British Columbia

The truth and rumour behind the great Christmas tree shortage of 2021

Tree sunburn, delivery challenges and demand from people wanting to get a jump on the festive season are some of the reasons behind early reports of Christmas tree shortages.

Will supply keep up with demand in B.C.? Or are Christmas trees really the toilet paper of 2021?

A worker harvests a Christmas tree on Nov. 19, 2021. This year's Christmas tree supply has been impacted by highway closures, flooding and mudslides, and the summer's heat wave, which has damaged many trees. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Ambleside Tiddlycove Lions Club assumed it had ample supply to meet the usual demand when they opened their Christmas tree lot in West Vancouver at 10 a.m. sharp this past Saturday morning.

Instead, there was chaos.

"I mean, it was like the beginning of the Daytona 500," said George Sim, volunteer tree lot manager of 12 years. "We opened the gates and I have never seen a herd of people rush in to get a tree like that."

Sim said some in the crowd of eager Christmas tree beavers arrived extra early to circumnavigate the lot and scope the trees through the fence, before sprinting to claim their chosen specimen upon opening.

By the time the dust settled, more trees had sold in the first three hours than the Ambleside Tiddlycove Lions Club normally sells over an entire weekend. 

"And it's only November," exclaimed Sim. 

People keen to jump start the festive season to escape the gloom of atmospheric rivers and COVID-19 might be one reason rumours of Christmas tree shortages are starting to circulate in B.C.

Elsewhere in the country, Christmas trees have already been declared the toilet paper of 2021.

Drought and heat have damaged Christmas tree sapling on Vancouver Island. Mike Gogo, who owns Christmas Tree Farm near Nanaimo, said an estimated 90 per cent of his newly planted trees died in the summer's heat dome and drought. (Chad Hipolito/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

B.C. grows a lot of Christmas trees, but getting them to the sales lots is a problem currently. Highway closures are slowing deliveries from tree farms in the Fraser Valley and beyond. As well, flooding and mudslides have blocked some wholesalers from accessing and cutting trees growing in remote locations.

On top of all that is the damage many trees sustained in the summer's extreme heat, which has curtailed this year's supply.

"You've got what they call 'sunburn' on the south-facing parts of the tree," said Sim.

"The new growth from the spring, when the drought and [heat dome] hit, all that died. So that has to be trimmed off whenever they're finished with this Christmas. Hopefully they're OK for next year." 

At Gogo's Christmas Tree Farm near Nanaimo, they know all too well the hardships of extreme weather and an 83-day dry spell.

In July, fire burned through 400 trees on three acres of land, according to owner Mike Gogo.

Christmas trees loaded on the roof of a car. People keen to jump start the festive season to escape the gloom of atmospheric rivers and COVID-19 might be one reason rumours of Christmas tree shortages are starting to circulate in B.C. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC News)

That happened after June's heat dome, and the farm's futile attempt to fight the blistering temperatures by using a water cannon on an old fire truck to spray down the parched crop.

"You know what, if it's 42 degrees and windy, you might as well pee in the air, right? Because it's not going anywhere, it's just evaporating as fast as you could put it on there," he said.

Gogo estimates about 90 per cent of the trees he planted this year died in the heat.

In advance of this Christmas season, he approached 31 different growers in Oregon and Washington to buy trees to augment his wholesale business. Only one grower had trees to sell. 

"There's definitely a shortage," he said. "But this is a cyclical business."

As of Tuesday, the Ambleside Tiddlycove Lions Club lot was down to just 40 trees. A fresh delivery from a Fraser Valley supplier was expected by the end of the day, although Sim had already been warned it would arrive late. 

And while supply may be an issue at this moment, Sim believes rumours of the great Christmas tree shortage of 2021 — at least when it comes to his lot — have been greatly exaggerated.

"We should have, between now and next Tuesday, another thousand trees. That's assuming that we get all the deliveries, right? So we're just keeping our fingers crossed," he said.

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