The holidays are always a time for connection, community, food, and, if you celebrate Christmas, trees. While we hate to be the bearers of bad news, the not-so-cheery truth about this holiday season is that there’s going to be a Christmas tree shortage. And here’s what you need to know about it:
There Are Significant Shipping Delays
If you’ve been keeping up with the news about commercial pipelines and shipping delays between China and the United States, you’ve likely seen that there has been a large increase in shipping costs over the past year. In fact, it's tripled. And although much of these issues, at first, seemed to be exclusive to 2020, these trends are likely to persist into 2022.
So, what does this mean for Christmas trees?
Since much of the popular clothing, electronics, furniture, toys, and other material goods imported into the United States are from other countries, it means that there are significant delays and changes to everything, and that includes holiday trees.
“The shortage of artificial Christmas trees is related mainly to shipping problems [and] delays from China to the USA,” shares Lewis Puleo, vice president of Puleo International, the oldest artificial tree company in the United States. “[These delays were] due to a shortage of empty containers in China that lasted for several months over the summer, as well as long delays at USA ports in docking, unloading and trucking containers to warehouses.”
What’s the big takeaway? Everything is delayed, and if it’s not, then it’s a lot more expensive than you’d anticipate. This means that if you’re set on getting a Christmas tree, you should probably start looking and planning sooner rather than later.
Inventory Is Lower Than Usual
In addition to the delays in shipping, companies are finding that general inventory is low—both for real and artificial Christmas trees. “For fresh-cut trees, inventory is certainly tight,” shares Alison Caldwell, New York State Certified Nursery & Landscape Professional and Expert Gardening/Horticultural Buyer for Hicks Nurseries. “I have placed my orders earlier than ever this year to secure what we need for the upcoming holiday season,” she says.
Caldwell typically buys anywhere from 6,000-8,000 trees per year for Hicks Nurseries. She is already seeing a shortage, and she anticipates this taking a turn for the worse as the holidays get closer.
“I believe we are still feeling the impact from the economic downturn in 2008 when hundreds of thousands of trees didn't get planted,” she says. “[These trees] now would be reaching harvesting size.”
Other reasons trees are lower in inventory are droughts (especially in the western US), wildfires, and the gap in production during the previous year creating a shift in purchasing and stocking trends this year.
Caldwell shares her suggestion as the holiday season quickly approaches: “My suggestion would be to buy your tree (whether it's fresh-cut or life-like) as soon as they are available and store it until you are ready to set it up and decorate,” she says.
“For a fresh tree, make sure there is a fresh cut at time of purchase, and place it directly into a bucket of water.” From there, she says, you should store it out of the sun and wind in a (preferably) cool location. If you have a garage, that’s the perfect spot.
Prices Will Most Likely Be Higher
When it comes to pricing, because of the high demand and low supply, prices are increasing across the country. In a CNN Business interview, Chris Butler, the CEO of National Tree Company in Cranford, New Jersey, shared issues his wholesale artificial tree company is facing. "We think we are 10 percent below where we typically are every year with our inventory of trees, wreaths, and garlands," he said.
Butler said that his company is planning on raising wholesale tree prices by 20-25 percent, simply because of the high freight costs. He anticipates that retailers, in turn, will pass along some of the price increase to consumers.
With pricing being raised at the top of the chain, the trickle-down is in full effect. Consumers can expect to see fewer trees, higher demand, and higher prices.
Alternatives & Options
Despite this unfortunate news, you don’t have to be too discouraged. There are still ways to make your holiday merry and bright (regardless of tree shortages).
Clive Harris, the founder of DIY Garden, shares some do-it-yourself suggestions: “Build and decorate a pyramid from wood. This is a traditional idea from the Nordic regions that can be adapted to fit your front room,” he says.
He also suggests opting for alternative trees, like boxwood, holly, laurel, or even scratching the tree idea altogether and using a wreath instead.
There are many ways to invoke the joy of the holiday season, but keep in mind that a tree doesn’t make or break Christmas—it’s all about the connection, community, and joy—and that can’t be bought.
LaRocca, Gregory. Rising Maritime Freight Shipping Costs Impacted by Covid-19. U.S. International Trade Commission Executive Briefings on Trade. 2021