If you’ve been planning to buy your Christmas tree at the last minute, you might want to go out looking as soon as possible. A shortage of Christmas trees across the city and beyond means picking up a tree in the days before the holiday may be a bit more difficult than it usually is.
I found out the hard way. The tradition in my family, a house full of shameless procrastinators, is to buy and decorate our tree late in the season. If we have it up by Christmas Eve (and then take it down before the March break) we consider ourselves to have done well. A treasured tradition.
What I’ve learned since having children is that anything you do more than once with your kids becomes, for them, a tradition. Often, necessity is the mother of such timeless (or at least time-strapped) rituals — that’s how we started our tradition of making a star-shaped tree-topper out of tinfoil when we realize we don’t have one. And doing all our Christmas shopping for each other in one day.
Going out to get a tree on Saturday — a full 10 days before the big day! — we thought we were ahead of schedule. As has become our tradition, we headed to Ikea to enjoy the kids’ favourite restaurant meal of meatballs, figuring to pick up one of their inexpensive trees from the lot on the way out. The lot smelled strongly of evergreen needles, but had no trees left in it.
We shrugged when told they weren’t getting anymore. We had a backup plan.
Sunday after church and hockey, as the sun was setting, we went to the Home Depot near our house, which typically has a giant garden centre warehouse full of trees this time of year. Sold out, not getting more, we were told.
We checked the other usual nearby places — the other big box hardware chains, the supermarkets in the neighbourhood. No one had any trees left.
It was getting towards closing time for most of these kinds of places. Uh oh.
We were on our way to another big nursery (which we soon learned was also sold out of trees) when we passed Tumino Garden and Floral Gallery on Scarlett Rd., where we saw a festive, painted wood cut-out near the side of the road advertising trees for sale. Better yet, there were some cut evergreens visible in front of the shop. They were scheduled to be closed already, but continued serving the steady stream of frazzled festive tree hunters who pulled up out front. We got a tree.
Chatting with friends and family and checking in on Facebook posts, I realized a lot of them were experiencing the same thing. There’s a Christmas tree shortage in this city (and beyond).
Phoning around popular tree destinations Tuesday, available trees were few and far between. “Not a one,” I was told at Plant World in the west end, which a Google search suggested was a top Toronto tree destination. Same story at another online recommendation, Beech nursery in the east end. Sheridan nurseries in Scarborough had only a handful left when I called. Tumino, where we bought ours, was down to four trees by the mid-afternoon.
“There’s nothing in the city. Nothing,” says Judy Clarke, the manager of East End Garden Centre. But there’s something at her shop on Queen St. E. near Greenwood. She had sold out, but just got a fresh shipment of trees, and expects another shipment later in the week.
She explains there is a shortage of trees from some of the major growers that deal with mass retail merchants — hundreds of acres of lots suffered from an early spring thaw and a dry summer that prevented thousands of trees from growing, she says. As a result, many big retailers of trees got many fewer trees than they usually do, and sold out early.
“We have our own tree farms,” she says, explaining why her location is able to restock. “But we can’t handle the flow of customers because of the shortage.”
Representatives of the big retail chains either didn’t return calls and messages on short notice or declined to comment, and I wasn’t able to get ahold of representatives of the Ontario and Canadian Christmas tree growers associations. But reports broadcast on CTV and Citytv earlier in the fall of this year quoted some tree farmers suggesting a drought in many growing areas and a dip in the number of trees planted a decade ago during the global financial crisis had led to a massive decline in supply for this year’s tree market.
Somehow I missed those reports at the time. Who’s thinking about buying a tree in early December? Well, I guess people who want to be sure to get a tree, that’s who.
For the rest of us: hurry.
Or prepare to explore other opportunities, like making an entire tree out of tinfoil, or rockin’ around the Christmas cactus. Who knows, it could become a treasured family tradition.
Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire