The effects of climate change and the pandemic have combined to make Christmas trees more expensive this year.
The American Christmas Tree Association wants consumers to know that the Pacific Northwest, the nation's largest producer of live cut trees, has been besieged by drought, heatwaves, and wildfires and has suffered its share of disruptions in supply chains and higher trucking costs stemming from the pandemic.
“These challenges mean that there will be fewer live and artificial Christmas trees available this year, and those that are available will cost more than before,” the trade group warns on its website.
Local tree vendors can give you the scoop.
“Days of 115-degree weather at our tree farm in Oregon burned new buds and lack of freezing weather made trees skip needed dormancy, so we have fewer of our best quality trees this year,” said Dave Lindren, owner of Big Wave Dave’s Christmas tree lots in Ventura, Camarillo, and Moorpark.
Local tree farms
Local “cut your own” tree farms provide an alternative to buying a cut tree trucked from the Pacific Northwest or an artificial tree shipped from China.
However, local tree farms have also been affected by drought.
“We’re already sold out of our trees over 8 feet,” Keely Hagle, an owner of the Hagle Christmas Tree Farm in Somis, reported last Monday, just three days after the Black Friday opening of retail operations. “We had far fewer big ones this year because we had to cut back on watering to meet pumping restrictions, and the rain didn’t come to make up for the difference.”
The Hagle farm has improved the efficiency of its irrigation systems to revive small trees and ensure good harvests for next year, but for now, it is supplementing its choose-and-cut inventory with cut trees from Oregon and Washington.
“The Noble fir is a popular choice every year,” Hagle said, "but people might want to consider Nordmann fir or a Douglas fir this year."
The local “fir trade” offers another option. Some people buy live trees in pots, keeping the trees for years before recycling or planting them, said Richard Flowers, a certified nursery professional with Green Thumb Nursery in Ventura.
A four-foot-high Nordmann fir in a pot over 16 gallons costs about $230 at Green Thumb. Among firs, this one is the most adaptable for growing in a pot in our climate and may last eight years before becoming root bound, Flowers said.
In considering tree size at maturity, a dwarf Alberta spruce is often a good option. It grows only to about 11 feet high and can live up to eight years in a container, Flowers said. Its tight branch pattern makes for an attractive Christmas tree. Keep in mind, though, that this variety is sensitive to heat and is not likely to thrive in the local climate.
Last year, 94 million households in the United States displayed a Christmas tree in their home and 85% of them were artificial, according to the Christmas tree industry group.
Clearly, consumers appreciate the convenience of an artificial tree. But is an artificial tree better for the environment?
Artificial trees do not “save” trees from being cut in a natural forest. Christmas trees are grown like crops on tree farms, frequently on marginal soil generally unsuitable for other types of trees. Market demand for Christmas trees caused these trees to be planted in the first place, so when trees are harvested for use, new trees are planted by tree farmers eager to sustain the profits of their businesses.
Some trees are also grown in an environmentally sustainable manner. Michael and Karen Karayan, who in 1996 began operating the Mupu Tree Farm retail site on Ojai Road near Santa Paula, display a certification noting their trees come from a Socially and Environmentally Responsible Farm in Oregon.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture ensures certified farms meet standards related to biodiversity; soil and water resources; integrated pest management; health and safety; and community and consumer relations.
Consumers who value environmental sustainability should check out Craigslist for Ventura County. It currently features over 40 used artificial trees for sale and one listing in Camarillo for a live tree in a pot.
David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at (805) 658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Eco-tip: Christmas trees will be more expensive, harder to find this year