Politics

Why Christmas Trees Could Cost More This Year

Natural Christmas trees are likely to cost about 10 percent more this holiday season because of rising production costs and tight supplies of farm-grown trees, according to industry estimates.

“This year, they’re going to go up,” said Tim O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade group for growers.

The typical price of a cut evergreen was about $70 last year, the association said, based on an online survey in January of about 2,000 adults who bought trees during the 2021 season.A 10 percent increase — the association’s “best estimate,” Mr. O’Connor said, since the group doesn’t play a role in setting prices — would push the typical cost closer to $80 this year.

But he cautioned that predicting how much trees will cost on retail lots is a challenge. Christmas trees are often sold at small farms and pop-up lots, and reporting can be inconsistent. So reliable industry data is scant, he said.

Nearly three-quarters of tree growers said their wholesale prices would probably be 5 to 15 percent higher than last year, according to a separate poll of 55 growers by the recently renamed Real Christmas Tree Board, a grower-funded group that promotes natural trees and is overseen by the Department of Agriculture.

Inflation F.A.Q.

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What is inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.

What causes inflation? It can be the result of rising consumer demand. But inflation can also rise and fall based on developments that have little to do with economic conditions, such as limited oil production and supply chain problems.

Is inflation bad? It depends on the circumstances. Fast price increases spell trouble, but moderate price gains can lead to higher wages and job growth.

How does inflation affect the poor? Inflation can be especially hard to shoulder for poor households because they spend a bigger chunk of their budgets on necessities like food, housing and gas.

Can inflation affect the stock market? Rapid inflation typically spells trouble for stocks. Financial assets in general have historically fared badly during inflation booms, while tangible assets like houses have held their value better.

Growers faced higher costs for fertilizer, fuel and other supplies, which affect retail prices, said Jill Sidebottom, a seasonal spokeswoman for the National Christmas Tree Association.

Plus, supplies of cut trees have been constrained for years, partly as a result of reduced plantings starting more than a decade ago. It takes five to 15 years of growth before trees are tall enough to be harvested, she said.

“We do anticipate a tight supply of trees,” she said, “probably for another couple of years.”

But the Real Christmas Tree Board’s research found that most shoppers had “no problems” finding a place nearby to buy a tree last year, said Marsha Gray, the executive director of the board. “We expect this year to be no different,” she said.

Even with prices rising, there are ways to keep costs down and enjoy a natural tree. One easy fix: “Buy a smaller tree,” Ms. Gray said.

Look beyond “premium” grade trees, which are perfectly proportioned, to lesser grades that may have flaws, like a bare spot or two, Ms. Sidebottom said. You can situate the tree so the defect faces a wall.

Different varieties of trees are priced differently. So if a noble or Fraser fir is too expensive, consider a Scotch pine, which may be less pricey.

Skip extras like “flocking,” or the application of fake snow to the tree. Some tree sellers offer it for an additional fee. (Do-it-yourself kits are available, but be prepared for some mess.)

While some shoppers enjoy visiting a farm to choose a tree, big-box chain stores also sell Christmas trees and may offer lower prices as a way to get customers in the door to make other purchases, Ms. Sidebottom said. About 29 percent of trees bought last year were purchased at chain stores, according to the association’s survey.

Some people prefer to skip the regular watering and stray pine needles and buy artificial trees, which look increasingly realistic. Prices range from a couple of hundred dollars to more than a thousand, but the tree can be used for years, and many come with built-in lights. Consumer Reports recently rated artificial trees.

Here are some questions and answers about Christmas trees:

Where can I cut my own Christmas tree?

Those who enjoy getting outdoors can save money by cutting down a tree on U.S. Forest Service land. You’ll need a permit, which costs $5 to $20 and is available online or at service offices. About 300,000 permits were sold in 2020, said Janelle Smith, a Forest Service spokeswoman. Some forests designate areas for cutting, while others offer more flexible guidelines. “The kids love it,” she said.

Many “choose and cut” tree farms, where shoppers select a tree that is cut down for them, allow customers to do the chopping, Ms. Sidebottom said. You can search for locations near you on the Real Christmas Tree Board website.

Make sure to pack the right gear, she said. Essentials include a hand-held saw, work gloves, and straps or rope to attach your tree to your car.

Can I have a live tree delivered to my home?

Some farms as well as chain stores offer online purchase of trees with free local delivery. Amazon is offering real seven-foot-tall balsam firs for $206, with free delivery during a three-day window in early December. Walmart.com offers a cut six-foot Douglas fir for $90, with free three-day shipping. Some farms also ship, for an added cost. A Tree to Your Door, the online arm of Brown’s Tree Farm in Lake City, Mich., offers a concolor fir between five and a half and six and a half feet tall for $77 plus shipping, which starts about $83 for UPS ground.

What are the best lights to use on a tree?

LED lights are cooler and more economical than traditional incandescent lights. Wirecutter, The New York Times’s product review affiliate, offers recommendations for both colored and white lights.

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