A Christmas tradition continues with a live Christmas tree being the centerpiece in many N.C. homes and across the country this holiday season. Despite another year dealing with COVID-19 and the rising cost of inflation, live tree sales were up about 20% this year.

“We are having a great season,” Jennifer Greene, Executive Director, NC Christmas Tree Association said earlier this month. “We have seen an increased demand for real trees. I think COVID is partially responsible for that.  We did see a surge in tree sales last year as well.  I think people’s holiday traditions have changed over the past 2 years since COVID started.”

“People are spending more time at home and may not be traveling as much,” said Greene. “They are wanting to get a real Christmas tree. Maybe those that haven’t had one in a long time or have never had one. We have had a lot of people who have never had real trees that have wanted to have the real tree experience. We see a lot of positive changes,” she added.

Greene stressed that live trees are a better environmental choice than artificial trees that are primarily produced overseas in factories.

“One acre of Christmas trees provides enough oxygen for 18 people, and they absorb carbon dioxide,” she said. “For every tree that is harvested, 1-3 seedlings are planted in its place. N.C. alone has about 58 million Christmas trees growing on over 38,000 acres.”

N.C. is the second-largest Christmas tree-producing state in the nation and is known for the Fraser Fir – native to the Appalachian Mountains – and the most popular Christmas tree choice.

“North Carolina’s Christmas tree industry continues to thrive,” said Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga. “My district alone has nearly 400 Christmas tree farms. It’s an incredibly important part of our agriculture and economy. Families from all over North Carolina travel to the mountains every winter to pick the perfect tree for their Christmas,” she said.

N.C. carries on another proud tradition. This year, 2021, marks the fourteenth time that N.C. has provided a Fraser Fir tree for the Blue Room in The White House, more than any other state in the nation. The tree was donated from Peak Farms, owned by Rusty and Beau Estes, from Jefferson in Ashe County.

“Most people don’t realize about the Blue Room Christmas tree and that it is determined through a competition,” said Greene. “Growers compete for that honor.”

She said all the state and regional associations have an annual contest.  The NC Christmas Tree Association hosts an annual tree and wreath contest at their summer meeting every year. Growers must place first in one of the four categories.  By placing first in each of the four categories, those growers are eligible to advance to the National Christmas Tree Association’s contest where they will go through a round of judging, as well as a popular vote.  The popular vote is amongst industry peers who are at the meeting.

“It’s been going on since 1966,” Greene said. “It’s a Christmas tradition. It’s an honor for the grower because they are voted as one of the best in the industry.”

The cost of a live Christmas tree, like just about everything else, has gone up this year. Greene said the reason is two-fold: the 2008 recession and the ever-increasing inflation the country has seen this year.

“People were planting fewer trees during the recession,” Greene said. “Seedling producers didn’t produce as many seedlings, or some went out of business.  We are in a much better position than we were 4-5 years ago.”

“With Christmas trees, you are looking at an eight to 12-year cycle, depending on the height of the trees,” said Greene.  “Frasier firs are a very slow-growing species.

Christmas trees are not like other agricultural crops. It’s very hard to predict what is going to happen 10 years from now when you plant your crop and what is going to happen when it’s ready for harvest. With inflation, just like everything else, prices have gone up for farmers as far as labor, the materials, the tools they use, fuel, etc.”

Greene sees the demand for real trees increasing. More people in cities are putting up real trees, some using tabletop trees, with mail-order Christmas trees being an option.

“We have growers that will ship a Frasier Fir Christmas tree right to your door,” Greene said. “Whether you buy that Christmas tree at a grocery store, Walmart, Home Depot, a roadside stand, garden center or go to a choose and cut farm, it was grown by an American farmer.”