There's no Christmas tree shortage this year despite Canada's record wildfire season, 2 experts say

  • This summer saw a lot of smoke pouring over the border from Canadian wildfires.

  • But conifers — including cone-bearing evergreens favored as Christmas trees — shouldn't be affected.

  • Despite the dry, smoky summer, there isn't a Christmas tree shortage, two experts said.

Over the summer, smoke from Canadian wildfires seeped over the border into the Eastern and Midwestern US. While it caused air traffic delays and air-quality issues, it didn't affect this year's crop of Christmas trees, two experts told Business Insider.

"We have never seen any impact like that on any conifer," Justin G. A. Whitehill, lead of the Christmas Tree Genetics Program at North Carolina State University, told BI. "If that would be the case, then corn would be impacted, soybeans would be impacted."

Bert Cregg, a professor in the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University, said he's visited farms in Michigan and hasn't seen anything he could attribute to smoke damage.

"Even in places like the Northwest, where there are fires that are almost adjacent to the farms, they have little or no impact on the trees," he said.

"Smoke-filled skies decrease sunlight and reduce photosynthesis, but to a small degree and temporarily," Steve Reiners, Cornell University horticulturist, wrote over the summer, specifically referring to garden vegetables. "Despite the shade, there is still enough diffused light penetrating the smoke to maintain growth."

The National Christmas Tree Association, a trade group that represents growers, put out a statement saying, "Supplies of real farm-grown trees have been tight since 2016, but each year shoppers have been able to find a tree."

Past and future tree shortages

"There's quite a bit of talk — again, internet and media and so forth — about a Christmas tree shortage," Cregg said. "That's not really a thing."

Cregg said he searched YouTube and found news reports of shortages going back at least a decade. A report in 2014 blamed less demand during the 2008 and 2009 recession for fewer Christmas trees.

Individual farms can and will sell out, though. "They can't sell everything this year and have nothing next year," Cregg said. He suggested calling ahead before you go to ensure your retailer of choice still has trees.

fraser fir christmas trees
Fraser firs are one of the most popular species of Christmas trees in the US and face challenges due to climate change.Chris Keane/Reuters

The Christmas tree industry does face a variety of challenges, from the climate crisis to fewer growers.

"It used to be you could find tree lot right next door, but more of that is people aging out," Greg Hann of the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He noted that some younger people are taking up the mantle in that state, though.

While smoke may not harm evergreens, the flames from wildfires can destroy them. Recent droughts have impacted individual growers. There are also pests and diseases that growers have to contend with.

Whitehill said growers in some areas have to plant Fraser firs, one of the US's most popular trees, at higher elevations to avoid a destructive root rot fungus.

"Of course, at some point, you start to run out of mountain," he said. "And so that's kind of a challenge we see on the horizon."

But for this year, Cregg recommended getting your tree early if there's a species you really prefer, or maybe try branching out. "If you've always had a noble, maybe it's time to look at a Turkish," he said. "People may need to be a little more willing to substitute to look for a different type of tree."

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