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Christmas tree shopping could be different this year

In today's "Growing Together" column, Don Kinzler explains how national supply chain problems could lead to higher prices, whether you buy artificial or real.

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The American Christmas Tree Association says consumers can expect both real and artificial trees to cost more this Christmas. iStock / Special to The Forum
Getty Images/iStockphoto
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How does a young tree become a Christmas tree? They learn how in elementree school, of course.

Christmas tree shopping might be a little different this year. Trees aren’t immune from the national supply chain problems affecting other retail goods, and prices will likely be higher.

Prices will differ from retailer to retailer, but the American Christmas Tree Association reports that consumers can expect both real and artificial trees to cost more this Christmas. A 2021 USDA report showed that real tree costs have nearly doubled nationally compared to 2015 prices, and artificial tree retailers have reported having to raise prices 20% to 30% this season.

Despite recent national news headlines, most U.S. consumers will be able to find Christmas trees, according to the ACTA. They might not be the exact size or price you’d prefer, but there should be enough to go around.

Eric Baker with Baker Garden and Gift in Fargo has been selling Christmas trees for decades. Baker says that shipping prices have certainly increased, but the main factor affecting this year’s trees is the supply situation from Christmas tree growers. This summer’s heat and drought affected tree growth, reducing the number of marketable trees.

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Christmas tree farming is a challenging business and an oversupply a few years ago caused a reduction in acres planted, resulting in an additional supply decrease that’s now being felt. Baker strongly encourages people to shop soon, mentioning that large trees in the 7-to-8-foot height will sell out early. Shoppers might need to be flexible with the size of this year’s tree.

Christmas trees are big business. Three-fourths of American households display a Christmas tree each year, with about 80% opting for an artificial tree, and 20% purchasing real evergreen trees.

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Three-fourths of American households display a Christmas tree each year, with about 80% opting for an artificial tree. iStock / Special to The Forum
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Deciding between a real and artificial tree can be a challenging choice, with producers of both vying for the market share. The group most targeted by Christmas tree marketers are the millennials experiencing their first marriage, first kids, first home and first tree as a family. The choice of tree type made at that point often becomes their tradition for decades.

Legitimate cases can be made for both choices. Some people are drawn to artificial trees by the very fact they aren’t real trees. Pine pollen, evergreen sap and the heavy fragrance can cause allergic reactions in some. Artificial trees are convenient, reusable and cost less over time, because they’re used for an average of nine to 11 Christmases. A frequent reason given for selecting an artificial tree is not having to vacuum up needles. Many types are pre-lit, making decorating easy. Higher quality artificial trees even look real.

Artificial trees might not be the most environmentally sound choice, though. Artificial trees are almost entirely imported — 85% are made in China, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The materials are not readily recycled, containing mostly polyvinyl chloride, meaning the fate of most is the landfill, where they will last indefinitely.

Real trees are by their very nature friendly to the environment of which they’re a part. Growing Christmas trees is a substantial agricultural enterprise, with an average of 20 to 25 million real trees sold in the U.S. every year, or roughly one tree for every five households, according to the Christmas Tree Promotion Board.

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It can be hard to choose between a real and artificial Christmas tree. iStock / Special to The Forum
Getty Images/iStockphoto

How can cutting down trees be good for the environment? Christmas trees are planted and cultivated as an agricultural crop on farms, with very few Christmas trees being cut from natural forests. Feeling bad for the fate of a farmed Christmas tree might be compared to being sad for wheat that’s harvested for bread. Were it not for the end use, the crops wouldn’t have been planted at all.

During their years growing on the Christmas tree farms, the trees aid the environment. The trees are grown for an average of eight to 10 years before they’re harvested for sale. More than 350 million trees are currently growing on Christmas tree farms throughout the country, with about 6% to 8% of the Christmas tree population harvested each year. For every tree cut down, one to three replacement trees are planted.

While growing on the tree farm, the trees capture carbon dioxide and convert it into breathable oxygen, and filter water, reduce runoff and provide food and shelter for wildlife. They cool summer’s heat in the vicinity by an average of 10 degrees, and reduce erosion and pollution. Real trees are entirely biodegradable.

Why do people choose a real Christmas tree? The most common answer is the wonderful, heady fragrance of a fresh fir found only with the real thing. Selecting a yearly tree can be a fun family tradition that is absent with artificial. Those who enjoy real trees consider needle cleanup a small trade-off for the sight, smell and touch of a fresh tree. People who enjoy the great outdoors often find real Christmas trees more satisfying.

Real trees are the genuine deal.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.

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Don Kinzler, "Growing Together" and "Fielding Questions" columnist.

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