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No signs of Christmas tree shortage in New Hampshire

  • Balsam fir Christmas trees are displayed for sale along with artificial decorations at Aubuchon Hardware in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Employee Josh Graciano walks along a line of Christmas trees for sale at Aubuchon Hardware in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Balsam and fir Christmas trees are displayed for sale along with artificial decorations at Aubuchon Hardware in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Balsam and fir Christmas trees are displayed for sale along with artificial decorations at Aubuchon Hardware in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Christmas trees are displayed for sale along with artificial decorations at Aubuchon Hardware in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Thursday, November 30, 2017

When you sell a crop that takes as long to grow as Christmas trees, you can sometimes get caught a bit short.

That appears to be happening in parts of the country – although not hereabouts.

“I haven’t heard any issues with trees,” said Charlie Cole of Cole Gardens in Concord, which will start selling its trees soon.

“We’ve had no issues,” said Jeff Ginn, manager at Aubuchon Hardware in Concord. “We acquire from a grower just over the state border in Vermont.”

That last statement may explain lack of local concern about a reported national shortage of trees. The Christmas tree business is pretty regional, and since the perennial holiday favorite balsam fir is native to New England, our supply is usually pretty good. That may not be the case in other parts of the country.

“You can tell there’s a shortage because all my friends have had wholesale calls. I’ve had calls up until even last weekend – guys who want anywhere from 100 to 300 trees delivered to their stands,” said Nigel Manley of The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem.

Manley said wholesale orders are usually placed with his Christmas tree farm by late September.

“I’ve had a call from Texas, from all over the place,” he said.

Any shortfall appears to reflect a decline in plantings a half dozen years ago, perhaps because the Great Recession still had many operators in its grip at that time, or perhaps because that’s the way the industry often works.

“I’ve been in the Christmas tree industry 30 years, and there is a cycle,” said Manley, who holds a number of positions in regional Christmas groups, including chairman of the New Hampshire Christmas Tree Association.

The cycle goes like this, he said: “Prices are good so people buy and plant trees. They take seven to nine years to mature, depending on the species. Within that time, the prices are holding steady. But then everybody is selling their trees at the same time and the prices go down ... or they aren’t sold. Some people make it, some people don’t. So people don’t plant trees – and the cycle starts again.”

The Rocks Estate sells trees both wholesale and retail, as well as cut-your-own.

“No matter what, we plant 5,000 to 7,000 a year – because we know we sell 5,000 to 6,000 a year,” Manley said. “We’ve stuck to it like that over the years.”

Preferences in species and appearance must also be considered.

“In the Northeast, balsam is still the most popular because it has the traditional scent of Christmas,” Manley said. “One thing we have seen is more customers want narrower trees. We have slightly changed our pruning technique to give a narrower, tapered tree.”

Either way, he said, “I’m sure there’s going to be enough trees for everybody to buy them.”

If the national shortage does affect the northeast, it might be in slightly higher prices than last year, if anything, said Jim Horst, executive director of the New Hampshire/Vermont Christmas Tree Association.

There certainly will be plenty of trees at Donaghey Christmas Tree Farm in Pembroke, a small (about 650 trees for sale) family-owned operation.

“We sell out every year unless the weather destroys us,” said Mason Donaghey, the 92-year-old owner, who started the farm as a retirement job.

Weather?

“When we had a bad year, like we did last year with the bad drought, our future is diminished. In about six to seven years when we start to cut those trees, you’ll see it inflicted damage,” Donaghey said.

After all, he added, “It’s farming.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)