How nationwide Christmas tree shortage is affecting Palm Beach County

A nationwide Christmas tree shortage could make it harder for South Floridians to find the perfect fir this year, especially as the holiday approaches, local vendors warn.

For now, at least, tree lot owners across Palm Beach County say they have plenty of trees, but they expect their supply to start to dwindle in the days before Christmas.

“This is our 7th year in the business, and this is by far the craziest year I have ever seen when it comes to the shortage,” said Brandon Helfer, one of the owners of Mr. Jingles, a tree lot company with two locations in West Palm Beach.

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Despite the national shortage, Helfer said he’s been able to get a continuous supply of fresh-cut trees from North Carolina. He’s hopeful he’ll be able to keep his lots stocked right up until Christmas, but he said other retailers may not be as lucky.

“Its one of those things where if you don’t have the relationships with the farmers, you aren’t going to be able to get trees,” Helfer said.

The tree shortage is an aftershock of the Great Recession, industry experts say. When the nation’s economy started its downward spiral, people bought fewer Christmas tress. Less demand meant farmers didn’t plant new trees.

It takes about 10 years to grow a 7 to 8 foot Christmas tree.

Now, a decade after the recession started, supply is tight and prices are up.

“When tree sales were down, they weren’t able to replant new ones,” said Doug Hundley, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association. “It is all about a tight supply-demand balance.”

Hundley said the supply problems could hit South Florida harder than other parts of the country, where local farms sell their own Christmas trees.

“I have been concerned that South Florida may be more vulnerable,” Hundley said. “Up in the northeast corridor and out west, you have a lot of Christmas tree farms. I am sure that in Florida there are a lot less of those farms.”

Florida has 35 Christmas tree growers, mostly located in the northern and central part of the state. The majority of those farms operate retail businesses. The trees are not sold wholesale.

Meanwhile, wholesale Christmas tree prices have climbed 5 to 10 percent a year over the last two years — causing sticker shock for some buyers.

Jack Lucas, the owner of Tree Towne, which has four locations in Palm Beach County and one on the Treasure Coast, said he’s had to raise the price of some of his trees slightly, but he’s trying to keep prices low for his customers.

“I was afraid people would get sticker shock,” Lucas said. “I am passing on as little as I can. In some cases, I just can’t eat it all.”

Last year Lucas’ lots ran out of Christmas trees on Dec. 19 — the earliest he’s ever stopped selling trees in the 35 years he has been operating the lots, he said.

“Last year, was the first year I personally really felt it and saw it,” Lucas said. “This is not just a one year deal. Right now we are at the peak of the shortage.”

This year, Lucas said he ordered more trees. So far, he has been able to keep his lots full.

“We are sitting good right now,” he said.

There were plenty of trees on Tuesday at the Home Depot on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard in West Palm Beach.

Matt Michaels, a spokesman for Lowes, said the company hasn’t had any supply problems in its South Florida stores.

“Lowe’s did not experience any shortages from Christmas tree suppliers this year,” Michaels said. “Our stores in Florida have a wide selection of live Christmas trees stocked and available for consumers at competitive prices. With demand being so high, however, we encourage customers to buy now to ensure they get the size and type of tree they want.”

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