Bay Area Christmas tree shoppers beware: They're smaller this year and tree lots will run out

This is not a year to procrastinate on your Christmas tree. 

Sellers report fewer trees - and limited sizes - compared to past years. The shortage is so severe some lots weren't able to open at all. It's a mix of factors, but some sellers will run out of trees well before the holidays. 

"There's a lot of trees shipping to Singapore and China which we didn't hear about before," Deann DaSilva told KTVU, at The Cousins Trees, a downtown Novato lot she co-founded with her cousin PeeBee. "There are a lot of trees refrigerated and shipped to Asia, because the Noble fir is in demand worldwide." 

Large operations that grow their own trees are less affected, but the smaller merchants who depend on shipments from the Pacific Northwest are noticing fewer and smaller trees. 

"I noticed the trees aren't as big and I figured it was because we'd been through a drought," said Brett Couacaud of Novato, waiting to purchase his tree. "It took a little while to find something I liked, but I look for symmetry, and this one is full all the way around."  

Trees under six feet tall are more plentiful; those six to ten feet harder to find. During the recession a decade ago, growers cut back and now that those trees are mature, there are fewer of them.

"The poor gentleman who has sold down the street for 30 years is out of business this year," said DaSilva. "He came by to say hi and said he could not get trees, he called everywhere, and he couldn't get any." 

Tree prices are climbing, with wholesale costs up 30 percent over two years. DaSilva says a lot will decide how much of that increase will pass to customers. In her case, it has shaved her profits even thinner. She doesn't expect supplies to rebound significantly, because some big growers are getting out of tree crops.

"We hear hazelnuts are a big crop they have switched to because it's more profitable," said DaSilva. “And marijuana farming is also affecting the Christmas trees." 

No matter how many, or few, the trees, the choice can be a challenge. "We try not to overthink it, all the trees and heights," said shopper Ross Batt of Novato, selecting a tree with her husband and two young sons. "It gets too complicated, so we just go with the one that feels right, looks pretty, that you can decorate."

The Cousins Trees expects to be busy this weekend, and if last year is any indication, they will run out of trees by mid-month. 

"You feel bad but there's nothing we can do," said DaSilva, of customers she knows will show up too late.
"Get your tree early, get it soon, because when they're gone, they're gone."