Minnesota Christmas tree grower Nick Wolcyn got the desperate call from a guy in California. A shortage of the holiday evergreens and higher prices are sending some across the country into a mild panic.
Not in Minnesota.
"We probably have the best crop of Christmas trees we've ever had," said Wolcyn, who helps run the family business — Wolcyn's Tree Farm. "So it's ironic that we're hearing about the national tree shortage."
According to a recent New York Times story, the shortage and higher prices in some areas can be blamed on the 2008 recession that put a crimp in holiday buying. That meant growers cut down fewer trees to sell, which in turn meant less space to plant seedlings that would now be sought-after 7- and 8-foot trees.
The Christmas tree supply also has dwindled in places like Oregon because some growers have gotten out of the business, a shortage compounded by the toll taken by drought and wildfires.
"Oregon is one of the top producers of Christmas trees," Wolcyn said. "So for us to get a call from someone in California shows me that there's a shortage on the West Coast."
But in Minnesota, the Christmas tree business has been more stable, in part because growers produce enough for the state's loyal group of customers. In addition, the growing season the past three years has been almost ideal — plenty of moisture, good snow cover when it got cold and a nice warm up in the spring that prevented winter burn, Wolcyn said.
Prices have climbed over the years but only to keep up with labor costs and inflation, Wolcyn said. A $40 tree in 2008 is about $55 now, he said.
At his tree farm, near Cambridge, the cost of a 6- to 8-foot balsam fir ranges from $45 to $65. Fraser firs go for $70 to $90 and Scotch pines for $40 to $60.
Unseasonably nice weather brought bigger crowds out earlier to some tree farms, said Will Almendinger, whose family operates the Rum River Tree Farm in Oak Grove and Hampton Hills farm near Cannon Falls. "Some farms might shut down early," he said.
"When the weather turns really, really cold and is below zero, that's when people say let's get up in the attic and get that artificial tree," Almendinger said. "But there's no shortage for anyone who wants a green tree."
Tom Frattallone, part owner of the Frattallone's Ace Hardware stores in the Twin Cities, said he was able to get enough trees from his suppliers in Canada, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Minnesota. But wholesale prices were up 10 to 15 percent because of the tight supplies in some parts of the country. It could become even more of a challenge next year, he added.
Frattallone said his business is absorbing the cost increase.
"My most expensive tree is $40," he said, explaining he doesn't buy premium trees. Instead he buys a quality grade, which means trees with at least three good sides and no big branch gaps. People want the tree smell, he said. "People are used to tradition," he said. "That's what Christmas is."