Holiday shoppers who intend to purchase a Christmas tree or a holiday wreath should act sooner than later this year, industry experts agree, and can probably expect to pay more.

Tree farmers and members of the Maine Christmas Tree Association said this is not a shortage but a tight market, as multiple factors have combined to create a demand far greater than the supply.

Local business owners did not agree with that assessment, though. They said it has been extremely difficult to find product to sell, with some shops still unable to find any trees or wreathes at all as Christmas quickly approaches.

“Oh, absolutely there is a wreath and tree shortage,” Melanie Leo-Daigle, owner of Fresh Off the Farm in Rockport, said.

Leo-Daigle said other local businesses have been calling her either hoping to purchase the holiday products from her wholesale or contact her suppliers. These businesses have either sold out of what they had or were unable to find any in the first place.

While Fresh Off the Farm has Christmas trees and wreaths for now, Leo-Daigle said she may run out of some products in 14 days if sales continue their current path, and she is not sure if she can find more. The products she has also required extra effort to procure and higher delivery or gas fees.

One recent order came from 80 miles away, Leo-Daigle said, and cost almost $500 for the delivery. A different order required a trip to Danforth, which is at least a six-hour drive. A third product order was cancelled by the vendor the morning delivery was scheduled.

The delivery fees and price of fuel, plus the scarcity, have led to an increased retail price for these classic holiday decorations as well.

Leo-Daigle said Fresh Off the Farm is charging up to $85 this year for larger trees, which range from 8 feet to 12 feet. While they still have more affordable, smaller trees starting at $8, in past years the store did not need to charge more than $65 for the largest ones.

Fresh Off the Farm employees in Rockport with Christmas trees. Photo by Christine Simmonds

Wreaths at Fresh Off the Farm start at $11.99 and go up to $137.99 this year. In past years, Leo-Daigle said her highest-priced wreaths were $105.

At Union Hardware, Shanie and Vick Pease have been trying unsuccessfully to find Christmas trees to sell for months.

“It’s a Christmas staple for us,” Shanie said. “We are still hoping for some trees.”

She said some customers have even delayed putting up a tree in hopes of buying from them and supporting their local businesses.

Vick said their tree supplier for the past 25 years is now out of the business, and warned them in February he was not going another season.

Vick said that was when he started calling around looking for Christmas trees they could sell at Union Hardware. Every place he contacted told him there was nothing available.

“I’ve been calling all over New England and parts of Canada,” Vick said. “Lots of people have trees, but they are all spoken for. And tree prices are going up.”

As for wreaths? “Didn’t even try to get wreaths this year,” Vick said. “It’s just a tough go.”

Holiday wreaths for sale at Fresh off the Farm in Rockport. Photo by Christine Simmonds

It appears to be a combination of several factors causing both supply and demand problems, industry experts agreed.

Jim Corrliss of the Maine Christmas Tree Association Board of Directors, Lowell Freiman of Davis Stream Tree Farm and Brett Johnson, Sustainable Agriculture and Horticulture Professional at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Somerset County all identified the recession in 2008 as the real source of the issue.

During the recession, many Christmas tree farmers decided to get out of the business, Corrliss said. Those who stayed in business planted fewer trees.

Freiman said the farmers who stayed in the industry are now harvesting the trees planted during that time, as the trees take about 10 to 12 years to mature. This means there are currently fewer trees in the market.

Freiman said many business owners have been contacting him, hoping he is able to sell them wholesale trees. “My phone has been ringing off the hook since March, all with the same story,” he said. “Their supplier no longer has the trees they need.”

Corrliss, who used to operate a Christmas tree farm in Newburgh but has since sold it, said advertising has also increased demand for live trees. The Real Christmas Tree Board, formerly the Christmas Tree Promotion Board, began assigning fees to tree producers and placing those fees into an advertising fund.

“It’s the first time we’ve had any money to promote our product,” Corrliss said. “That is beginning to take hold I think.”

Freiman, who has been growing Christmas trees in Washington since 1987, said the labor shortage and the hard work involved have also affected the tree market.

Christmas trees are a hands-on industry, Freiman said, and many people are having a difficult time finding workers to perform tree management. This means farms are not able to harvest as many trees this year as in the past.

Johnson said new farmers establishing a Christmas tree farm face the challenge of long production cycles, and could invest ten years of time and effort before generating an income. This can lead some new farmers to grow other crops instead.

The wreath supply has also been affected by these same issues, plus weather conditions. “Tippers,” those who collect pine tree tips to make wreaths, have fewer public spaces available to collect the brush.

This brush also requires three consecutive nights of twenty degrees or colder to set or harden, Johnson said, otherwise many needles may fall off or shed. For this reason, brush is generally collected after Nov. 1.

Those temperatures have occurred now, but nights may not have been cold enough for what is called a “full set” of the needles in early November.

Corrliss said he has never seen any wreathes shed needles, even if the brush was harvested early. He did add the warmer temperatures made him anxious to see the conditions of the wreaths he knows were made in the first two weeks of November.

Freiman also said he had never seen wreaths drop all their needles, but added this has been an unusual winter.

Both Freiman and Corrliss agreed the market will bounce back, but it will take some few years. “There is not a stockpile of trees,” Freiman said.

In the meantime, Johnson said consumers should be proactive and purchase a tree or wreath earlier, as a high demand will make them harder to find as Christmas approaches.

[Editor’s note: This story has been changed from the original version to improve the accuracy of a quote.]