in 14 years. It is because of many things such as fuel prices and insurance on the inventory.”
Bookhammer and Koontz said their prices are up $5 a tree while Weidensaul said Tannenbaum Farms is holding the line in prices as this is its last year in business.
“Nobody is going to make money this year, not even break even. I can’t raise mine 20 percent.
My main goal is to hold onto my customers, I don’t make much money so it is important to hold onto my customers,” Banker said.
Fir trees remain most popular in this area.
Frasier fir have great needle retention, Banker said. “They have two tone needles, some people like that the underneath is more silvery. It is a more naturally looking tree.”
Koontz said Frasier and concolor firs are top choices. “People like a tree that can hold ornaments, both of those have stiff branches and have good needle retention. Frasier is a darker green, concolor is more silvery,” Koontz said.
Ford said Frasier firs are one of the most difficult to raise.
“While we have some production of Frasier firs in Pennsylvania, we rely on North Carolina to ship some of these trees into our market. Frasier firs will be one of the most expensive trees on the market and will be in the shortest supply in Pennsylvania,” Ford said.
Canaan firs also are popular.
“The seeds are from the Canaan Valley in West Virginia. We have Canaan firs and a few Frasier firs. They are very similar to Frasier fir, but they grow better here in our soil,” Zink said.
Ford said trees will last three to four weeks in the home if they are fresh and are kept well hydrated.
He has several tips for those shopping for a real tree.
“When you get the tree home, immediately cut one inch off of the base of the tree and place it in water even if you are not ready to bring it into the home yet. If you are purchasing a cut tree from a Christmas tree lot, give the needles a quick tug to see if they are still fresh. If the needles separate from the tree easily the tree may be too dry. Some Christmas trees are cut two to three weeks before they appear on a Christmas tree lot so they could be overly dry. Also don’t judge a tree’s freshness by its color. Some trees are sprayed with a material that makes them look green even if they are very dry,” Ford said.