Americans will drag tens of millions of trees, both natural and artificial, through their front doors this holiday season — and most of them will pay more than they did last year. How much more depends on where they get their tree, what kind they get and a variety of other factors. When it comes to Christmas trees, more expensive is sometimes better — but not always — and the choice between artificial and live trees can have a significant impact on long-term costs over many Christmases. Here’s what you need to know.
Americans Spent $2 Billion on Almost 35 Million Trees in 2021
Last year, the nonprofit American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) commissioned Nielsen to gather data on the big, big business of Christmas trees. In 2021, U.S. households spent $984 million on 21.6 million real trees and $1.01 billion on 12.9 million artificial trees.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, roughly 350 million Christmas trees are growing on 15,000 tree farms in the U.S. alone, with American households buying 25 million to 35 million each year.
Artificial Trees Pay Dividends Over Many Christmases
All tree buyers face a choice between the simplicity and beauty of an artificial tree or the charm and unbeatable smell of a real tree. If you’re worried about the environmental impact, the ACTA assures buyers that both have a negligible impact on the planet and global warming.
If your chief concern is cost, go with an artificial tree — if you can afford it upfront. Fake trees cost more, but if stored properly, they last for an average of 10 years, according to the ACTA — but most are guaranteed for 20 years, making them by far the more cost-effective option over the long term. Even a $400 artificial tree pays for itself after just five years.
Are Pricier Artificial Trees Worth It?
The problem is that $400 is by no means the ceiling for fake trees. The New York Times released its top choices for 2022 and they range from $270 for the “budget pick” all the way up to $1,699. In most cases, it really is a get-what-you-pay-for scenario.
The pricier models are easier to set up, take down and store. They last longer, feature more beautiful and brilliant lighting, and on the higher end, they’re incredibly lifelike — although when it comes to Christmas trees, there’s truly nothing like the real thing.
What About the Different Prices of Real Trees?
Here, too, you can expect to see a whole bunch of different price tags when you shop. Much of it has to do with size — not surprisingly, bigger trees cost more. With artificial trees, more expensive models are generally better, but with real trees, “better” is subjective. Different kinds of trees serve different kinds of purposes.
For example, according to Good Housekeeping, Douglas firs are the fullest but Fraser firs are best for hanging decorations. White firs have the best smell, Scots pines retain their needles the best, and Norway spruces have the best shape.
In 2022, Christmas Trees Will Cost More — Same as Everything Else
If you’ve been paying attention, you’re aware that prices have been rising across the board, but the Christmas tree industry is facing unique inflationary pressures. According to the ACTA, extreme weather events — most notably droughts and wildfires — have had an impact on live tree crop yields. On top of that, higher costs for fuel used in irrigation pumps have forced growers to spend more during the growing season.
The Real Christmas Tree Board conducted a market survey and found that a vast majority of wholesalers — 71% — expect to increase their prices by between 5% and 15% over 2021.
Last year, the ACTA reported that the average live tree cost $46. With this year’s projected increases, that price will rise to between $48-$53.
The ACTA reports that many large retailers are selling last year’s leftover stock of artificial trees at a discount, but they’re expected to go quickly.
The organization makes this statement at the top of this year’s industry report: “Our 2022 recommendation to consumers is straightforward: if you want a specific type, style, or size of tree, artificial or live, find it early.”
Where You Buy Has a Lot To Do With What You’ll Pay
Before you consider whether it makes sense to buy a real or fake tree, or whether it’s worth springing for a more expensive version of either, it’s important to understand that you can save money just by buying it in the right place. It’s never the right move to pay more for a tree that you could have gotten somewhere else for less.
According to the ACTA, here’s how the average cost of real trees varied last year by purchase location — you should add 5% to 15% to adjust for this year’s inflation:
- Home improvement/DIY stores: $44
- Tree farms: $46
- Tree lots: $48
- Garden centers: $53
For artificial trees, here’s what you can expect to pay according to where you buy:
- Large outlets like Kroger, Target or Walmart: $65
- Home improvement/DIY stores: $100
- Department stores: $103
- Craft/hobby stores: $106
- Christmas specialty stores: $176
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