OK, people, stand down — the Great Christmas Tree Shortage of 2015 is over. You will be able to get a Christmas tree at the cost of neither an arm nor a leg, so you can take the tinsel off the floor lamps and step ladders, and stop twisting old coat hangers around that mop handle.
The reason that the Great Christmas Tree Shortage of 2015 is over? Mostly because it never existed.
“A story went out and it was really misleading, like there’s going to be a Christmas tree shortage,” says Marsha Gray, executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association. “There’s no shortage of trees.”
So put down the ax, park the sled and send the huskies back to the kennel.
Sprucing up tree prices
Just after Thanksgiving, news reports started to show up declaring that a Christmas tree “shortage” would drive up prices and leave retailers without enough trees to sell. The causes were variously listed as drought and growers going out of business.
But there’s just one little catch in that reasoning — drought hurts only seedlings that wouldn’t have been sold for years, so those trees weren’t going to be on the market in the first place. Also, the reason those growers quit is because there were too many trees being produced for the live-tree market, which saw a 20 percent decrease in wholesale orders between 2002 and 2012.
The upshot is that, in places that get trees from the Pacific Northwest, prices may be up about 5 percent, or about $2 a tree.
“Nobody can tell you what prices are — there are just too many variables, such as the species, what size you’re buying, when you’re buying and where you live,” says Rick Dungey, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association. “If somebody says, ‘Here’s what trees are going to cost this year,’ they’re just making that up.”
Pining for the real thing
Some folks don’t care about the price of Christmas trees because they’ve already purchased an artificial tree. These people think that the reason that the holiday Tannenbaum is called an “evergreen” is because choosing a live tree means you’ll be forking over $40 in green forever.
While that may make sense on a financial level, live trees are a better bet for the environment overall and for safety, Gray says. Farmed trees aren’t taken from forests, are replanted each year, give off oxygen and are 100 percent recyclable, while artificial trees are produced with extracted chemicals that produce emissions and obviously won’t compost.
And when it comes to fire, “Once they get beyond the fire retardant, it’s made of petroleum,” Gray says. “It’s gonna burn and burn hard.”
Nonetheless, Gray does allow, “Artificial trees have come a long way. They look a lot better than they used to, and that stigma of having a big, fake plastic thing in your house has gone away.” Although, she sniffs, “It’s certainly not what I would choose for a holiday.”
If you want a very low-cost option, you can cut your own tree in many U.S. national forests by getting a $5 permit, so check with your nearest outpost of the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service also allows any fourth-grader with an Every Kid in a Park pass or paper voucher to get a free Christmas tree permit.
As for harvesting your own tree elsewhere, beware. Public officials in several states, as well as some private property owners, discourage tree thieves by spraying attractive-looking pine trees with animal urine or chemicals that produce a stench when the tree is taken into a warm home. That includes the University of Minnesota, which uses skunk scent.
In my case, I’d rather pay than poach. That’s because Christmas is the only time all year I can tell my wife, “Honey, I’m going out to get you a fir.”