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‘To tree or not to tree’; consumers can expect higher prices this year


The drought is not good news for Christmas tree farmers. According to the American Christmas Tree Association, nearly one in three Californians surveyed are considering the drought in their tree-shopping plans this holiday season.

Decades ago, many Californians would often display an artificial tree—sometimes made of aluminum but usually spruce or fir styles—but today the natural tree is big part of the holiday spirit that begins today. And while a few Christmas tree lots are springing up here and there, there may not be enough trees to go around. That’s the sense you get from Jami Warner, director of the tree association, who said more people are taking the drought in to account when shopping for the perfect holiday interior adornment.

“Thirty percent said the drought would definitely impact their choice of a Christmas tree, and that’s fairly significant,” Warner said.

Only nine percent of respondents said the drought has convinced them to go treeless, but another 18 percent are seriously considering switching from real to artificial trees. It may be the “gallon-of-water-per-day” routine required to keep a tree moist, but Warner believes consumers will still shell out anywhere from $40 to $200 to transport a tree home.

“We hope [the drought] won’t keep people from getting a Christmas tree at all,” she said.

Warner said that the storms this fall have not relieved the state’s constant concern about water, with the issue of conservation remaining “… very top of mind.” She added that some Californians may overestimate the impact the drought is having on their personal tree use.

Scott Martin owns a Christmas tree-rental farm in Carson and said he had to pull 40 percent of his classic Christmas pines—200 trees—off the lot last year because they require more water and dry out quicker than spruce trees. Since then, he has advised customers to fill the tree bases with ice cubes because “it’s a more effective way for a tree to absorb water,” he said.

Many trees are imported from Oregon, the nation’s top producer of the holiday icon. Steve Randall, owner of Porter Tree Farms in Estacada, Ore., said he has already begun sending trees to New York City, Oklahoma and Texas and noted that California is usually a “later market” because shipping doesn’t have to travel as far. He said a few of his seedlings died this summer because of the drought, “but the mature trees are strong enough to weather the change in climate.”

Another Christmas tree farmer, Ron Herrington of Roseburg, Ore., said most of his trees take anywhere from six to eight years to grow to maturity. The drought dried out his five-year-old Grand firs and only his eight-year-old Douglas firs have survived.

If you purchase your Christmas tree one month from now, expect to get soaked on the way home. Thanks in part to El Nino, a series of strong storms have blanketed the Sierra Nevada mountains with snow, and this will transform into soaking rain later on in Southern California. Ski resorts, meanwhile, are seeing record numbers of enthusiasts arriving to enjoy an early dusting of fresh powder.

“This is the earliest the ski resorts have been opened in many years. They rarely open before Thanksgiving,” said Bill Patzert, climatologist with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada-Flintridge. He added that the big snow storms should continue well into next year, but there will be risks to skiers and snowboarders because of dangerous road conditions already reported across the Sierras. To put his statement into context, last weekend officials said a UCLA graduate student who went missing earlier this month was found buried in snow after an avalanche came crashing down in the John Muir Wilderness.