Chances are, the most you’ll find this Christmas morning when you open your gifts is a watered Christmas tree.
A record 4.85 million Americans will buy holiday trees this season, but the greatest demand for balsam firs and pines this year comes from families who want a bigger house than they have now.
Sales of indoor balsam and pines plummeted in recent years — a 2015 survey found that just 3 percent of people were buying them — while outdoor pine sales have held steady.
“People really want to decorate their house with a house ornaments they’ve had forever. They don’t need any lumber,” said Mark Schodel of Wisconson Christmas Trees, which owns 100 trees nationwide and planned on selling 5,000 more this year, up from 5,000 in 2017.
In Minnesota, which like Maryland has already started the Christmas tree season, more than 150,000 fir trees will be harvested and sold this year. They’re a fixture of the tree farm scenes in the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
In Maryland, 5,000 trees have been harvested so far this year — with 400,000 coming by the holiday season’s close — up from about 4,000 a decade ago, according to Brian Tashjian, co-owner of the Tashjian Christmas Tree Farm in Allegany County.
“There’s going to be an incredible shortage,” he said. “People expect it’s going to be here every year. And in the last 10 to 15 years, it hasn’t been like that.”
The U.S. lacks many trees, he said. He fields his harvest from Maryland’s easternmost creeks, where the average tree grows to just 5 feet tall. The trees must survive the winter, when freezes knock out the limbs and the tree withers. In the spring, his crew grows another crop of trees up for harvest.
Schodel said his tree farms have been selling around 1,000 trees a year, meaning there’s a shortage. The average U.S. farmer now harvests 4,000 trees per year, a number that dropped sharply after the Depression.
“We’re trying to fill orders the way we can and have people order trees five or six years out,” he said. “That makes it hard to plan new trees because you don’t know how long it’s going to last.”
Most of the time, trees are cut close to Christmas, and sold in giant bundles. At Schodel’s farm in Allegany County, where there’s a carnival on Labor Day, “kids do a lot of kids’ rides,” and the auction in December will be “just as big.”