The price drops the closer you get to Christmas Eve, but this year’s tree shortage means you should still buy sooner than later.
Procrastination pays when it comes to sprucing up your home for the holidays.
Square analyzed last year’s holiday transactions, and found that the shoppers who waited until Christmas Eve to buy their Christmas trees spent just $30 on average – less than half of the $66 that early birds dropped on Black Friday, when tree prices tend to be highest.
That’s because this weekend will be the busiest time to pick a pine, according to Square data, which reports that the Saturday after Thanksgiving is the most popular date to shop for the seasonal spruce. Nearly 90% of Christmas tree sales occur by the second week of December.
Google data also sees a spike in “tree farm” searches on Black Friday, since Thanksgiving’s end marks the official start of the winter holiday season.
Sales tend to peak on weekends, and drop on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, suggesting that if you do want to brave the early December droves, then midweek is the best time to pick a tree away from the pack.
The most expensive states to pick up an evergreen in Square’s report were California and Utah, with shoppers spending $76 and $73 for their Christmas trees, respectively, followed by South Carolina ($67), Minnesota ($66) and Louisiana ($65).
The least expensive state for tree trimming was North Dakota at just $27 a fir, followed by Maine ($31), New Mexico ($34), Vermont ($36) and Delaware ($37.)
But saving the green may not be worth the wait for last-minute tree hunters this year, since Doug Hundley, the seasonal spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, warned Moneyish that we’re facing a Christmas tree shortage.
“We have a tighter Christmas tree market this year, and it was tight last year, too, because fewer people bought trees when the Great Recession hit in 2007,” he explained. “And so growers didn’t have the revenue or the space to plant as many new trees.”
It takes seven to 10 years for a seedling to become a full-grown tree, so the last couple of years have seen us reaping the Recession’s smaller harvest. And so demand has been growing faster than the Christmas crop can keep up with. The NCTA counted 27.4 million Americans buying live Christmas trees last year, up 1.5 million from the year before. Hundley guessed that rural America could see their trees go up $2 or $5 apiece this year, and urban dwellers might pay $5 or $10 more.
So Hundley, who’s been planted in the Christmas tree industry for 40 years now, shared some tips to picking out the perfect tree and getting your money’s worth.
Shop by the second week in December. You want to save dough on your boughs, but holding off until Dec. 24 could cut too close. This year’s limited supply means that the longer you wait, the greater the chance you get stuck choosing between stunted runts straight out of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Hundley suggests buying your tree during the first half of December to get the best selection.
Pick a fresh tree. The best way to get your $60 to $70 worth is to pick a healthy, living tree that will last through New Year’s. “Take a close look at the foliage,” said Hundley. Look for a vibrant, green tree, run your hands over the boughs and squeeze them. “If they are soft and pliable, than the tree is probably fresh,” he said. “The needles should snap when you bend them.” But if the tree feels light, it’s shedding a lot of needles, and the needles bend and fold instead of snapping, then it the tree is already drying out.
Get a fresh cut. If you’re buying a pre-cut tree from a stand or a lot, then the seller should give the bottom of the trunk another cut before you take it home. “A Christmas tree is like a cut flower,” he said. “It will pull water out of a reservoir, which is your tree stand. But you need a fresh cut for them to draw water correctly, and the cut on the bottom of that trunk will seal up again in as little as five hours, so get it home and get it in water quickly.”
Don’t waste money on tree food. “All you really need is water,” said Hundley, who insists that you place your tree in a stand that holds at least a gallon of water, if not more, and that you top it off every day. “Don’t let anyone sell you additives to feed it. That’s snake oil. That’s just more money you’re wasting,” he said. “And we don’t recommend buying fire retardant sprays because they don’t really work. If you keep your tree watered and fresh, it cannot catch on fire.”
Be safe. While a fresh tree shouldn’t burn, don’t tempt fate by placing it near a fireplace, heater or radiator. String it with smaller Christmas tree lights or LEDs, which emit less heat and will dry it out less. Make sure none of the electrical wires on your tree are frayed, and unplug the lights anytime you leave home. And keep it watered. “Remember: this is a living, breathing thing that you are bringing into your home,” said Hundley. “If you take care of it, it should last four to six weeks.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved