by Lisa Tome
If you had trouble finding just the right live Christmas tree this year, you are not alone.
A local tree grower and a retailer reported that there was a noticeable Christmas tree shortage this year.
Jodi Shelby works at P&G Plant company, a retailer which sells Christmas trees at the intersection of Routes 213 and 40 in Elkton.
"Usually we get 1,000 (trees) and we sell out. This year we have 500. We got half of what we normally get and we started later than normal (by a week). It was a lot more difficult finding the trees this year," said Shelby. Shelby said that the company usually buys trees from North Carolina. This year, trees in that state were hard to come by for multiple reasons: wildfires, a big box retailer bought up numerous tree farms exclusively for their sales, and a drought in the Carolinas.
"The public doesn't know there's a tree shortage. People are looking for $20 trees and there just aren't any this year. There will be a shortage for the next seven years," said Shelby.
Richard Montgomery of Cherry Grove Tree Farm near Rising Sun, is more optimistic that things will be better in the industry sooner rather than later.
"There is a 20 percent shortage this year but we haven't closed our fields," said Montgomery, who has been growing trees since 1972.
He said measures have been put in place and more trees have been planted. The demand for larger trees has grown.
Years ago, people wanted six foot to eight foot trees. Now, people want 12, 20, and 22 foot trees.
"Five years ago we planted 2,000 trees. Three years ago we sold 3,000. You can't sell 3,000 when you planted 2,000," said Montgomery. "It takes six to eight years to grow an eight foot tree. They don't all grow. For the last two to three years, we've planted 6,000 but we won't harvest 6,000. We hope to catch up someday."
Although he grows trees, Montgomery has brought in trees from another area field where he has trees. He has also bought trees to supplement his own crop from a grower north of Reading, Pa.
Fraser firs are the in demand tree for Christmas. "They've been hard to get this year because of a drought in Virginia and North Carolina. We've heard of a lot of poor quality. We've had tree shortages before, but not like this," he said.
Montgomery said that he knows of tree farms that didn't open for business due to a shortage of trees. Others closed for the season earlier than normal.
"We had some picture perfect trees this year and next year we'll have even more. But this is our worst year since 1972. We had to purchase trees every weekend. We will be better next year than we were this year. Next year, we'll have 2,000 trees. We've been through it before and we'll come up with too many again. Five years from now there will be an overabundance. There will be too many," Montgomery added.