Alberta Christmas tree retailers expect to sell out early again this year

Three Edmonton-area retailers told CBC News their Christmas tree supplies are dwindling fast.

Sellers say high demand for limited supply means steeper prices

Greenland Garden Centre manager Aron Grykuliak says demand for Christmas trees is higher than ever, but the supply has not caught up. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

If you're looking for a Christmas tree in the Edmonton area, prepare to pay more this year — that is, if you can find one at all.

Three Edmonton-area retailers told CBC News their Christmas tree supplies are dwindling fast.

Brock Friesen, who owns Creekside Home and Garden, said he expects the store will sell out by Saturday. 

The Root Seller owner Peter Oudijn said his store will likely sell out by next week.

Both owners said tree prices have increased as well.

Greenland Garden Centre in Sherwood Park used to sell about 500 trees each year, but kicked off this year's season with 750 trees in stock. 10 days later, just 120 trees remain. 

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"Demand has been building over the last few years, and this year it's the largest demand that we've ever seen," said manager Aron Grykuliak.

Grykuliak said he suspects the soaring demand is linked to the recent popularity of gardening and growing plants indoors, but other factors are contributing to a lack of supply and higher prices.

Fewer sellable trees

Friesen said Christmas tree growers planted fewer seedlings after the Great Recession, and because trees can take about a decade to grow, the industry is still catching up to meet higher demand.

According to Statistics Canada, both the number of farms and acres devoted to Christmas trees decreased between 2011 and 2016.

"Farmers are getting out of [the industry], and that just means there's less supply," Friesen said.

Many Christmas trees in Alberta are imported from the northwest United States, which, like western Canada, experienced a destructive, record-breaking heat wave this past summer.

Creekside Home and Garden has Christmas trees in stock, but the store's owner expects them to sell out within a few days. (Brock Friesen)

Extreme heat, which scientists say the country will see more of due to climate change, can lead to Christmas trees' needles turning from green to brown.

Grykuliak said his store placed an order for trees in June, and in September, learned that 20-50 per cent of them were not fit to sell.

"I was talking to a supplier and about 80 per cent of the seedlings they planted this year failed to grow because of the conditions," he said.

Transportation troubles

Tree expert Toso Bozic said pandemic-related transportation problems, including a shortage of truck drivers, has further constrained the tree supply.

"If you have to choose between trucking the Christmas tree or a higher-value product, most likely it's going to be the higher-value product," he said.

Bozic recommends Albertans who cannot find a tree from a local supplier cut down their own after obtaining a permit from the provincial government.

But he said those who go that route should take precautions.

"Always go with somebody because of the weather conditions," he said.

"It's very slippery, and if you're using the chainsaw, things can go wrong."

With files from Nathan Gross