A fresh evergreen tree may mean parting with some extra green this year as a tight supply of Christmas trees is pushing up prices in some areas.
But John Weaver, who grows Fraser fir, Blue Spruce and White Pine trees on his family's farm in West Jefferson, North Carolina, said he is trying to hold the line of his tree prices at his Chattanooga retail outlet this year, even as he and other holiday retailers grapple with the shortest season possible between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Weaver wholesales many of the 20,000 trees he harvests each year, but he also sells trees at the Signal Mountain Boulevard roadside tent he has set up each fall for the past 33 years. He starts selling Halloween pumpkins in September and begins selling Christmas trees during the week before Thanksgiving.
"The phone is ringing off the hook this year and I'm afraid there could be a shortage of trees," Weaver said Monday. "Growing Christmas trees is not the same as selling trees. You've got to plan 10 years in advance."
Christmas tree sales
A decade ago when the Great Recession hit, some farmers quit the business when sales declined and new tree production this year was limited in some areas by droughts, floods and fires, especially for the Fraser Fir, regarded as the Cadillac of Christmas because it only grows at elevations above 3,000 feet.
But industry leaders reassure consumers there will still be of trees and boughs of Holly for the holidays.
"There is not a single community in the country that ever ran out of Christmas trees," Tim O'Connor, the executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, told NBC news over the weekend. "There may be certain locations that ran out of trees because of various reasons, but not too far away there will still be another place to get a tree."
Dan Raulston, owner of Ralston Acres Christmas Tree Farm in Rock Spring, Ga., and president of the Tennessee Christmas Tree Growers Association, said nearly 200 farmers in Tennessee and Georgia grow primarily white pine, Virginia pine, blue ice cypress, and leyland cypress Christmas trees.
"We've had some drought and disease that hurt tree production in some areas so we may see somewhat higher prices this year for Fraser firs, but live tree are still a great part of Christmas for many people," Raulston said. "Real trees are 100% recyclable and we usually plant two or three seedlings for every tree we harvest. "
Raulston touts the fact that real trees are also grown in the United States, "where most artificial trees are produced overseas. So it's really more environmentally responsible to have a real tree," he said.
Christmas trees in the South
Tennessee was the 16th biggest state for growing Christmas trees at 93,874 trees harvested in the 2012 survey by the Department of Agriculture. Tennessee’s Christmas tree harvest that year was down 43.7% from five years earlier.
Raulston said he expects another strong year for Christmas tree sales, boosting the 1,000 or so trees he sold from his farm last year to 1,200 trees this year.
But Christmas tree merchants, like all those trying to sell their wares this year, are facing the shortest time period possible between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"This year is could be a crazy year because Thanksgiving, when many people start thinking about getting a tree, is as late as it can be and December starts on Sunday," Weaver said. "So a week or so into December, things could start to be getting pretty scarce."
Weaver Tree Farms, began in 1967 by Weaver's father and uncle 1967, when John D. Weaver and his brother-in-law, Dale Shepherd and the younger Weaver joined the business at age 25 after working briefly as a teacher at a local community college. After more than three decades of selling in trees in Chattanooga, Weaver says he has come to know and love Chattanooga and finds himself selling many trees to children or even grandchildren of some of his original buyers.
"Because I grow my own trees, I'm trying not to get greedy with prices," Weaver said. "As my daddy said, "you can shear a sheep many times, but you can only slaughter it once.' "
Similar to last year, the Fraser firs run about $10 to $11 a foot.
There were 32.8 million real Christmas trees sold nationwide last year, which was 5 million more than in 2017, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Tree growers expect sales of live trees to be strong again this year.
Many buyers say it simply wouldn't be Christmas without the smell and appeal of a real tree in their homes.
"We thought about getting a fake tree this year, but the kids didn't want it and it's become kind of tradition in our home," John Fortney, a Signal Mountain medical doctor and father of four, said Monday after buying a $180 tree at Weaver Farms. "We love the smell and irregularities of a real tree."
Just as many buyers like the tradition of a live tree, Weaver says he sticks to his holiday traditions as well. On Thanksgiving, his family will join him on the Christmas tree lot for the traditional holiday meal and only then will he inflate the balloon character of Frosty the Snowman.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.