If you haven’t gotten a Christmas tree yet, you might come up short this year.
One of the three Christmas tree farms in Johnson County has already sold out. The others expect to have few, if any, trees left after this weekend.
The nationwide tree shortage, stemming from weather conditions and supply chain issues, is hitting close to home for local Christmas tree growers.
Extreme weather and supply chain disruptions have reduced supplies of both real and artificial trees across the country. American shoppers have fewer choices and may pay up to 30% more for both types of trees this Christmas, industry officials said.
Weather disruptions in Michigan and North Carolina, where many pre-cut trees bought in Indiana are sourced from, as well as high prices for supplies such as fertilizer, pesticides and a limited supply of tree seedlings, have challenged the local market, said Steve DeHart, of Trees from DeHart in rural Franklin. The supply of pre-cut trees is so short DeHart had trees imported from Canada for the past two years, he said.
Local growers also still feeling the effects of a drought that hurt their tree supply 10 years ago. The lack of water killed off young trees and slowed the growth of trees that were in various stages of the growing process.
The weather this year has been a mixed bag for locally-grown trees, said Sue Peiffer, of Peiffer Christmas Tree Farm in Trafalgar. The wet spring was good for trees that are being harvested this year, but the dry fall was hard on newly planted trees that will be harvested in seven to eight years, she said.
Amid all the challenges, demand for live trees has increased in recent years. The pandemic increased demand last year, with many families seeking a safe, outdoor way to celebrate the season, and the trend appears to have continued this year, they said.
For Peiffer Christmas Tree Farm, the biggest sales days used to be in the early weeks of December. Now, Black Friday is the hottest selling day, as people are celebrating Christmas earlier.
“The busiest season is Thanksgiving weekend, which is a switch from earlier when we typically sold out the second week of December,” Peiffer said. “I guess we need some holiday cheer earlier this year with everything we have been through.”
Trees from DeHart is seeing the same trend. The demand is so high this year the farm is expected to be out of pre-cut trees by Saturday and nearly out of cut-your-own trees by Sunday, DeHart said. All of the seven- and eight-foot cut-your-own trees sold last week, though there are plenty of six-foot trees still available.
“You’ll be able to get a tree but it will be short,” DeHart said.
Peiffer still has some White Pines that are up to eight feet tall, but most are shorter. All of the trees sold at Peiffer are cut-your-own, so the stock is limited but full of character, she said.
“This might be the season to look for a tree with ‘personality’ rather than the perfect one. Enjoy the experience of the hunt,” Peiffer said.
Both local growers had to raise prices this year due to the low supply and rising prices. Prices at Trees from DeHart are about $15 more than they were last year for pre-cut, and $5 more for cut-your-own.
Tree farmers work for years to bring trees to consumers. Each tree takes seven to eight years to reach maturity, so farmers spend years of their life preparing for each Christmas season, local growers said.
In addition to supporting local family businesses, buying a real tree from local growers also supports the environment. Each real tree is replaced by an average of three seedlings during its life cycle, whereas plastic trees sit in landfills for years, according to Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association
The Associated Press contributed to this report.