If you’re planning to buy a live Christmas tree this season, you should start shopping now and expect to pay more.
That’s according to the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Association head Larry Downey says it’s simple supply and demand: a shortage of trees coupled with a greater appetite from people hoping to liven up their living spaces amid widespread stay-at-home orders.
“Personally, we don’t see COVID affecting us,” says Downey, whose family farm in Hatley, Que., sells up to 30,000 Christmas trees each year.
Most wholesale farmers Downey has spoken to this year have already reached sales records, he says, with much of the demand coming from vendors in the United States. Retailers typically place their orders for trees as early as June, Downey says.
On top of the shortage, tree sellers say they are expecting strong demand from consumers looking for an outdoor, physically distanced activity and who want to add some holiday cheer to their homes, where people are spending more time amid a second wave of COVID-19 cases.
Phil Quinn, the co-owner of Quinn Farm, just west of Montreal, says he had to buy additional trees from wholesalers to sell at his farm since he didn’t grow enough on his own property to meet the demand he expects this year.
“Everyone wants a tree and they want it now,” says Quinn, who expects to be sold out of trees by the second week of December.
But while demand for trees is expected to be strong, the pandemic has created its own set of challenges for tree vendors. Most sellers will not be able to offer the same set of attractions this year, with physical distancing requirements forcing farms to scrap additional draws such as wagon rides and fire pits.
Bronwyn Harper, co-owner of Hillcrest Tree Farm near Ottawa, says her biggest challenge this year will be developing clear distancing guidelines for people picking up trees. The farm’s owners won’t allow people to bring their dogs, for example, nor will they offer horse-drawn sleigh or wagon rides. Rather than serving hot apple cider, Hillcrest Tree Farm will be giving people treats to take away when they leave.
Retail tree vendors could face some competition from large online players. On their websites, Home Depot and Walmart both list natural Fraser Fir trees for sale, available for delivery before Christmas. A search on Amazon’s website revealed no results for natural Christmas trees, although the company offers a variety of artificial trees for sale.
But Quinn says people are looking to take advantage of the chance to pick out their own tree in person, noting his farm is seeing greater interest in its choose-and-cut option, even with Quebec at its highest COVID-19 alert level.
“People are just asking for some kind of normalcy,” Quinn says.