Here's Why This Is the Best Time to Get Your Christmas Tree
There's no Christmas tree shortage, but you'll still want to act fast.
If you're tapped into the latest holiday rumors, you may be hearing of a Christmas tree shortage affecting towns across the nation this year. Some are saying that an overabundance of trees 10 years ago caused farmers to limit their supply, and now we're facing the consequences; some have suggested that wildfires in the West ravaged this year's supply; and some have claimed that pandemic-induced restlessness has created a spike in demand that Christmas tree farmers can't meet.
While there's some truth behind each of those claims, we have good news to share: There are plenty of trees to go around this year.
Doug Hundley, spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, helped Thrillist sort fact from fiction regarding the 2020 real Christmas tree supply, and his conclusions are mostly optimistic. Here's what we learned.
Did farmers really stop planting enough trees a decade ago?
Sort of. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Christmas tree farmers were growing more trees than they needed. The abundant supply lowered each tree's value, and farms were always left with extra product at the end of the season. It wasn't great for business.
According to Hundley, farmers started planting fewer trees between 2005 and 2015 to set themselves up for more success down the road. Trees are harvested about 10 years after they're planted, which means that over the last few years, there have been fewer Christmas trees harvested than before, but the proper amount.
"Now the tree supply is well-balanced with the demand," says Hundley, "and we don't have an excess anymore."
Did wildfires destroy the live Christmas tree supply out west?
Wildfire season was particularly destructive this year and many forests were burned, including some Christmas tree farms. Fortunately, very few were impacted.
"It is true that there have been a few farms that have been caught in the fires of Oregon, Washington, and Colorado," says Hundley, who knows of about three farms that were burned. Of course, people who have relied on those farms will need to find a new tree source this year, but that's a relatively small population.
There's another source of Christmas trees, though: federally managed forests. "About 98% of the real trees that are used in this country are grown by small farmers, small American growers, small family growers," says Hundley, "but that other 2% do come out of the national forests."
The US Forest Service oversees the harvesting process in national forests where Christmas trees are cut down—it's an organized and regulated system that's used to help thin the forest. Some national forests were caught in wildfires, which in theory could also affect the Christmas tree supply, but Hundley says there's still no reason for concern.
"Some people who normally cut their trees in the national forest have found their sources limited," he notes, "but that's not a number that's going to impact the tree supply."
Are more people buying Christmas trees this year due to COVID-19?
Yes, that rumor is true!
"People are at home, they're not traveling over the holidays like they might normally, and they also have a lot of cabin fever from being locked in for a lot of the last year," explains Hudley, who confirmed the uptick in sales this year. "We've got the COVID blues, this country does right now, and have had it for months. And the Christmas season and the Christmas spirit lifts people up."
Hundley says that retailers were getting calls as early as 30 days ago—more than three weeks before Thanksgiving—eagerly asking when trees would be available to purchase this year. As soon as tree farms opened and tree lots popped up, people started rushing to buy their own live tree, many even sharing that it was their first time buying a live tree for Christmas. Even the early boom in sales hasn't created a shortage, though.
"If a tree lot that you head towards turns out to be down to not many trees left, just go to the next one," says Hundley. "You'll find trees."
When is the best time to buy a real Christmas tree this year?
"Anybody that's looking for a special size tree, like a large tree, I would go looking this week or this weekend because they may have better choice," Hundley advises.
Even if you're not looking for a large tree, you may want to jump on it—not only so you have more time to enjoy it in your home, but so you have plenty of options to suit your interests. Hundley says that anywhere from 75-90% of Christmas tree sales occur during the two weekends that follow Thanksgiving. That means that after December 6, the supply will majorly slim down.
Still, that's not a shortage. "If [tree lots] do get empty in the middle of December, that's not abnormal."