Christmas Tree Market Sparse This Year, But Still Plenty Left To Spruce Up The Season

Published: Tuesday, December 5, 2017 - 3:55pm
Updated: Wednesday, December 6, 2017 - 7:15am

(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Tree lots dot the Valley this month, filled with trees from up north.

Just before shopping for a live Christmas tree this year, I heard the number of trees up for grabs had been cut down.

Then I found myself standing outside Whitfill Nursery in Gilbert, where a sign out front read “Fake News: Christmas tree shortage.”

Tree after tree was hoisted out of the nursery, sawed at the bottom, and strapped to car roofs.

“We still have access to a lot of trees. Some of our trees come from Washington, some come from Oregon, some come from Wisconsin,” nursery manager Nancy Edwards said.

Edwards said they’re getting truckloads of trees every day, and they expect to have trees to sell through Christmas Eve, just like every year.

“We got a load last night, we got a load just a few minutes ago, and we’ll probably get another load tomorrow morning,” Edwards said.

There’s plenty of work left to do here and at a few other lots I visited, too. So, where’s the shortage frenzy coming from? Well, the word shortage is sort of a misnomer here.

“Shortage provokes images of bare shelves. We don’t have bare shelves,” said Doug Hundley, spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association.

He’s been growing evergreens for more than 40 years. And right now, he said, the market is going through one of the sparsest years in its history. But that still doesn’t mean there aren’t enough trees to meet demand.

“The only impact that’s going to result from this is if you are a buyer that likes to buy their tree during the week before Christmas; then the selection may be less,” Hundley said.

Procrastinators beware, you may have to be less picky, and channel your inner Linus this year. Especially here in Phoenix, where all the trees are shipped in, versus a place like Oregon where choose-and-cut farms are commonplace.

And you might be shelling out just a little more green for that evergreen. Hundley says lower supply paired with anticipated high demand bumped up wholesale prices five to 10 percent, which buyers may see as a few extra dollars on the price tag.

What’s not on the price tag is that this is a direct effect of the Great Recession.

“Christmas trees are grown over a 10-year period,” Hundley said.

That’s right, it takes 10 years to grow a product that’s enjoyed for a few weeks.

“The trees that we plant this spring in 2018 will not be ready for sale until 2025 to 2030,” Hundley said.

And the trees up for sale this year started growing in ‘07, ‘08, ‘09 — when the economy was doing the opposite. People bought fewer trees; fewer trees were planted; and that smaller batch is now making its way into homes across the country.

But the workers on tree lots probably know planting was back up just a couple years after the recession, which means just a couple years from now they’ll see even more green.

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