‘Last year was bad, this year is horrible’: Christmas tree shortage hits South Florida

Christmas tree shopping tips

Alex Rodriguez-Roig, President of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade gives his 4 tips on buying the perfect Christmas Tree on Friday November 23, 2018.
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Alex Rodriguez-Roig, President of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade gives his 4 tips on buying the perfect Christmas Tree on Friday November 23, 2018.

It may cost a little more this year to get into the holiday spirit. But don’t blame the Grinch; the U.S. is suffering from a national Christmas tree shortage.

Think of it as a hangover from the Great Recession. Even though it struck a full decade ago, the 2008 downturn and a concurrent glut of yuletide firs and spruces drove many growers out of business. The supply is now tight — and replenishing it takes time, since a tree grows eight to 10 years before it’s ready for the tree lot.

“Last year was bad; this year is horrible,” said Chris Winkler, 53, co-owner of Holiday Sale tent on SW 104th St. in Kendall, who has been selling Christmas trees with his family in Miami for more than 40 years. Normally Winkler and his three brothers operate four tree selling locations; this year they’re down to two.

And in keeping with the laws of supply and demand, fewer trees means higher prices.

“We don’t have the trees to fill four,” he said. “I’ve invested more money this year and I have less trees.”

On Friday, Winkler’s Kendall shop’s parking lot was packed with cars. Winkler said the tree farmers he buys from in North Carolina raised their prices by about 20 percent this year, so he’s had to charge customers more.

That price hike was too much for shoppers Juan and Jessie Rangel and their two young boys. Last year they said they spent $85 on a tree. This year, the same seven-foot size tree was priced at $130.

“$130? Jesus Christ,” said Jessie Rangel. “I thought $85 was a lot. Maybe it’s time for a plastic tree.”

The family headed for Home Depot, where they may have had better luck. Larger retailers are impacted less by the shortage because they buy a variety of trees in large volume. Liz Simone, the store manager at the Home Depot in North Miami, said her store’s stock is just fine. She expects the store will have enough to last through the 25th.

Nearby, KB’s Real Christmas Trees had just enough trees in stock, but not the variety that owner Ken Burns, 60, has typically seen in his 44 years in business. He gets his trees from farmers in Michigan and North Carolina.

“I’ve been dealing with the same farmers for 35 years, so I get priority with them,” he said. “This year I have less choice over size and no last-minute orders.”

Supply and demand problems are nothing new. Like other crops, Christmas trees are a commodity that goes through cycles from too few trees to an oversupply. “Supply and demand seem to always be in some flux,” Chal Landgren, a Christmas tree specialist and professor at Oregon State University, said via email.

But regional factors are also exacerbating the problem. For example, a spring frost damaged trees at some farms in Canada’s Nova Scotia, choking off some supply in the Northeast, putting pressure on other tree sources. Some Canadian farms in New Brunswick are buried under snow from recent storms, making it difficult for them to get trees onto trucks for shipment.

A shortage of Fraser fir trees, the most popular on the East Coast, had some North Carolina buyers scrambling to find balsam firs in New England. In Oregon, some people are taking Fraser fir trees from the East instead of noble firs that are the most popular tree on the West Coast.

Hurricanes and wildfires also affected tree farms in North Carolina and California, said Burns and Winkler.

All told, U.S. consumers are expected to buy about 27 million trees, roughly the same as the past two years, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Most people will find what they want, but prices could be a bit higher than last year’s average retail price of about $75, said Tim O’Connor, the association’s director.

With the lean supply, shoppers might want to start early if they want a lot of choice and variety.

Kimberly Hernández didn’t wait. On Friday, the Bay Harbor resident spent $80 on a seven-foot tree at KB’s Real Christmas Trees — her first ever. Her parents are planning to visit from Venezuela, and she wants a real Christmas tree for the family.

“This tree caught my eye, it’s so full,” she said. “I love the smell.”

This report was supplemented by material from the Associated Press.
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