Premium Christmas trees are likely to be in short supply this year. That means deals and discounts will be harder to come by — unless you're willing to wait to bring home a fir or overlook its defects.
Christmas trees typically take about 10 years to mature. This year's tight supply of the best trees traces back to the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, when growers were reluctant or unable to invest in planting seedlings.
"When they were making decisions, they didn't have the cash flow because they were losing money, so they planted fewer trees back then," said Tim O'Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association. "Today, they are harvesting those trees that they planted, and there are fewer of them."
Lower supply coupled with higher demand from young adults this year will add up to brisk sales of real trees, growers said.
"Millennials are the main consumers of Christmas trees, and they want to buy things that are authentic and to know the story behind how they are produced. There is nothing about a plastic tree shipped from China that matches up with the values [many] millennials are living," O'Connor said.
Best time to save on a tree
And as with most holiday items, there are better and worse times to buy a tree. Budget shoppers should avoid Black Friday through Cyber Monday, when tree prices are expected to peak. The average price per tree on Black Friday was $79.11 in 2018, and jumped over the long weekend to $83.92 by Cyber Monday.
Revelers who aren't in a hurry to decorate their homes and are looking for a deal would do well to wait until the week before Christmas to visit their local farms or stands. Last year, prices over that time dropped to $56, a nearly 30% drop from an average price of $79, according to data from the National Christmas Tree Association and digital payment service Square. By Christmas Eve, tree prices had bottomed out at $50.34.
Most Christmas tree growers and sellers make 100% of their annual revenue during the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not surprisingly, the aim to strike the right balance between selling trees for as much as they can and also clearing their inventory.
Beau Coan, owner of Papa Noel Christmas Trees in Austin, Texas, said not to expect many discounts on the 12,000 trees he hopes to sell this season — at least not before December 15, when he'll start marking down those that remain.
"At that point, people might be able to find a good deal. But if people want a tree before then and want the best selection, prices will be pretty firm," he said.
Coan added that trees in the seven-to-eight foot range will become increasingly hard to come as Christmas Day approaches. By December 23 the selection will be outright skimpy, he predicted. "Those trees are the discounted variety — they aren't the premium kind that are reserved for earlier in the season."
Michael May runs a "choose-and-cut" farm in Chunky, Mississippi, about 80 miles east of Jackson. May said he typically sells about 50% of his stock within the first four days after Thanksgiving.
This year, May said he's breaking with tradition by opening the Saturday before Thanksgiving, as opposed to Thanksgiving Day, citing the shorter-than-usual selling season. He doesn't anticipate needing to discount any of his stock.
"They come out, choose a tree, and we cut it down. If the tree doesn't sell this year, it will be bigger and worth more next year," he said.
May expects his field will be cleared by December 15. "If you haven't got a tree by then, you won't be getting one."
Buyers should determine which criteria are most important before heading out to shop. To get a good deal, be willing to compromise on quality. If price is most important, be flexible about the type of tree. Select one with a defect for a bargain, and put it in the back against the wall.