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The Seeds Of This Year's Christmas Tree Shortage


OK. Our family went the other day to cut down a Christmas tree. You know, you go to the farm that grows them, they loan you saw. But this farm had no trees available to cut down. They'd sold too many in past years, and the replacements aren't big enough. Turns out, this is a thing. People who sell Christmas trees have trouble keeping up with demand. Anna King reports from the Northwest News Network.

RENA SPRINGER: Well, there's two.


SPRINGER: No, it's perfect.

ANNA KING, BYLINE: At a Christmas tree farm outside of Eatonville, Wash., Rena Springer (ph) and her two daughters are searching out the perfectly shaped tree.


SPRINGER: Here we go. We're going to cut the tree.

KING: Waiting to take their credit card is the owner, Darryl Smith. He figures he'll sell about 200 Doug fir and Nobles in the next couple of weeks, but he's not sure how he'll find 200 replacement seedlings for future Christmases.

DARRYL SMITH: Right now it's all you can do in this business, is just keep plugging along. I don't want to just give up.

KING: Smith says he ordered his seedlings a year in advance, but the nursery he works with might not have any young trees for him. It's a common story across the West, not enough baby trees to plant back what people want to cut down. It's a seedling shortage. The reasons are many. For one, rain. In the last few years it's been a lot, even for the Pacific Northwest.

DIANE HAASE: With those unusually wet winters that we've had, that has created a lot of fall-down in the nurseries.

KING: Diane Haase with the USDA Forest Service says young trees have died off when the soil has been too wet, and in the summer, when it's been too dry. Wildfires burning across the West have also put a strain on the seedling supply. And, until last year, there hasn't even been enough tree seed to go around. Evergreens only put on seed every seven to 10 years. Last year was the first good crop in a long while. Finally, with bins full of seed, Mike Gerdes says...

MIKE GERDES: I wish I had a couple more million seedlings available.

KING: Gerdes runs Silvaseed Company in Roy, Wash. He grows about nine million seedlings a year, shipping them across the country.

GERDES: I get calls every week, people looking for 50,000, 20,000 seedlings, even a hundred-thousand seedlings, and they're just not there.

KING: Other seedling nurseries just aren't there, either. Some didn't make it through the Great Recession. Now that the economy has improved, more trees are being cut for timber and to deck the halls, and they're just not being replaced fast enough, for economic reasons and ecological ones. So the shortage we're seeing now is like the ghost of Christmas future. For NPR News, I'm Anna King in Roy, Wash. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Triââ
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