Although most people still buy artificial Christmas trees each holiday season, real ones are trending for the first time in a while.
Tim O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, says a generation of consumers with young families have been buying real Christmas trees because it matches their value system.
“These are the same people who are buying organic foods,” he says. “They want to know that their purchases are contributing to sustainability. There is clearly a movement happening, and we are trying to help consumers understand the difference between a plastic tree versus a tree grown on a farm in the United States, maybe even locally.”
With these priorities in mind, let’s explore the cost difference between real and artificial trees, and the elements that play a role in budgeting for this cornerstone Christmas decoration.
Do Real Christmas Trees Cost More Than Fake Christmas Trees?
Data from the National and the American Christmas Tree Associations state the average price of an authentic Christmas tree is between $80 and $100. This reflects about a 10% increase that occurred in the last year, largely due to inflation and drought. Artificial Christmas trees can range from about $85 to $1,000 or more.
“According to our 2023 survey, 52% of artificial Christmas tree owners purchased their tree for under $200, and 27% paid $200 to $400,” says Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association. “For artificial Christmas trees, costs vary depending on the producer, retailer, size, shape and features such as pre-lit options.”
So it’s possible to buy a real or fake tree for the same price. However, real trees need to be purchased annually, while an artificial tree tends to last for about six years, according to O’Connor. In the long run, that makes an artificial tree a better value.
Factors Impacting the Cost of a Real Christmas Tree
The price tag of a real Christmas tree depends on various marketplace influences.
The tree species you choose can affect cost. O’Connor says pine trees are generally cheaper than fir, especially the Fraser fir, which is usually the priciest option.
It’s typically less expensive to purchase a Christmas tree directly from the grower. “Generally, if a consumer can go to a farm and select a tree, that tends to be more cost-effective,” O’Connor says. “Also, buying directly from the grower cuts down on shipping costs and the added cost of operating a retail business.”
Where you live can also impact the price. The top Christmas tree producing states include Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington.
The transportation costs to get the tree from the grower to a tree lot in your community can vary depending on distance, gas prices, labor and more.
Also, trees cost more in urban areas. “You would expect higher prices in large cities because it’s more challenging to bring a truckload of trees in and the labor is more expensive,” O’Connor says. Not surprisingly, rural areas tend to have lower prices.
“For live Christmas trees, environmental and weather concerns will impact Christmas tree crops,” Warner says. “Drought to freezing conditions can affect Christmas tree crops differently depending on the state, impacting the final cost.”
When you buy the tree also influences the cost. O’Connor says in many retail environments, prices drop the closer you get to Christmas. However, chances are the trees are picked over, so you will have less choice and might get a lower quality tree.
What about Environmental Costs?
Although it costs less money to purchase an artificial tree, environmental costs come along with choosing a fake over a real tree. Both the National and American Christmas Tree Associations advocate for real Christmas trees over fake ones.
While many people choose artificial because they say it’s easier and less work, O’Connor believes they shouldn’t. He equates buying an artificial Christmas tree with buying fake, plastic roses for Valentine’s Day.
“Fake Christmas trees are horrible for the environment,” he says. “The process involves the tree being made in and shipped from China. They are made of PVC plastic chemicals from pumping oil out of the ground and then combining it with metal. The fake trees end up in landfills and are not biodegradable.”
On the other hand, a real tree is authentic, renewable and grown on a farm, often a family farm that has been around for generations. “While trees are growing, they provide wildlife habitat and turn carbon dioxide into oxygen,” O’Connor says. He added more than 4,000 local Christmas tree recycling programs showcase environmental stewardship by turning trees into mulch for community playgrounds, parks and homes.
To learn more about Christmas tree vendors and prices in your area, contact the state and regional Christmas tree associations near you.