December 6, 2022

Christmas tree farms struggle to meet overwhelming demand

A recent influx of people moving to Northeast Pennsylvania has squeezed the Christmas tree supply network, making it difficult to chop a tree this season.

The shortage of trees is due to disruptions of the global supply chain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After two years of COVID-19 and quarantining, the chance to get out in the fresh air with the family made the classic holiday tradition of picking and chopping a Christmas tree regain popularity.

Supplied photo: Olsommer’s Tree Farm

“There’s many people moving here from New York and New Jersey, so the demand for real Christmas trees has increased significantly,” says Don Olsommer from Olsommer’s Christmas Tree Farm in Honesdale Borough in Wayne County.

The Poconos is a popular tourist destination with its breathtaking scenery and outdoor attractions bringing in thousands of people every year. Because of the pandemic, many have relocated to Pennsylvania, increasing demand for Christmas trees.

Roger Unangast of Unangast Tree Farms in the Bath Borough had to make the difficult decision to close early Dec. 11.

“The demand for fresh Christmas trees is approx. 20% higher through COVID,” Unangast says.

Many farmers decided to close early for the season to avoid the financial loss expected if they stayed open.

“Trees are a 10-year investment for farmers,” says Unangast. “They don’t turn any profit for approx. 10 years.”

Increased demand may sound good for businesses, but the trees cannot grow fast enough to keep up. 

“It takes eight, ten years to grow,” says Olsommer. “We planted them four years ago, they’re only about two feet off the ground.” 

With these shortages in mind, and no way to prevent them, farmers face the difficult decision to close early because of the increased demand for trees.

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Finding the perfect Christmas tree

Going out and choosing a Christmas tree is a classic holiday tradition but requires consideration when picking the perfect one.

Among the wide variety of Christmas trees to choose from, fir trees are traditional for their key qualities.

The Douglas fir is the most common due to its fullness and conical shape. Fraser firs typically last long and are fragrant but balsam firs are the most fragrant, making it the most popular Christmas tree variety. 

“They’re very durable, but they dry out quickly, so make sure it gets enough water,” says Mark Heckman of Heckman’s Orchard in Chestnuthill Township in Monroe County.

White or Scotch pine are commonly used due to their needle retention, meaning less clean up after the holiday.

For those with children, it is best to lean toward pines or firs because of their soft needles. Spruce trees tend to have sharp needles that can hurt when stepped on. Cypress trees produce little to no aroma and are more commonly used as shrubbery.

When picking your tree, it is best to check the tree’s freshness to ensure it will last long enough. To test the freshness, bend a needle in half. Fresh firs will snap while fresh pines should bend, not break. 

Taking proper care of the tree at home is essential to guarantee it lasts as long as possible. Placing your tree next to the fireplace may be tempting, but doing so will dry it out faster.

“Put your tree in water as quickly as you can after cutting it,” Heckman says. “Fresh-cut trees will absorb more water, so your tree will hold its needles and color for longer.”

Once the holidays are over, be mindful to recycle your tree to ensure a sustainable and environmentally friendly holiday by taking them to a local recycling center.

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