RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Just at the time when people are getting into the spirit of the season – we could see a shortage of real Christmas trees.
And the root of the shortage can be traced back a decade.
An 8-foot tall tree doesn’t get that big overnight. It takes nearly a decade for it to grow before it can be harvested.
About 10 years ago, a lot of farmers avoided planting trees and now we’re seeing the results of that.
At Mistletoe Meadows tree lot in Garner, Deborah Bradshaw was on the hunt for the perfect tree for her home.
“I’m looking for something tall, full, slender. Something that will fit my house,” said Bradshaw.
She ended up with a 7 to 8 foot tree – which are the most popular trees.
And they are the ones that are going to be increasingly hard to find nationwide as the season progresses.
“There is a shortage of trees, especially the premium trees, because back in 2008 when the economy went south, a lot of growers decided maybe we shouldn’t plant any trees right now,” said lot manager Rudy Hinton.
The sales lot he oversees gets its trees from its own farm in Laurel Springs, which is located in the mountains.
Tree farming is labor intensive and a decade ago, he says, farmers weren’t willing to put the money into trees during the recession.
He explained why there’s so much work needed to grow a tree.
“You start from a seed and then move to a transplant bed. Then when it’s about three years old you put it in the field,” he says.
But, the work doesn’t end there. He says the trees have to be pruned and shaped as they grow. He says it takes about 7 years “before you have a strong 7 to 8 footer.”
The National Christmas Tree Association estimates more than 27.4 million trees were sold in the United States last year with the 7-8 footer being the most popular.
Tree farmers say those sizes should start disappearing about mid-December as availability declines.
Expect to pay about 10 percent more for a Christmas tree this year because of the shortage.
Prices for trees are dictated not only by their availability but also by how much work went into them.
“Pricing is by the foot,” says Hinton. “We know how much we have in the tree when we cut it.”
He said they keep track of all the costs on a spreadsheet so there is no guess work for each tree they grow.
The North Carolina Christmas Tree Industry is ranked second in the nation when it comes to the number of trees harvested and money generated from tree sales according to the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association.
The association said North Carolina produces more than 20 percent of the real Christmas trees in the U.S. – with the Fraser Fir being the most common tree grown here.
Because the market for Christmas trees follows the rhythm of demand and planting, experts say expect the shortage to last quite a number of years – perhaps as many as 10 before today’s plantings are ready to harvest.