You’re not imagining things: Christmas trees are more expensive this year, and farms are selling out fast in Maryland — and that’s especially true for choose-and-cut trees. Some, like Frostee Tree Farm in Perry Hall, are already out of inventory for the year.
There are dozens of farms across the state, and about 70 are members of the Maryland Christmas Tree Association. Joncie Underwood, treasurer for the association, says the number of farms in Maryland has held steady for the last five or six years.
But, Underwood said, there’s an increased interest, especially from young families, in those who want to choose and cut their own trees. People are also getting them earlier in the season.
“What we see, over the past five years, is that there’s a push for people to get out there Thanksgiving weekend and get their tree, or this past weekend. Those are the two large weekends” she said.
The price of Christmas trees is going up too, though Underwood said she attributes that less to demand and more to macroeconomic factors from this past year.
“Farmers have to contend with higher fuel cost, higher labor cost, higher fertilizer cost, fertilizer quadrupled in price this year,” she said. “All those things have to be taken into account.”
Her own farm, Pine Valley Christmas Trees in Elkton, functions a little differently than other Maryland farms. Beginning in November, Underwood’s customers visit her farm to tag the trees they want, then come back later to cut them down and take them home — so if you don’t have a tree tagged with them already, you won’t be able to cut one. Underwood said she expects to have a supply of pre-cut trees to sell this weekend, though.
Matt Hirt, who runs the Hirt Tree Farm in Westminster, said he agreed with Underwood’s assessments about the cost and demand. “There’s a big push to be more sustainable, it’s a little more sustainable than a plastic tree that you’re going to throw away,” he said.
He said Hirt Tree Farm would be open this weekend and the week after — or as long as there’s inventory.
This was the first year that Gunpowder Tree Farm had cut-your-own trees, and the stock is pretty much sold out, said farm employee Greg Andrews. The farm brings in a stock of pre-cut trees, though, and he said there would be a shipment coming in soon.
They’re on track to sell about 1,300 or 1,400 trees this year, he said, though only about 150 were cut-your-own. He said they anticipate having about another 150 cut-your-own trees next year.
“It’s hard telling people no, but it’s not like a fruit where it grows in two months and you can harvest it. It takes years and years to grow,” he said.
Ken Wiedel, who lives in Northeast Baltimore with his wife, said he’s been buying trees locally for about a decade. This year, they spent $120 on a tree, the most he remembers it costing.
“There are [more] affordable trees, they’re not not particularly aesthetically pleasing. The past few years, we’re a little picky about what they look like. Not everybody is,” he said.
It’s a cost that he and his wife are able to swallow, Wiedel said, but not everyone is.
“I’m sure that price jump is commensurate, someone that was able to afford a $40 tree, that is now a $70 or $80 tree, and for a lot of people that is a stretch,” he said.
If you’re looking for a tree this week or this weekend, Underwood suggests calling a tree farm or checking their social media before going in case they’re already closed for the season. It takes 7-10 years, on average, to grow a Christmas tree that’s ready to cut in Maryland, she said.
The millennials who stole Christmas
The trends farmers and customers are seeing in Maryland are reflected nationally, said Jill Sidebottom, a seasonal spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association.
“Typically, choose-and-cut farms, unless they’re just massively huge, they’ll run out of trees pretty early in the season,” she said.
National demand for Christmas trees created a “feeding frenzy” last year, Sidebottom said, as families were looking to get outside and regain some sense of normalcy as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on. This year, she said, there is still high demand, but not quite as high as last year.
“Anecdotally, we feel that millennials, the ones with young kids now, they’re out for experiences,” she said. “They’re going to post pictures on Instagram of them getting a real tree, picking apples, picking grapes, whatever, and so it’s wanting that experience, which is great.
Farms in Maryland will bring in trees from other states, like North Carolina, where it does not take as long for them to grow.
“What we like to say is that you’ll be able to find a tree, it just may not be at a choose-and-cut farm. There are a limited number of trees growing in the state now. But there are beautiful trees that come in from other places,” Underwood said.