Stuck inside during COVID-19, Americans put up more Christmas trees this year, lifting prices

Elizabeth Vitanza has gone all-in on Christmas decorating this year.

Along with setting up an inherited artificial tree, Vitanza ordered a second one by mail, which cost about $120 and arrived shortly before Thanksgiving. Then on a whim, she stopped at a lot near her home in Glendale, California, spending around $85 on a third tree.

“I’m grateful to be able to indulge in this celebration of Christmas decorating that reminds me of my childhood – it makes me feel cozy and happy to be home,” Vitanza, 41, says.

Vitanza isn’t alone. Americans are heading in droves to Christmas tree lots and cut-your-own farms this year as the coronavirus pandemic forces them to cancel their usual travel plans. Stuck at home, they’re focusing their holiday spirit on home decorating – with some buying trees for the first time, while others, like Vitanza, are filling homes with multiple trees.

Not surprisingly, tree prices are higher. The median price for fresh trees is expected to rise 7% to $81, according to Bloomberg News.

An undated photo shows tree farmer Mike Isham and his wife, Helen Weston, who are owners of the 5th generation Isham Family Farm in Williston, Vt.

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Tree prices have been on the rise for a number of years, says Doug Hundley, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association. That’s due to decisions made a decade ago following the Great Recession when a glut of trees and depressed demand prompted farmers to plant fewer trees – which take about 8 to 10 years to reach maturity.

Christmas trees sold out?

Some lots are reporting that they are already sold out, although Hundley says people should be able to find a tree, even if certain sizes and varieties – such as 12-foot noble firs – might become harder to find. Some tree farms said their inventory is narrowing, with Hampton Falls, New Hampshire-based Tonry Tree Farms noting its selection is now limited to trees under 6 feet after a busy start to the season.

Still, sales data for the Christmas tree season won’t be available until after the holidays, Hundley says. For the past several years, tree prices have risen about 2% to 3% a year, he says.

The rising cost of supplies – such as lumber and other farm necessities – prompted Williston, Vermont-based tree farmer Mike Isham to boost his tree prices this year. He’s charging $50 for a 6- to 8-foot tree, an increase of $5 from last year.

“This past weekend was the best two-day weekend our tree farm has ever had,” says Isham, 60, referring to the December 5-6 weekend. “We were busier Saturday than Sunday, yet Sunday still went all day from start to finish.”

Unable to see family and stuck at home this holiday season, Elizabeth Vitanza set up three Christmas trees at her house, including a mail-order tree.
Unable to see family and stuck at home this holiday season, Elizabeth Vitanza set up three Christmas trees at her house, including a mail-order tree.

Buying their first tree

Some of that business is driven by people buying a tree for the first time, like Elinor Nissley of Los Angeles.

“This is the first year I’m not having Christmas with one of my parents,” Nissley, 49, says, noting that her father is in assisted living and isn’t allowed visitors, while her mother passed away last year. With no travel plans, she added, “We felt like it would be nice to be able to be festive at home.”

Nissley, an architect, spent $45 on a 4-foot high table-top tree at a lot near her home. She visited the lot on a weekday to avoid crowds. Even so, she says, there were “plenty of people there.”

Outdoor activity during COVID-19

Part of the surge in Christmas tree purchases may be the appeal of staying outdoors to avoid COVID-19 risks from indoor activities, experts say. The National Christmas Tree Association developed protocols for COVID-19 safety, such as encouraging its tree farmers to use touchless payment systems.

Tree shoppers, the association’s Hundley says, “are looking for that outdoor, that environmental experience.”.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Christmas trees: Prices, demand rise as decorating expands amid COVID