Christmas tree shortage forces Calgary retailers to scramble to fill orders this year

·4 min read
Colin Hayles is the owner of Golden Acre Garden Centre in Calgary. Golden Acre is working to secure fresh-cut greens in time for Christmas.   (Photo submitted by Golden Acres - image credit)
Colin Hayles is the owner of Golden Acre Garden Centre in Calgary. Golden Acre is working to secure fresh-cut greens in time for Christmas. (Photo submitted by Golden Acres - image credit)

It's one of the busiest times of the year for Calgary garden centres as each transforms their space into a winter wonderland, stocking up on real and artificial Christmas trees, greenery and all kinds of sparkly decorations.

But this year, some are having trouble bringing in enough product for a number of reasons: drought in B.C., container shortage, rail delays, and greater demand.

And the Christmas tree farming business has seen a drop in the number of farms as owners retire.

Up until last week, the owner of Spruce It Up Garden Centres in southwest Calgary was down about 50 per cent for eight- to 12-foot-tall trees, but he says he just found a supplier in the B.C. Interior to fill that order.

"He usually sells them into Vancouver. He wasn't able to get there, so he called me and has sort of as many as I want of the big ones," said Meryl Coombs, owner of Spruce It Up Garden Centres.

Supplied McEathron Media
Supplied McEathron Media

The owner of Plantation Garden Centre in northwest Calgary says he learned his lesson last year and has managed to order 100 more this year.

Colin Atter says he sold 1,500 trees in 10 days and ran out by Dec. 8 in 2020.

"The people who came on the 14th or the 12th or whatever, they didn't get a tree, from us, at least, so they're here early this year," said Atter.

Fresh greens delayed

But even if they have secured enough trees, some businesses say they are still waiting on fresh cut greens such as cedar and white pine boughs from B.C. because the highways are closed.

"We do have some in stock now, but it's just a matter of do the roads get open, or the trucks — are they able to get across? Can we get the product? That remains to be seen, said Harington Telford, vice-president of marketing for Greengate Garden Centres.

Telford isn't alone.

Golden Acre is updating its customers on its website and social media accounts about the expected date of its next greenery shipment.

It says, in part: "Due to the tragic conditions in British Columbia, it's unlikely we will receive more fresh-cut greens. We're working to secure more, but at this time our existing stock is limited and additional stock is unlikely."

McEathron Media
McEathron Media

"As of right now, it's, you know, what we have is what we got," said Colin Hayles, owner Golden Acre Garden Centre.

Buy early — don't panic

There are plenty of real trees around, but because they're considered more environmentally friendly, they've become more popular every year, and in particular during the pandemic.

According to the Christmas Tree Growers Association, the industry has expanded from a $53-million industry in 2015 to a $100-million industry in 2020.

So retailers offer some advice on how to ensure you get a tree this year.

First, they say, don't wait.

"Don't expect everything to be there on December 23rd like usual," said Telford.

Second, they say, don't panic.

"It's still very, very, very early, we just like to have all our ducks in a row early," said Atter.

So far, it appears people haven't been panicking — at least not yet.

"People are not coming in and leaving with armfuls. They're buying what they need and away they go," said Hayles.

"But as supplies start to dwindle everywhere, I don't know if that will change."

Ikea Canada says it couldn't secure enough real trees this year to supply all of its outlets. So some worry that may put even more pressure on existing supply in major cities such as Calgary.

And it means some people may have to branch out of their comfort zone.

Rather than their usual scotch pine, buyers may need to try a balsam fir.

And get creative with their planters.

"If it makes you smile, you made the right choice," said Hayles.

Most of the garden centres who spoke to CBC News also expect to pay a little more for everything this year, due to increased trucking and shipping costs.

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