Christmas Trees

Revised May 2018

Overview

In the United States, Christmas trees are an important part of Christian Christmas celebrations and of the national winter holiday.

Christmas trees have been commercially sold in the United States since about 1850, when most were cut from forests. Midway through the last century, tree farms began to appear, and now most Christmas trees are grown on farms.

Production

Nearly 3,352 operations sold 19.9 million Christmas trees valued at $366 million in 2014. That is a increase from 2009 when the Census of Agriculture reported 2,700 farms growing cut Christmas trees and short-rotation woody crops with sales of $249.8 million (Census of Horticultural Specialties).

While Christmas Trees are grown for sale in 47 U.S. states, the top five tree-producing states in 2014 were as follows: Oregon (8.5 million), North Carolina (5.4 million), Michigan (1.3 million), Pennsylvania (839,000), Wisconsin (657,000). 178,000 acres of land in the United States were in Christmas tree production that year, up from the 174,000 acres of land in 2009 (NASS 2014).

The best-selling species are Fraser fir, Noble fir and Douglas fir, followed by Balsam fir and Scotch pine. North Carolina is the leading producer of Fraser fir, and Oregon is the leading producer of both Noble fir and Douglas fir. An estimated 60 to 70 million Christmas tree seedlings are planted yearly for upcoming years’ crops. The industry employs an estimated 100,000 people (NASS, USDA; National Christmas Tree Association).

Almost all trees require pruning management (shearing) to attain the proper branch and fascicle (twig/needle) density and a proper cone-shaped Christmas tree shape. Plantation production is the best system for delivering the regularly scheduled pruning, water management and general care necessary to produce the highest-quality product. On tree plantations, more than 2,000 trees are usually planted per acre. On average 1,000 to 1,500 of these trees survive; disease prevention, water and stand management are crucial to successful stand establishment. Roughly three-quarters of a stand remains after six to 10 years or so of culling.

Maturity for harvest usually is determined after the trees reach six to seven feet in height. Christmas trees often are “baled,” tied or similarly wrapped to protect the branches and retain the shape and overall quality of the tree during shipping.

Marketing

Tree plantations are now a common source both for marketed trees and for the “cut-your-own” agritourism experience where consumers select and harvest their own trees. As of January 1, 2010, there were 2,671 Christmas tree operations raising 157.7 million trees. (National Ag Statistics Service figures suggest that the number of operations will continue to decline, falling below 2,000 within 10 years.) Canada also produces many Christmas trees, and the United States constitutes a sizable export market for those growers.

Consumers have been purchasing increasing numbers of artificial trees in recent years as many of them have been frustrated about the messiness caused by needle drop from trees that were harvested as much as two months before Christmas. Another concern has been ecological: some consumers feel that harvesting a tree for just a few weeks’ display is wasteful. However, environmental groups are now endorsing real trees as an eco-friendly alternative to artificial trees. Eighty percent of artificial trees currently come from China where environmental standards are lax (Real Christmas Trees).

About 24.5 million live Christmas trees were purchased in 2012, down from 30.8 million in 2011, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. The retail value of the live trees was more than $1.0 billion. Of those, 85 percent were pre-cut and 14 percent were harvested at cut-your-own enterprises. In the same year, 24 percent of Christmas trees were sold from cut-your-own tree farms and another 24 percent from chain stores. Significant percentages of Christmas trees were also sold from retail lots (15 percent), nonprofit groups (15 percent) and nursery/garden centers (11 percent).

Exports

Although exact figures are not available, the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association notes that overseas markets include Japan, China, Hong Kong, Philippines and Mexico.

Trends

If the trends illustrated in magazines continue, some consumers will be seeking live trees that are unique in size (taller and thinner or short and squat) and appearance (less formally sheared, more protruding branches to accommodate broad swaths of decoration).

National, Regional and State Christmas Tree Associations

National Christmas Tree Association
New Hampshire and Vermont

Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington)
Southern (Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi)
California
Connecticut
Florida
Georgia
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kentucky
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
New Hampshire Christmas Tree Promotion Board
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
Tennessee
Texas
Wisconsin

Marketing

  • Census of Horticultural Specialties (2009), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA, 2010 - The census provides the only comprehensive, detailed data on U.S. floriculture, nursery and specialty crop production at the national and state levels. It provides such information as the number and types of establishments, value of sales, varieties of products and cut Christmas trees sold.
  • Christmas Tree Marketing, Alternative Agricultural Enterprises, University of Minnesota, in cooperation with the University of Idaho Cooperative Extension Service, 1992.
  • Christmas Trees magazine, Kansas - This print publication has provided relevant information to the live Christmas tree industry for over 35 years. The site contains facts about the real tree industry and information for children including the Christmas Tree Education Kit that explains life on a real Christmas Tree Farm. Other resources include stand management information for wholesale and retail Christmas tree growers.
  • Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), FAS, USDA.
  • National Christmas Tree Association - This association represents the growers of trees and greens and of related product producers who support the holiday season.
  • Selection and Care of Christmas Trees, Virginia Tech University Cooperative Extension, 1996 - The Christmas tree industry participates in agricultural marketing programs.
  • Selling Christmas Trees to Mexico, GAIN Report, Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), USDA, 2004 - The Mexican market for U.S. Christmas trees was over $9 million in 2003. The market for imported Christmas trees is growing, and the United States enjoys a 95 percent import market share.
  • United States Standards for Grades of Christmas Trees, Ag Marketing Service, USDA, 1989.
  • Yankee Woodlot: Christmas Tree Marketing, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, 1998 - Maximize return from Christmas tree culture by developing a marketing plan to help achieve business goals.

Production

Businesses/Case Studies

  • Agroforestry Overview, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), NCAT, 2002 - Covers how operations can benefit from adding forestry operations to their existing production cycles.
  • Mountain Star Farms, Woodsville, New Hampshire - This farm boasts an online shop for ordering ease.
  • Tammen Treeberry Farm, Ag Marketing Resource Center, 2002 - This case study was written about a 50-acre Illinois farm that offers choose-and-cut Christmas trees and pick-your-own blueberries.

Sources

Cut Christmas Trees: 2014, 2007 Census of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA, 2009.
Tips for Christmas Tree Care, University of Illinois.
National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA).
Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association.
2014 Census of Horticultural Specialties, NASS, USDA, 2010.

Trend Links

Selling Christmas Decorations - Information on latest trends.
Real Christmas Trees Save Water, National Geographic,  2011. 
 

Links checked May 2018.