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The history of Christmas tree farms in the United States dates to 1901 when a 25,000 plant Norway Spruce farm was sown near Trentonmarker, New Jerseymarker, United States. The commercial market for Christmas trees started fifty years earlier when a farmer from the Catskill Mountains brought trees into New York City to sell. Despite early industry pioneers, most people still obtained natural Christmas trees from forests. After World War II more trees began to be planted in plantations and by the 1950s farmers were shearing and pruning trees to meet customer demands. The Christmas tree market burgeoned through the 1960s and 1970s. From the late 1980s onward prices and the market for natural Christmas trees began to slide. In the early 21st century nearly 98 percent of all natural Christmas trees sold worldwide were grown on tree farms.

Early tree market

It was around Christmas 1851 when a farmer in the U.S. state of New Yorkmarker's Catskill Mountains, Mark Carr, began a journey with two oxen drawn sleds toward New York Citymarker with a crop of Christmas trees in tow. When he arrived in New York the first Christmas tree market was born, from which he sold all the trees. Though Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United States since Carr's 1851 journey from the Catskills, the first American Christmas tree farm was not established until about 50 years later. Until then, most U.S.Christmas trees were simply harvested from forests.

Early tree farms

The first Christmas tree farm in the United States is believed to have begun in 1901 when 25,000 Norway Spruce trees were planted by W. V. McGalliard in Mercer County, near Trenton, New Jerseymarker. The trees were sold seven years later for US$1.00 each. Despite the early pioneers of the industry, by the late 1940s 90 percent of all natural Christmas trees sold in the United States were still harvested from forests. The most popular species during that era, Balsam Fir, Douglas-fir, Black Spruce and White Spruce, were all readily available from forests.

The market for natural Christmas trees in Canadamarker developed similarly to that of the United States. Into the 1930s nearly all Canadian Christmas trees were harvest from native stands within local forests. Demand for Christmas trees continued to rise and the interest in Christmas tree cultivation increased with it.

Post World War II

Following World War II more trees began to be planted in plantations. Other changes were taking place as well, in the late 1940s and early 1950s farmers began to sheer trees in respond to customer demands for denser trees. During the 1960s the market for Christmas trees in the United States began to change. Part-time growers declined, while some part-time growers ceased operations others expanded their operations and became full-time Christmas tree farmers. Expansion occurred in all major U.S. Christmas tree growing regions, Michiganmarker, the Pacific Northwest and North Carolinamarker.

Industry growth

The number of plantings increased in the late 1970s and continued to do so into the 1980s. One species, Scots Pine was planted in numbers which far exceeded demand for the product. As the number of individual farmers increased better marketing strategies and promotion programs were developed. Helicopters became a fixture on large farms during the early 1980s as growers used them to move trees from the field to the shipping yard.

Modern history

The market for natural Christmas trees in the United States began to tumble when an oversupply during the late 1980s through the mid-1990s sent prices downward. In 1992, harvests of around 850,000 trees in New Englandmarker were considered too many and Christmas trees sold for around $5 as opposed to the usual $18–$30 each. Natural Christmas tree use continued to decline over the next decade, in part, due to the continued rise in popularity of artificial trees. In U.S. states where a marginal number of trees were grown, many growers were driven out of business.

About 35 million U.S. households displayed natural Christmas trees in 1990, slightly outpaced by the 36.3 million homes that opted for artificial trees that same year. By 2000, the split was more dramatic with 50.6 million homes using artificial trees, while 32 million chose natural Christmas trees. Sales of natural trees continued to slide after 2000, and by 2003 sales of natural trees reached 23.4 million. During the same period, artificial tree sales rose from 7.3 million to 9.6 million annually. In the 21st century, worldwide, 98 percent of all live Christmas trees sold are grown on Christmas tree farms.

In 1998, an ice storm affected the North American continent from Ontario to Quebec to New England, afterward it was referred to as the "storm of the century." The storm wiped out much of the Christmas tree crop in eastern Ontario and Quebec. Assessors in Ontario toured 55 Christmas tree farms and deemed, on average, that around 15–20 percent of the trees on each plantation were non-recoverable. Growers received financial assistance from the Canadian government.


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