Why Are This Year’s Christmas Trees So Expensive?

With the mad Black Friday shopping rush over, it’s time to assess the damage done to the family holiday budget, but some families are in for one more surprise this holiday season: Christmas tree prices are going up.

The West Coast drought has devastated the Christmas tree crop, and some farmers are passing on the price increase to holiday shoppers.

Northern California tree farmer Jim Beck told the San Francisco Chronicle he lost most of his crop from the drought.

“Ninety percent of the seedlings we planted last year died. We simply couldn’t get water to them in time.”

Christmas tree shoppers in the city can expect to find higher prices in big retail lots like Target and Home Depot and a smaller selection in the boutique tree lots that offer train rides and hot cocoa.

Christmas adventurers heading into the woods to cut their own tree can expect to find smaller stunted trees that were unable to grow to their full height because they didn’t get enough water.

West Coast drought driving up Christmas tree prices

During a normal year the needles on a Christmas tree grow about an inch and a half and gain two and a half feet, but this year tree needles only grew about half that. It takes almost eight years for a Christmas tree to mature.

A normal Christmas tree can require as much as a gallon of water a day, and West Coast farms simply haven’t been able to supply that during the historic drought.

California holiday shoppers aren’t the only ones who will feel Christmas tree sticker shock. The entire West Coast is suffering from drought conditions, and the lack of water is hurting Christmas tree farms up and down the coast.


Tree farms in Oregon, where many California Christmas tree lots get their stock, have also been devastated by the drought conditions.

Oregon Christmas tree farmer Debbie Garavalia told the San Francisco Chronicle her family went to extreme measures this year in a futile effort to keep their trees watered including renting water trucks and hand-watering seedlings.

“I’ve never have seen anything like this. I’ve never gone through such a long extended time without water.[sic]”

Christmas trees can take eight years to reach maturity, and farmers simply can’t afford to grow extra trees they won’t be able to sell. Nationwide, there are more than 350 million Christmas trees in the ground, according to the Detroit Free Press, and a third of them come from the West Coast.

Use ice cubes to help keep your Christmas tree watered.

The historic four-year drought has hurt agricultural crops up and down the West Coast and resulted in millions of dollars in lost revenue for farmers. California enacted its first-ever statewide water conservation rules earlier this year, and experts expect them to remain in place long after the emergency has passed.

The Christmas tree farmers, like many Californians, are counting on the coming El Nino to refill dangerously low reservoirs, but it may not be enough. The state’s aquifers, which could use a boost, are simply too low to be refilled in one rainy season no how much water they get, but at this point any rain will help.

When you do bring the family Christmas tree home, experts recommend keeping its basin of water full at all times to help keep the tree green and the needles from falling off. Some retailers are advising customers to put ice cubes in their Christmas tree water basin, as it’s a more effective way for the tree to absorb its water.

[Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images]