Is getting a Christmas tree in Colorado too expensive? It goes back to the Great Recession.

Is getting a Christmas tree in Colorado too expensive? It goes back to the Great Recession.

Is getting a Christmas tree in Colorado too expensive? It goes back to the Great Recession.

For those buying a Christmas tree every year, it’s often not worth it to dampen the holiday cheer by lingering too long on the price of the evergreen strapped to the top of the car, let alone the price of last year’s tree.

Growers agree that costs aren’t going down year by year. According to the National Christmas Tree Board’s annual survey, 25% of Christmas tree growers expected a likely wholesale price increase of more than 5% this year. It’s better than last year, where 84% of growers said the same. 

But sellers say they’ve tried to keep their prices the same, including Shannon Von Eschen, co-owner of Creekside Tree Nursery, which runs a Christmas tree lot in Niwot with both pre-cut trees and cut-your-own-tree experiences. They’ll often use the same price tags year to year, increasing prices for a certain species and height of tree to match price increases from the wholesaler. 

“We sell some where we don’t make a lot of money, or maybe we’re even going to break even, and then we sell some where we have our margins where they need to be,” Von Eschen said. “We’ve just found that in the end, it typically works out. Our goal is really to find something for everyone.”

Cost of real Christmas trees over time

The average price of farm-grown Christmas trees has more than doubled over the last nine years, reaching an all-time high of $81 in 2020.

But it’s not just about cost increases each year. Christmas trees take a long time to grow, ranging from around seven years for a 6-foot Fraser fir to 20 years for a 15-foot tree. Growers need to take that timeline into account when pricing their trees.

That’s why, as long ago as it was, the Great Recession is still affecting real tree supply, said National Christmas Tree Association spokesperson Jill Sidebottom. 

Before the recession in 2008, demand had consistently exceeded supply. When trees began going unsold, growers didn’t have the space and didn’t see enough demand to keep planting at the same rate. Those seedlings have become the relatively sparse tree supply of the last few years. The supply hasn’t made a comeback since, which has driven up the wholesale tree prices, said Chris Munson. He owns Munson Farms, which switched its farm stand over to Christmas trees the Saturday after Thanksgiving, selling trees from both Colorado forests and major growing states including Oregon and Michigan. 

Cut trees all lay on top of each other in a lot
(Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Tyler Sherwood, owner of wholesaler Jolly Christmas Trees, has four pop-up lots with trees from around the country. He said growers began planting at higher volumes four or five years ago, when the shortage really started hitting. So he expects supply to go up accordingly in the future. It just might take a while.

“I would hope (supply starts increasing) by three years from now,” he said. “But I haven’t really seen any budging anywhere yet. I haven’t seen the price to do anything but go up since I started.”

Beyond low supply, prices get driven up throughout the process of growing and transporting the trees. Most lots in Colorado get their trees from growers in other states, including Oregon, Washington and Michigan. In 2020, Creekside Tree Nursery saw the cost of transporting green, fluffy trees from out of state triple. Worse, they received fewer trees than promised, and were already bearing additional costs from COVID-19 equipment, including personal protective equipment and new windows with Plexiglas.

On top of that, Von Eschen expected low turnout, but she ended up pleasantly surprised. 

“We thought nobody would come, and everybody came,” she said. “There was so much other stuff to complain about, so they didn’t really care what the prices were.

“It was actually worse the next year, where I think we were all trying to go back to normal, and people then started realizing things aren’t going back to normal, price-wise. People are saying to themselves, ‘I don’t have to have this,’ and they’re trying to find ways to cut costs. We’ll have to see how this year pans out.”

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