Horticulturist comments on Christmas tree sales and offers tips on selecting and caring for trees

Published: December 12, 2019
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Dr. Jeremy Pickens, an assistant research and extension professor with Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Mobile, Alabama, provides insight into this year’s Christmas tree sales and offers tips on how to select a tree and care for it.

What is the outlook for Christmas tree sales this year?

That depends on what kind of tree you are interested in and where you are located. Cut trees, choose-and-cut farms and artificial trees make up the Christmas tree market. What you find at most Christmas tree lots and box stores are cut trees that are grown in North Carolina, Oregon or other cool weather states. The choose-and-cut farms provide the chance to pick out a tree from a local grower. You can cut it down or they will. For most of the Southeast, it is too warm to grow firs. Most of the choose-and-cut farms grow a variety of trees including: Leyland cypress, Virginia pines, arborvitae and cedars. These trees are not pre-cut, but some farms will buy them from fir growers up north and bring them in. Due to seed shortages, weather and the fact that less trees were planted during the recession have recently caused issues with securing pre-cut trees. This has made the market tight so I wouldn’t wait until the last minute to buy a real tree this year. Like last year, consumers may pay a little more than usual for pre-cut trees. If you have a local choose-and-cut farm, then most will have plenty of trees to pick from. 

How large is the Christmas tree industry?

According to the 2017 Agriculture Census, a little over 15,000 farms grow around 300,000 acres. A survey conducted by the National Christmas Tree Association reported 32.8 million real trees were sold last year. Most farms are under 50 acres, so when you buy a live tree you are supporting small businesses. The support extends way beyond the farm to truck drivers, farm suppliers, the lot owner and the kid you might tip to drag your tree to the car. 

What factors affect sales?

Business has been good over the last few years for all three markets. The choose-and-cut farms have benefited from the millennial generation coming to an age where they can take their own kids to the farm. Natural live trees appeal to younger people and they want to establish traditions that build lasting memories for their children. That includes taking the kids to the farm, picking out a tree and having pictures made. The growers have capitalized on this and many have mastered social media as a marketing tool.   

What are some tips for keeping live trees in your home?

It’s important to understand that the tree is still alive despite being cut down. All the normal physiological processes of that tree are still happening. That means it needs water. Keeping the tree hydrated is crucial to keeping it fresh looking through Christmas. When you get home, make a new cut about one-half inch above the original cut. This will expose fresh tissue allowing better absorption of water from the tree stand. Place the tree in the shade until you are ready to bring it in the house.  Check the water level in the tree stand often and try to keep it topped off to full. It will surprise you how fast the tree uses water. Consider placing the tree away from direct sunlight or near heater vents. The cooler the air temperature in the room the less water the tree will use.

What should people look for when selecting a tree?

It’s best to have a good idea where you are going to place the tree in your home before you start shopping. Remember the tree needs to fit in the intended space. Also, keep in mind that most tree toppers and tree stands can add over 6 inches to a tree. Look for a full canopy without empty pockets of branches.  Often a tree will be placed in a corner or against a wall providing an opportunity to hide any empty canopy pockets. If you are going to buy a pre-cut tree then your preference should be trees that have been stored with the cut portion in water. Some lots will use tree stands and some may use buckets of water. These trees will keep better through the holidays.

Media Contact

To arrange an interview with our expert, please contact Preston Sparks, Auburn University director of communications, at 334-844-9999 or preston.sparks@auburn.edu.