Trevor Lord has been busy this week coordinating deliveries from the parking lot of a Rita’s Italian Ice in Moorestown, one of five properties where he will be selling Christmas trees from Black Friday – a business tradition for the carpenter by trade.
South Philly native Lord and his 18-year-old business partner begin lining up trees for wholesale in July. Trev’s Trees sales peak during the holiday season at five locations including Wynnewood, Gloucester Township, Cherry Hill and Haddon Township.
“We buy about 8,600 trees a year,” Lord said. “We get them from everywhere – western Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Quebec. We buy from different farms and we have relationships with all our farmers. We choose from five different trees to sell.”
But the exact farms, Lord said with a smile, he keeps secret. He ordered 1,400 trees for Rita’s property alone.
Freshly cut Christmas trees are harder to come by this year for retailers like Lord for a number of reasons, and wholesalers say their costs have risen dramatically due to inflation, so people can expect to average $5 to $10 more for one this year pay tree.
With the holiday season in full swing, some may be wondering: where does my Christmas tree come from?
Americans bought 21 million real Christmas trees in 2021. According to a survey of 2,000 people conducted by the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade association representing growers and sellers of real trees, the median cost of a tree was $69.50 (half cost more, half less), and the average buyer was 40 years old and living in a household of more than three people.
According to a 2017 United States Department of Agriculture agricultural census, Pennsylvania ranks fourth nationwide by the number of acres of Christmas trees planted and third by the number of farms. The census is conducted every five years, although the data does not appear for about another year after that. Altogether there are 1,281 farms in Pennsylvania that devote more than 30,000 acres to the production of about 1 million trees that are felled annually.
Though not a top producer, New Jersey has 888 farms growing Christmas trees on 5,288 acres, with about 86,000 trees cut down.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, people buy farm-grown trees from a variety of places, such as: B. big big department stores like Home Depot to local fundraisers.
However, sales of real Christmas trees have declined somewhat recently, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. About 12 million trees were sold in 2019, compared to a peak in 2014 when about 20 million trees were sold.
JC Hill Tree Farms, a large grower in Schuylkill County, plants about 100,000 trees annually on 700 acres. The county, Hill said, produces the most Christmas trees in the state.
Hill plants Fraser, Douglas Fir, Canaan and Fir and Blue Spruce. He sells trees wholesale throughout Pennsylvania (including Philadelphia), Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, DC
“We do a lot in New Jersey,” Hill said Wednesday. “In fact, we have two trucks in New Jersey delivering Douglas fir right now. We will have a truck at Exton, near Philly, going to a Boy Scout troop.”
The most popular tree, he said, is the Fraser fir, but it’s the most difficult to grow. Hill said there is a shortage of trees because so few growers are getting into or staying in the business. Growing Christmas trees is far more labor-intensive than growing crops like wheat and corn, he said.
“I’m 63 and the average age of a grower is about 62,” Hill said. “No one wants to get in because of all the hard work.”
Tree growers have to hand-plant shoots, wait six to 10 years for them to mature, then hand-cut or dig them up, store them, and then load them onto trailers. Other crops, he said, are easy to grow and harvest with a combine.
To make matters worse: A summer drought, combined with sharply rising costs for diesel, fertilizers and chemicals. Hill said it costs $1,000 to fill a trailer truck with diesel. To compensate, he’s selling trees to retailers an average of $5 to $10 more than last year.
“We had a severe drought this summer and for seven to eight weeks we had seven people just walking around with trucks and water tanks and irrigating overland,” Hill said. “We lost 40,000 trees.”
Aaron Grau, executive director of the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association, said the association receives calls from many states asking how they can find a Christmas tree supplier.
“Pennsylvania remains one of the states with the highest Christmas tree production in the country,” Grau said, “but many growers will supply the wholesale to retail facilities across the state, not just the big department stores. And they will sell to Kiwanis clubs, churches, Boy Scout troop, garden centers, etc.”
Grau said his office recently got a call from a wrestling coach at an Ohio high school asking how he could find a farmer to supply trees for a fundraiser.
“Some of the calls we got were from Texas, the Midwest and as far north as Georgia, which is interesting because they’re close to the Carolinas, which are big tree producers,” he said.
In fact, North Carolina is one of the largest suppliers of trees in the east.
Lord, who is selling the Rita’s property with his partner Dom Patrizio, said he buys North Carolina Fraser trees but they are hard to come by because demand is so high coupled with a shortage of trees planted.
People like Frasers, he said, because they have strong branches and are good for hanging ornaments, don’t drop as many needles as other trees do, and give off a pleasant smell.
But he also buys Douglas firs from Pennsylvania and Oregon. “They have a softer needle and a fuller appearance since the needles go all the way down,” Lord said.
Lord’s Trees arrive in 53-foot trailers containing 700 to 1,000 trees. It will charge around $100 for a 6- to 7-foot router and $125 for a 7- to 8-foot router. A 6- to 7-foot Douglas costs about $75, while larger sizes cost $85 to $90.
“It’s gotten pretty big,” Lord said of his business. When the season is over, he noted, it will help pay for a much-needed surf trip.