Boise & Garden City

Haven’t bought your Christmas tree yet? You may be too late for a live one.

Idaho City lights a Christmas Tree

Idaho City area residents light a standing Christmas Tree on the small mountain town's Main Street Saturday Dec. 3, 2016.
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Idaho City area residents light a standing Christmas Tree on the small mountain town's Main Street Saturday Dec. 3, 2016.

If you walked into a Boise Christmas tree lot this weekend only to see mini-trees and other left-behind saplings, you’re not alone.

Lots across the Treasure Valley are empty or nearly empty. Home Depot on Milwaukee has a fence out front that otherwise would block off its trees, but now only holds price tags propped up against bare tree stands.

Zamzows and other retailers in the area have sold through their Christmas tree stock already. In Zamzows’ case, that’s even though the store ordered approximately the same number of trees this year as last, said Ross Parton, corporate marketing director for the company.

“We sold through all of ours, which is very fortunate (for Zamzows),” he said.

But why is there a shortage?

“I don’t think you can point to any one thing,” Parton said. There appear to be fewer independent tree sellers this year, he said, and the long gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas made for a longer selling season.

But in the bigger picture, this is the result of changes in the Christmas tree market over the last decade. Tree growers for about 10 years produced too many trees, said Bryan Ostlund, executive director for the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association. As news outlets like the Los Angeles Times note, the oversupply brought low returns and led many growers to drop trees for other crops, like hazelnuts.

Now, in cutting back, “we’ve gone too far the other direction,” Ostlund said.

Oregon and Washington are among the largest producers of Christmas trees for Idaho and other markets. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report on Oregon’s Christmas tree industry in 2015 shows how things have changed.

At 4.7 million trees sold, Oregon Christmas tree production in 2015 was down 26 percent from 2010. But the average price per tree was up more than $3, from $14.21 to $17.90. For what appear to be medium-sized operations in the report — tree farms of 30 to 49 acres — average prices jumped more than $8 over the five years.

Idaho is certainly not alone in seeing the results. This season’s undersupply has hit sellers across the country, who are running out of trees and sometimes raising prices.

Erin Fenner: 208-377-6207, @erinfenner