This extraordinarily challenging year made more and more folks head to cut-your-own farms and strip mall parking lots in search of real evergreens to bring home for the holidays. And fewer farmers are selling because it’s getting harder to grow trees.
Mitch and Katie Meyerson’s son, Ben, has been pushing his parents for years to get an artificial Christmas tree.
“He thought it would be easier for us and we could reuse it and save money,” said Mitch, who lives in Bucks County. But, that didn’t quite fit with the Meyersons’ feelings about the holiday, especially this year.
“We didn’t get a tree last year, but with everything going on now, we were missing traditional stuff,” Mitch said. “With so much different, we wanted a real tree. It looks so much better—not so uniform (as an artificial tree). And it smells great.”
This extraordinarily challenging year has sent more and more folks to cut-your-own farms and strip mall parking lots in search of real evergreens to bring home for the holidays.
In Indiana County, dubbed “the Christmas Tree Capital of the World,” tree farmer Ross Bricklemeyer said business is booming. Well… it was.
“We sold out,” he said at the end of the first week of December.
“Normally, we’d sell less than 3,000, this year it was closer to 3,500.”
Karen McArdle, whose family has owned and operated McArdle’s Holiday Farm in Bucks County for 57 years, said sales have soared this year.
“Our sales are up tremendously over last year—probably about 30%,” McArdle said. “On Black Friday, we were busier than we’ve been in five to 10 years.”
All across the state, tree farmers reported being incredibly busy on Black Friday and selling out just a few days into the month—much earlier in the holiday season than usual.
Some sellers attribute the run on Christmas trees to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
More Americans are staying home for the holidays amid pandemic restrictions and are realizing that for the first time in years—or maybe ever—they will be home to water a fresh-cut tree. With holiday parades and festivals canceled, stir-crazy families also are looking for a safe way to create special memories.
Plus, sellers generally display fresh-cut Christmas trees outside, where there’s a lower risk of viral spread, said Marsha Gray, executive director of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board.
The national organization says industry research tells them many people who put up an artificial tree last year plan to buy a real tree this year, and most are citing the pandemic as the reason.
“Yes, it’s a product, it’s a decoration that you put in your home, but getting a real tree involves the choosing, the hunting for it, the family outing. It really is a memory maker, it’s a day you spend together, and it really becomes much bigger than the tree itself,” Gray said. “It’s really making family memories and people really seem to gravitate to that right now.”
A Christmas Tree Promotion Board survey of 2,000 adults found that 84% said they want to “physically make their home a pleasant place” and 35% said they “plan on creating new traditions.”
Approximately 61% of survey respondents said the coronavirus pandemic has increased their desire to spend money on “experiences” rather than things. And 76% said they think a real Christmas tree is part of an “experience” rather than a “product.”
While the pandemic might have increased demand for real Christmas trees, climate change and the economics of farming have forced some tree farmers to retire or just quit.
It takes seven to 10 years to grow a Christmas tree from a seedling into a tree large enough for someone to take home, said Lars Crooks, owner of Tuckamony Farms in Bucks County.
That’s a long time for a farmer to wait for a return on his investment. And a lot can happen in that span.
Crooks said climate change has made it harder for him to grow Christmas trees than it was for his great-grandfather, who established Tuckamony Farms in 1929. (Tuckamony Farms is one of the oldest family-owned Christmas tree farms in the country.)
Warmer global temperatures have increased the amount of fungus and other soil-borne pathogens that can kill trees at their roots, and changing weather patterns can affect the height and shape of the trees.
Crooks has started planting different varieties of evergreen trees and worked on diversifying his business to meet the challenges of the market.
Some farmers can’t keep dealing with the risks, or their children or grandchildren don’t want to take on the business.
As older farmers retire, the businesses often close, leaving a reduction in supply, just as demand is growing, Bricklemeyer said.
There are fewer and fewer growers, said Preston Fleming, owner of Preston Fleming Christmas Tree Farm in Indiana County.
“The demand is there, but the growers aren’t,” Fleming said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.