If you want a real tree this Christmas, get it early. Here’s why they may not last.

Choose and cut your own Christmas tree

Frosty's Choose & Cut is a family owned Christmas tree farm in Ashe County that specializes in Fraser firs. They are open to the public on Fridays from 3-6pm, Saturdays from 9am-6pm and Sundays 12-6pm.
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Frosty's Choose & Cut is a family owned Christmas tree farm in Ashe County that specializes in Fraser firs. They are open to the public on Fridays from 3-6pm, Saturdays from 9am-6pm and Sundays 12-6pm.

York County’s largest Christmas tree farm may close its doors earlier than usual this year in the face of high demand and a tree shortage.

Steve Penland, longtime owner of the Penland Christmas Tree Farm in York, said Tuesday that a booming population in the Charlotte metro area has led to a shortage of Christmas trees.

Penland said he was forced to close up shop on Dec. 5 last year. He typically opens for business the day after Thanksgiving.

“We’ve been experiencing about a 25 percent increase in our customer base over the last three to four years,” Penland said. “The problem arises that it takes at least six or seven years to grow a tree. With the increase in population, we’re running out of trees.”

Penland said he sells at least 2,000-3,000 Christmas trees from his 60 acres of land each year, but plans to grow around 4,000-5,000 to keep up with demand. He said the economic recession of 2008 forced some Christmas tree farms to temporarily scale back production.

Now those trees are fully grown, but there are fewer of them to go around, and there are more people looking to buy real trees.

Other local Christmas tree farmers in York County say they haven’t been hit as hard.

Brian Lutz of the Lutz Christmas Tree Farm in Clover said he expects to have the same amount of trees available for sale as they did last year. He said he’s concerned about the availability of land on which to grow Christmas trees. He said more land in the area may soon be bought up by developers to build homes. Lutz has been operating his farm for nearly a decade.

“It hasn’t hit us yet, but we’re a lot smaller than other growers,” Lutz said. “Our numbers should be solid, good Lord willing.”

Charlie Westbrook, who operates the Cherry Place Farm in Rock Hill, said he sells a couple hundred Christmas trees each year. He said he buys his trees from a farm in North Carolina, and has a one-acre site where he sells them. Westbrook said he hasn’t noticed any change in demand. He also said he has heard of shortfalls in the industry. He said he has seen more farms getting out of the Christmas tree business in recent years.

The South Carolina Christmas Tree Association lists about 40 farms in the state. There are about 1,300 growers in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Christmas Tree Association. Only Oregon exports more trees each year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

Tree prices are expected to increase because of the shortage, a cost that had already been trending up in recent years, said Doug Hundley, seasonal spokesperson for the N.C. association.

“Anytime you have a supply demand balance that changes in favor of the demand, people can get more (money) for them,” Hundley said.

He is hopeful customers who want a real tree will still be able to buy one instead of going to artificial trees.

Tree growers and sellers urge families to start looking for trees as soon as possible, by getting in contact with their favorite lots or farms. At Mr. Jack’s Tree Farm in Charlotte, owner Casey Bolen said he will probably run out of trees a few weeks after Thanksgiving.

However, many in the industry are optimistic there will be more trees in future years.

“It’s being fixed as we speak,” Bolen said. “We understand the demand and the buyers are back, so that means more planting and more trees for next year.”

A report from the GWD Forestry predicts the shortage could last until 2025, citing droughts and wildfires in major growing states as an additional factor.

Meanwhile people in the industry want customers to be patient.

“I just hope they enjoy their holidays and their family, and remember the important parts of what Christmas really is (about),” Schoch said. “It’s not just a tree. It’s a whole lot more.”

Penland said the shortages are felt the most in booming urban areas of South Carolina like Greenville, Charleston or Columbia.

“They’re all experiencing a surge in tree sales over the last two or three years,” he said. “We’re trying to bring in trees to help that... but hopefully in the near future, we can grow enough to take care of it.”

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @dthackham