Christmas tree shortage, higher prices this holiday season


HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY/NBC) – If you are looking forward to picking out that perfect fresh-cut Christmas tree, brace yourself for sticker shock.

The United States has experienced a 33% drop in Christmas tree production since 1977. Pair that with the droughts and wildfires out west, and there is a reduced supply this year.

Christmas tree prices have more than doubled since the 2008 financial crisis, when many tree farmers went out of business and replacement trees were not planted. The average price is now $76 per tree, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA.) That’s actually down a little bit from last year’s survey which showed the average price for a real tree was $78.

Norman Grose just found his ideal Christmas tree at McDonald Garden Center in Virginia Beach.

“I look for symmetry and, of course, look for the size, and I look for a lot of good strong branches ’cause I have heavy ornaments,” he said.

Everything is as it should be, except for one thing: the price.

Some trees are going for as much as $120. Managers say the prices continue to rise because of a nationwide shortage.

“Most of these trees are approximately ten years old. This coincides with the last recession: people planted less trees, there is less supply,” manager Michael Bender said.

Rick Horton said he’ll always get a real tree despite the price.

“Because it’s tradition. It’s real, it’s not fake, and it means a lot more. You got the natural smell, the beauty,” he said.

He is very thorough in his choice, always sure to check the branches and sturdiness. He says with a shortage, better buy sooner rather than later.

“They’re kinda scarce. They’re very limited, so the sooner you get one the better off your really are, then you can get prepared and treated [so] it can last longer,” he said.

Managers say the trees are still selling just as they would before, and there is still a great selection.

On the subject of price, the price of a Christmas tree also coincides with its size.

“The larger the tree, the more expensive is the tree because it took longer to grow. It’s all about time,” Bender said.

Tree farmers face an uncertain future as questions loom over how they will remain profitable as the climate changes.

Click here to find a live Christmas tree farm or lot in your neighborhood.

Some facts from the NCTA 2018 Christmas season consumer survey:

  • 32.8 million real Christmas trees were purchased in 2018; on average the survey participants reported they paid $78 for a real tree in 2018
  • 23.6 million new fake trees were purchased in 2018; on average the survey participants reported they paid $104 for a new fake tree in 2018  

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