San Diegans looking to buy a live tree this year will be able to find one if they shop early, but be prepared to pay more.
Doug Hundley, spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, the trade group that represents the live Christmas tree sector, said there isn’t a tree shortage this year but there is tight supply.
Hundley said that supply from the Pacific Northwest is down 5 to 10 percent this year. That’s not a lot on a national scale, but for states like California that rely on that supply of trees grown up north, shoppers will feel the impact.
“For the states out West, it’s going to make the trees a little harder to find,” he said. “But we think that there’ll be enough trees for everybody. They’ll just have to maybe shop a little harder to find the one they’re looking for. We don’t think that there’ll be any instances where people can’t find a real tree — that we don’t expect.”
On top of tight supply, the small businesses selling live trees have had to contend with labor shortages and rising transportation costs.
At the Purdy Christmas tree lot in Del Mar, the family business has had to adjust to the rising costs of operations. From the added cost of the big white event tents that house the trees to the price of gas to ship them to Southern California — the result is a few bucks tacked onto the price tag of your tree.
Since Purdy’s is grower-direct, they haven’t had trouble getting the trees they need. They carry everything from $30 tabletop pines to 12-foot trees that are worth more than $600. In the parking lot of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, people can pick a pre-cut tree straight from the Purdy family’s farm in Mt. Angel, Oregon.
April Purdy, who grew up on a Christmas tree farm, operates their two sites in Del Mar and Carlsbad during the season while her husband Mike Purdy manages the tree farms up in Oregon.
They’ve been selling trees in San Diego for 14 years. During the pandemic, they saw a bump up in demand for trees as people stayed home for the holidays instead of traveling while others decided to get an early jump on holiday cheer after a tough year.
And it’s the same this year.
“We’ve been getting calls since early October, with people asking if we were coming back and would we have the trees. And then even by the end of October, more around Halloween, people were asking if we were already here,” Purdy said.
Mark and Mary Tuller never used to get their Christmas tree the first weekend that the lots opened. But, the pandemic kept them in Encinitas for Thanksgiving so they bought their tree early.
“Because of COVID we were not on the East Coast so the day after Thanksgiving, we were out looking and we just we couldn’t find anything,” Mary Tuller said.
They couldn’t find a Fraser fir at other lots, but they were satisfied with the 10- to 11-foot noble fir they chose at Purdy’s. These taller trees are harder to come by if you wait and at Purdy’s they range in price from $650 to $900.
Tree sellers like Mike Osborne, owner of Pinery Christmas Trees, said if you want a quality real tree, you need to shop early. He manages the company’s wholesale division and he prepared for the increased demand for trees by ordering 5 to 6 percent more than in previous years for his lot.
As with most things this season, inflation and shipping costs are causing a ripple effect of price bumps. Osborne said they get their trees from Oregon, Washington and Quebec, Canada, and their shipping costs have gone up about 20 percent.
Pinery sells wholesale to smaller lots around the county and operates five lots in Bonita, Del Mar, Mission Valley, Rancho Bernardo and Murrieta. If you’re looking to buy a 7- to 8-foot noble fir from Pinery, you can expect a $3 to $5 price increase over last year. But if you’re going for a bigger tree like a 10- to 12-footer, Osborne said that’s where you’ll see the cost jump $5 to $25.
Supply chain woes and the economy are not all to blame for price increases and limited supply for real trees. Jennifer Dolores, owner of Pine Tree Acres Christmas Tree Farm in Ramona said a shortage of seedlings to grow the pine trees pre-dates the pandemic.
Fires in the Pacific Northwest and a streak of days with temperatures 115 degrees or higher this summer scorched many of the seedlings and trees that would be sold during the holidays. Similarly in Ramona, fires near Pine Tree Acres have made it challenging for Dolores to grow trees in time for the holiday season.
Dolores grows a variety of pine trees on her local 4-acre farm where people can pick and cut a fresh tree or purchase a pre-cut tree grown in Oregon. However, due to the constraint on supply, this year, she received 30 to 40 percent less than her typical order of pre-cut trees.
By this weekend, Dolores projects that she’ll be sold out of pre-cuts but she’ll still have fresh and potted trees available.