Christmas tree lot

Ariel Wapnick browses Christmas trees on the C&R Ski and Outdoor tree lot on Churton Street in Hillsborough. 

 

Looking for a Christmas tree to help celebrate the holidays? If you wait too long, you may be out of luck. 

Last holiday season, Christmas tree farms and lots experienced sales like never before and quickly ran out of trees. The general public attributed this phenomenon to increased interest with everyone being at home due to the pandemic, but Smith’s Family Fun Farm of Hillsborough said otherwise.

“We are expecting the same situation this year,” said Dawn Smith from Smith’s Family Fun Farm at 1715 St. Mary’s Road in Hillsborough. “The shortage of trees will continue for another two-three years.” 

Many lots are short on trees and are unable to obtain enough to keep up with the public’s demand. This is because seeds are failing to grow because of harsh environmental conditions. Drought and intense heat throughout the past few years have created rough conditions for the trees to grow. The needles of the trees will dry up and turn brown, making them no longer marketable. Some seeds will even fail to grow altogether. 

Farms also have to consider the time it takes a tree to grow. Smith explains that “It takes four years for a seed to be big enough to have a tree seedling large enough to be planted in the field. Then it takes another four to six years to be a four to eight-foot tree ready to harvest.”

Christopher Ketner, who works at Gro-Smart at 250 Churton St. in Hillsborough, said some of the shortage of trees now being experienced is because of a situation several years back, when a number of tree farmers were left with more trees than they could sell.

“Trees take a long time to grow,” Ketner said. “The farmers had a lot of growth that they couldn’t sell, and then they went bad. Farmers didn’t plant as many.”

Gro-Smart was stocked with 100 Christmas trees on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. All were sold in a week.

“We’ve never sold trees that quickly,” he said. “It’s never happened that fast. Even last year.”

David Forrest, who for 20 years has been selling trees for C&R Ski and Outdoor at a lot on Churton Street, said he sold 70 Christmas trees on Black Friday in November. It was the most trees he’s ever sold in one day. Forrest said his lot usually gets an inventory of about 500 trees, with a good variety of sizes. However, with the shortage of trees and the pressure to quickly deliver as many as possible, this year, his trees have been on the shorter side.

“What you see out there is all I have left,” Forrest said. “We probably won’t get any more. When it starts thinning out, and you see the empty spots, people don’t want to stop as much. Or they’ll stop, but leave thinking they’ll find something else at another lot.”

Another issue adding to the dearth of Christmas trees has been transporting them from the farms where they are grown to lots where they will be sold. Shortages of truck drivers and poor road conditions in certain areas make it hard to get trees delivered on time. This leaves lots with a large number of trees missing. 

And with higher demand for these trees, prices have increased. On average, the price for a Christmas tree has gone up around 20 percent. 

While it might not be too late to find a tree this year, the chance of finding a tree you like in Hillsborough is getting smaller, and could become frustrating. 

“Unfortunately, we can not do anything here to prepare for the demand,” said Smith with Smith’s Family Fun Farm. “All we can do is take one customer at a time and try to make their experience here on our farm one that they will want to make a family tradition.”

Addie Maupin and Genna Taylor are students at Eno River Academy. Managing Editor Dale Edwards contributed to this story.