If you haven’t started decorating the house, you may be deciding between an artificial tree or getting a real one. If you choose a real tree, this year there may be a shortage of having the best selection and deals may be harder to come by. With the Recession of 2008 and 2009, tree farmers were reluctant or unable to plant tree seedlings.
As supplies have dropped, the average price for trees has also increased. Sales data from the National Christmas Tree Association show that, between 2015 and 2018, retail prices rose 23% from $62 to $73 — including a 5% jump last year. A tree typically takes seven to ten years to mature into a six or seven-foot tree.
“There are some variations to that by tree varieties and location in general. But, its that long before a grower sees a harvestable crop,” said Tim O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association. “There are annual maintenance costs, there are certainly the challenges of growing a crop outdoors that all of agriculture is familiar with. There are bugs, there are diseases. There are the wet years, there are the dry years. It’s one of those challenges where you try to read the market that far out.”
Whether you are a fan of the smell of a real tree or prefer an artificial tree, a survey conducted by Nielsen found that three-quarters of American households display a tree, whether it is real or artificial.
However, the increase in price shouldn’t distract you from considering a real Christmas tree. With a real tree, there is the experience of going out with the family and picking out just the right tree. O’Connor likens it with two videos playing side-by-side.
On the one side is the family having the experience of getting in the car, going to the tree lot or the farm, and finding the right tree. Perhaps this is the year of not finding the perfect one where you have to put one side in the corner to hide the bad spot. O’Connor tells the story where one year, his family found a tree with a bird’s nest in it, and the kids loved it. Every year, they put back the bird’s nest, and the kids take turns putting it back into the new tree.
On the other side of the screen, mom or dad drags a dusty box with the tree from the basement, attic, or garage. On the way, they bang their head on the pipes or rafters, cusses, and slaps the tree up. Afterward, you spend a considerable amount of time rearranging the branches to make it look realistic.
Then, there is the question of the environmental impact of a real versus artificial tree. O’Connor points out that with an artificial tree, while you are reusing it every year, it is made from PVC plastic and aluminum or steel shipped from overseas, and eventually, it sits in a landfill for a very long time. A study conducted by WAP Sustainability Consulting on behalf of the A.C.T.A, which represents manufacturers of artificial trees, claims the environmental impact is lower than that of a real tree if you use the artificial tree for five or more years. The study contends that a real tree, which may end up in a landfill, has a bigger impact on water and energy use and has a more significant impact on greenhouse gases.
O’Connor points out real trees they are biodegradable, mulched, used in landscaping, and other things such as hiking trails. As was pointed out at the beginning of the article, seedlings are replanted for each one cut down, they are not cut down from wild forests on a large scale, said Bert Cregg, an expert in Christmas tree production and forestry at Michigan State University. Cregg stated that the study conducted by WAP Sustainability Consulting was too narrow in its parameters. He and O’Connor point out the effect on wildlife and the local economy.
“The fact that a real tree is grown by a farmer who is conducting their business in a local community,” said O’Connor. “They are buying goods and services. They are employing people.”
Besides, with the consumer trend of buying local and knowing where their food comes from. Real trees can fit into that perspective.
“You can learn the story of where your tree came from, grew it, and how it was cared for,” said O’Connor. ”There’s a whole lot about a tree that matches up with the trend that the consumer cares about today. Which is very different from the tree made by a big factory in a foreign country.”
If you do decide to purchase a real tree this year, here are a few tips for buying the tree. Touch it, observe it, and make it is not dried out and brittle or having needles falling off of it when you purchase it. It should be fresh and soft. The needles as you run your hand over it should stay on the tree. Then, you should put a new cut on the bottom of the trunk, right when you bring it home, and before you put it in the stand. Take off about an inch. Think of it as a fresh cut flower, and you have to keep that trunk underwater and allow it to drink and not go dry. If you do that, it will drink a lot of water for that first week or ten days, and don’t let it run out.