In a national trend the Grinch would appreciate, summer drought and extreme heat hit Pacific Northwest Christmas tree growers hard, and ongoing supply chain issues are impacting the availability of artificial trees.
This year, the nonprofit American Christmas Tree Association is urging people across the U.S. to deck the halls as soon as they can to avoid missing out.
Alaska retailers say that for the most part this year, they’ve successfully ordered fresh-cut trees in the quantities they wanted. However, varieties and sizes will be limited in some cases, and prices are higher than they were last year.
Between nurseries and chain stores like Home Depot, there should be plenty of Christmas trees for Alaskans, said Debbie Bacho, general manager of P & M Garden Services in Eagle River.
But Bacho, whose longtime tree supplier retired a couple of years ago, couldn’t order as many trees as she normally does. She’s selling about 250 trees this year, down from 400 in previous years.
Also, she couldn’t get enough of the fragrant noble firs that are usually in high demand. She emailed about 200 suppliers but couldn’t find extras, she said. Instead, she’s selling lots more of the Fraser and Nordmann firs this year, which she said are also beautiful.
The moral of the story: Shop early to find the right option, she said.
“If you want a fresh-cut Christmas tree, get it now,” Bacho said.
Alaska tree sellers say the complications they’re facing are rooted in the soaring summer temperatures that stifled growing conditions in states like Oregon and Washington. They come atop previous years of West Coast drought and wildfires that had already hurt tree farms, reducing growing acreage in states like Oregon.
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The shipping snarls that have led to supply shortages for many manufacturers have also contributed to higher shipping prices for trees arriving in Alaska on container ships from the Lower 48, they said.
“Everything is higher,” Bacho said.
A tree that cost roughly $100 in previous years might cost $130 this year, she said.
Other retailers say they’re lucky they’ve landed all the trees they wanted.
Alaska Mill and Feed in Anchorage is unloading newly arrived Christmas trees it will start selling Friday, said Brooke Shortridge, marketing and e-commerce manager at the store.
They’ve got hundreds of trees, up to 9 feet tall, she said.
The store couldn’t get the larger, 11-foot trees it once did.
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“A lot of people are calling,” she said. “They are hearing trees are hard to come by, so they are worried they won’t get a tree. But rest assured, we are getting our trees.”
Mike Mosesian, owner of Bell’s Nursery in Anchorage, said sales of Christmas trees keep growing at the nursery so he ordered 3,600 this year, more than last year. Some have arrived already and are selling well. The rest will arrive on container ships in stages, providing fresh options for customers as Christmas nears.
Mosesian said he’s lucky that he has a decades-long relationship with a Washington grower who has a good irrigation system and therefore escaped the heat-related problems that hurt other growers.
Still, the average tree price has jumped about 15% because of higher shipping costs, Mosesian said.
And Bell’s couldn’t get many of the largest trees it wanted, like the 12-footers. They have six of those, he said.
“Growers don’t like to keep trees in the ground that long -- they want to get their money out of them,” Mosesian said. “So when they get to 6, 7, 8 feet, they harvest them.”
Alaska doesn’t support Christmas tree farming because the firs that make good holiday trees grow too slowly, Mosesian said.
“You need a nice warm climate like they have in Washington and Oregon, and irrigation,” Mosesian said.
Home Depot stores in Alaska were also able to get the trees they needed, said Erica Lake, an assistant manager at the Home Depot in Midtown Anchorage. Her store ordered 400, and they’ve been selling briskly since hitting the floor last week.
“We’re lucky, I’ll tell you that,” she said, referring to the store getting its orders.
Lake also said the stores have received all the artificial trees they ordered.
If Alaskans are looking for another option, they can cut down spruce trees in certain wilderness areas.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources posts maps showing where Alaskans can legally cut Christmas trees in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Kenai Peninsula and Fairbanks.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge announced Monday that Alaskans can cut Christmas trees in the refuge, one per household and not more than 20 feet tall, from Thanksgiving Day until Christmas. Those interested can call the refuge at 907-262-7021 for more information.