If you pay more for your Christmas tree this year, don’t blame the wildfires that raged in the N.C. mountains earlier this fall – or the drought that made those fires so bad.
The wholesale price of the trees are higher this year because fewer trees were planted more than a decade ago, said Bill Glenn, N.C. Department of Agriculture spokesman based in Asheville. And that price increase is more noticeable because it follows several years when prices were depressed because of an overabundance of trees, Glenn said.
“It’s very cyclical,” he explained. “We just planted too many prior to 2004. But now we’re getting to a better point where things are pretty much evening out.”
Glenn said wholesale tree prices are coming back to where they were about 10 years ago, rising about 10 to 15 percent.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll pay more for the tree you take home. Some wholesalers may not pass the entire price increase on – especially the closer we get to Christmas – and if you buy directly from the farmer who grew the trees you may also get a break.
Trees in the Triangle are going for between $10 and $13 per foot. At the State Farmers Market, trees 6 to 7 feet tall cost between $70 and $90 and 8 to 9 foot trees go for about $90.
“It’s about the same as prior years,” said Ronnie Best, market manager. But he doesn’t expect tree prices to stay that way.
“We may start to see trees spike up due to supply,” Best said, echoing Glenn. “Growers are having trouble getting seedlings, and our supply is lower. I think we’ll see prices fluctuate for the next couple of years.”
That will be good news for tree farmers.
“Growers are finally getting enough money again to stay in business,” Glenn said, adding that tree farmers in recent years have spent more than they’ve made growing trees.
Christmas trees take a long time to grow, Glenn said, anywhere from 9 to 12 years, though raising seedlings in greenhouses and the use of other technology can shorten that to around the 9-10 year mark.
“We’ve had a very good season this year,” Glenn said of the Christmas trees. “Sales have been excellent from everything I’ve heard.”
It would have been easy to imagine price increases were because of trees going up like matchsticks in the fires that tore through parts of Western North Carolina in October and November, but that just wasn’t the case, Glenn said.
“We had two farms we were concerned about because of fires close to them and close to the roads to get in and out,” Glenn said. “But our firefighting crews did an absolutely awesome job.”
The biggest concern when it came to the fires, Glenn said, was access to the tree farms.
“They limited some access to those fields and closed roads for fire control,” Glenn said.
It’s too soon to tell what effect the drought conditions the state saw this year will have on future trees, Glenn said, but farmers likely will begin to evaluate trees in the spring.
Katie Holmes and her husband, Michael, were at the farmer’s market Thursday looking at trees with their 6-year-old daughter, Alexis.
Holmes said she was pleasantly surprised by the cost of trees in Raleigh. The Holmes family came to Raleigh from New Jersey to visit Katie’s sister, Michelle, and her family for Christmas.
“We’re used to paying a lot more for a tree,” Holmes said while standing near rows of the evergreen conifers. Holmes said she and her family were out exploring the city and decided to look at the trees since her sister hasn’t put one up just yet. “They seem even greener and healthier than what we’re used to. Definitely fresher. Most of the time we use a fake tree now.”
Alexis was even more enthused about the trees at the market.
“This one’s more green!” she shouted to her mom, indicating one tree after another, each better than the next. “No, I think this one! And this one is fat! I want a big one!”
“There’s nothing like a real tree when all you’ve used is fake ones for years,” Holmes said, stroking the needles of a fir nearby. “Artificial doesn’t look or feel the same, and it definitely doesn’t smell the same. This smells like Christmas. ... If I lived down here I’d be willing to pay for that.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett