While some people turn to the internet to find the perfect gifts for under the Christmas tree, others are turning online to find the perfect tree.
Live 7-foot Christmas trees can be bought online from Amazon and the websites of tree farms across the country and delivered right to your doorstep.
“People in the business know online Christmas tree buying has gone on for well over 20 years, Amazon is just breaking into the market this year,” said Doug Hundley, a seasonal spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association.
“It’s a very small percent of buyers, 1 or 2 percent of tree sales. But 1 or 2 percent is still significant when you’re looking at 27 million trees sold,” Hundley said.
James Pitts, an owner of the Sugar Plum Farms tree farm in Avery County, said he began shipping trees to individual homeowners all over the country about 12 years ago. He warned, however, that it adds a good $75 in shipping costs to the price tag.
This year, Amazon is listing 6- to 7-foot live Fraser fir trees for $109.99 with free shipping and an arrival date of three to five days from the time of order.
But that doesn’t worry Pitts.
“We ship our trees to homeowners in California, Texas, New York, all over,” he said. “Amazon joining the market won’t hurt us. We’ll put our trees up against anybody’s. They’re looking really good this year.”
All about the experience
While Pitts has shipped trees worldwide, he prefers the traditional choose-and-cut experience his tree farm offers the more than 2,000 families that visit each year.
With free refreshments, hay rides and appearances by Santa, it’s more about the experience of selecting the perfect tree, Pitts said.
The N.C. Christmas Tree Association lists 37 choose-and-cut farm options on its website.
Last year, about 27 percent of families bought their trees from choose-and-cut farms.
“We’re happy about that. We feel like the beauty of real Christmas trees is the experience of picking out of a tree with the family,” said Hundley, who lives in the Boone area.
“We’re excited that millennials and new young families are continuing the tradition.”
Following choose-and-cut farms in popularity last year was the 26 percent of families who purchased trees at a chain store, like Walmart or Home Depot, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
Retail lots accounted for 19 percent of buyers, nursery and garden centers came in at 15 percent, and nonprofit groups, like the Boy Scouts and churches, had 10 percent of tree sales in 2017.
Shortage or no shortage?
Hundley said that despite reports of a projected shortage of Christmas trees that could drive up prices, this year’s market is looking good and prices have remained consistent over the last few years.
“The alarm last year about a shortage was uncalled for, kind of a runaway train story,” Hundley said. “We didn’t really think there would be a shortage. People bought just as many trees.”
During the 2008 financial crisis, Americans bought fewer trees and some growers went out of business or planted fewer trees, which was thought to cause a ripple effect since trees take seven to 10 years to reach Christmas-potential.
But in 2016 and 2017, about 27.4 million trees were purchased, Hundley said, keeping in line with the nine-year average of 27.8 million trees sold.
The average price per tree rose by a mere 50 cents from 2016 to 2017, up to an average of $75 a tree.
In comparison, the average price of artificial trees increased from $98.70 in 2016 to $107 in 2017 as more people turned to buying artificial trees.
“Right here in North Carolina, we’re at the center of the Fraser fir Christmas tree production and we supply trees across the country, so it’s a pretty healthy market,” Hundley said.
“We’ve had abundant rainfall so the trees are lush and have grown really well.”
While there may not be a quantifiable shortage of trees, Pitts said he has seen some local tree farms suffer from the recession and some won’t open this year.
He said he has about 80,000 trees this year, compared with 110,000 in his peak years.
“There’s somewhat of a shortage in the market this year, but we have plenty,” Pitts said.
“We looked ahead, knew what was going to happen and tried to plant more trees even though people told us we were crazy.”
North Carolina produces more than 20 percent of the country’s Christmas trees.
A farm in Avery County supplied the White House with a 19.5-foot-tall Fraser fir this year, marking the 13th time in history that the White House tree has come from North Carolina.
Local tree lots
People who want to buy a live Christmas tree in the Winston-Salem area have many options, with tree lots sprouting up around town throughout the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Mockwood Farms Christmas tree lot, near the intersection of North Broad and West Seventh streets, opened for business Thanksgiving morning with 258 trees at the ready.
The tree lot, which has been rooted at the edge of downtown for 85 years, was opened by owner Randy Mock’s great-grandfather and has been passed down through the generations.
“It’s tradition, it’s wonderful,” said his wife, Lea Mock, who co-owns the tree lot.
“Just getting to help people and watching the little kids run through going ‘Daddy, I want this one’ is just amazing.”
She said, in her experience, the biggest rush for Christmas trees is during the first two weekends in December.
The lot will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day until Dec. 22, she said.
According to Hundley, buyers should remove the bottom half-inch of the tree trunk before putting it in water to extend the tree’s lifespan.
The trees should also have consistent water — generally one quart of water per inch of stem diameter — and should be kept away from heat sources, he said.
“We’ve had abundant rainfall all year so the trees are lush, dark green and beautiful,” he said. “It should make for a magical Christmas.”