Nothing, it seems, will be spared from the fierce plague of inflation — not even that most venerable symbol of the winter holidays, the Christmas tree.
And it’s becoming something of an unwelcome tradition: All things green — balsam and Fraser firs, spruces, and white pines — will cost around 10 percent more this season, according to Tim O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association. The supply and demand issues at play in the earlier COVID years are to blame.
Considering that prices of consumer goods overall have risen 7.7 percent in 12 months, the tale of the holiday evergreen is unsurprising. Marsha Gray of the Real Christmas Tree Board put it simply, in a statement: “There are no plot twists in the real Christmas tree story this year.”
But that’s little comfort to people who sell trees, or those who buy them.
Prices for premium trees in particular are well up. Chris Kennedy of Kennedy’s Country Garden in Scituate buys from growers in northern New England and Canada. A tree that in 2020 might have cost him $34 wholesale cost $92 this year. Customers, he said, must bear a portion of that burden.
“What other choice do I have?”
The sticker shock caused Courtney Dwyer to shop around. The West End resident received a quote of $221.96 for an 8-foot balsam fir from Christmas Tree For Me, an online tree delivery service based in Boston, when she paid $120 for a similar one in 2020.
“I went with another company and got a smaller tree,” Dwyer said in an e-mail, adding a parenthetical sad face.
Jeff Feccia, owner of Christmas Tree For Me, said the price increase is because both trees and labor are far more expensive now — up to 20 percent — than last year. It’s unfortunate, he added, but most customers don’t seem to mind.
“That’s the only complaint I’ve received about price,” Feccia said.
In the suburbs around Boston, some shoppers said they are still able to find an average-size tree for around $60, although prices for the bigger and better ones quickly escalate. Jack Bradley of Dover, N.H., elected to head over the border to Maine to find a cheaper, pre-cut tree for $75. And Dan Doherty of Brighton said the 6-foot tree he bought for $122 this year was substantially more than the $75 he paid in 2021.
Several factors are behind the higher prices. Lengthy droughts have reduced the harvest nationwide, while fuel costs doubled the cost to truck trees from the forest. The industry is also still grappling with the fallout of the 2008 Great Recession, when demand crashed and growers planted fewer saplings. Repercussions of that decision can be felt over a decade later, because of how long trees take to grow.
Jill Sidebottom, seasonal spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, said growers also have to account for a myriad of mundane purchases the public may forget: chain saws, balers, twine. “It’s all going up,” she said. The association found 98 percent of wholesalers planned to bump up prices this season because of inflation, she said.
Trees at Mistletoe Tree Farm in Stow, for example, now cost $12 to $14 per foot this season — $1 a foot more than last year. Owner Mark Harnett said the hike was unavoidable after being hit with higher fertilizer and fuel bills.
“We’re hoping that in future years we can keep that number steadier,” he said.
In a survey of tree growers, 73 percent also said their annual input costs have increased by 11 percent or more.
Dannie Kelly, owner of Kelly’s Christmas Tree in Roxbury, estimated he spent up to 30 percent more per tree this season. Because of supply constraints, a third of the crop he ordered has yet to arrive. He passed a portion of the looming cost burden to customers, who are shelling out $10 to $15 more per tree.
“But we can’t make them pay for all of the increase,” added Kelly, once dubbed “the real-life Santa Claus“ of Boston. “We can’t double our prices. There’s a limit. It’s starting to get hard to be a small-business Christmas tree dealer.”
And though retailers are eager to keep costs low for customers in tough times, it’s not always possible, said Patrick Parent, a product manager for Mahoney’s Garden Center. The chain owns a farm in Nova Scotia, so those trees have not changed in price, but not so with the trees it buys from sellers in Canada, North Carolina, and Oregon.
“We’re trying to eat some of the overhead,” Parent added, “because we know everyone is trying to put food on the table, and we want to see that they can celebrate the season.”
Elfego Sanchez Jr., a 35-year-old father in Revere, also tired of spending $80 for the past few years on what he felt was a low-quality tree, with bald patches and falling needles. When he and his wife came across a pre-lit artificial tree on Black Friday, they snapped it up.
“$96 well-spent,” Sanchez said. “The price of trees has gone up little by little for years. We’ve gotten the adventures of going to a farm to cut one down and just going to the Home Depot. We just didn’t want to do it anymore.”
That said, the squeeze on holiday cheer may soon come to an end. Sidebottom, of the National Christmas Tree Association, said sellers are recovering from the sky-high demand they saw in 2020, which forced many to harvest trees they had allotted for the future, leading to a shortage today. Plus, the threads of the Christmas tree supply chain that unwound a decade ago after the recession are mending themselves as a new generation of saplings grow up.
“It’s like getting the train going again,” Sidebottom added. “Eventually, it’ll run nice and smooth.“
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated what Dan Doherty paid for his Christmas tree.
Diti Kohli can be reached at email@example.com.Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.