Live and artificial trees will be in short supply this year — but don't panic just yet. Here's what you need to know.

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I’m a big believer that the Christmas tree should go up before Thanksgiving. And while my family doesn’t always agree with me, this year my fellow early Christmas decorators have a good excuse: There will be a Christmas tree shortage this year. 

Due to a worldwide shipping shortage as well as a national drought, both artificial and live Christmas trees will be harder to come by this year — and they’ll be more expensive, too. Whether your family typically buys a live Christmas tree, or you’ve been eyeing a new artificial tree, there’s still plenty of time to deck the halls.

mother daughter hauling christmas tree at christmas tree farm
Credit: SolStock / Getty Images

What to Do If You’re Buying an Artificial Tree

Along with just about every other imported product this season, the shipping crisis is making it more difficult for businesses to get artificial Christmas trees right now. That means there may be an artificial Christmas tree shortage at retailers like Costco, Target, and The Home Depot, and they’ll likely cost a bit more too. 

According to CNN, you can expect your Christmas tree to cost 20% more than average this year. Shipping costs have skyrocketed, meaning businesses have to charge more for the trees to combat the more than 300% increase they’re paying to ship the trees to stores in the United States. 

However, you can buy an artificial tree in advance without worrying about the tree dying before Christmas Eve. We anticipate that prices will rise as supply starts to dwindle, so don’t wait until December to buy your tree. We recommend shopping around for the best price right now, while retailers still have plenty of options in stock. Then, you can store the tree in your basement or attic until you’re ready to put it up for the season. 

What to Do If You’re Buying a Live Tree

The National Christmas Tree Association is warning customers to buy their live trees early this year, because of a decrease in supply. There’s been an ongoing shortage of live Christmas trees for the past few years, as a result of the recession more than a decade ago. 

"If you go back to the 1990s, that was a time when the industry had way too many trees and not enough demand," says Tim O'Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association. 

This caused farms to lose money for an entire decade because it takes 10 years for trees to grow to maturity. Once the new crop of trees finally became available, the 2008 recession hit, and people were more frugal with their money, which meant they weren't spending cash on Christmas trees. "It was a terrible time," O'Connor says. After years of not turning a profit and wasting unsold trees, growers decided to put fewer seedlings in the ground.

In addition to the recession, recent droughts in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest have made the supply even lower, which means prices will be higher this year. 

So, what should you do about it? Buy early if you can, but don’t panic. "There will be enough trees for everybody," O'Connor says. He recommends buying a tree the weekend after Thanksgiving when there is still a good inventory. And at many local tree farms, you can go early in the season and tag the tree you plan to buy at a later date. That way, you know you have a perfectly fresh evergreen, but you don't have to cut it down right away. 

"We don't want consumers to get the wrong message and not go look for a tree because there won't be any," O'Connor says. "Go out and shop for your tree, and you'll be able to find one."

Christmas Tree Alternatives to Try

If you can't find a live tree, or if a new artificial tree isn't in the budget this year, there are plenty of festive alternatives you can try instead.

wooden dowel christmas tree
Credit: Carson Downing

Make a Dowel Christmas Tree

This tree comes together with plain building supplies and your favorite colorful ornaments. Unlike a live tree, the 'branches' of this DIY dowel tree won't wilt or dry up, and you can make it any size you like (perfect for small spaces!).

Tabletop Christmas tree against a blue wall
Credit: Adam Albright

Decorate a Tabletop Tree Instead

While everyone else is buying up the live trees, grab a few tabletop trees ($10, Target) to sprinkle around your home instead. They're much more affordable, and just as fun to decorate. And since you'll have several trees, you can go all-out with a different theme for each.

garland wall tree
Credit: Lauren Shaver

DIY Wall Tree

Skip the tree altogether and create this clever wall display instead. This garland tree is perfect for small spaces, and if you attach it to the wall above a credenza or side table, you can still place presents underneath. To make it, you'll simply attach a garland to the wall using removable hooks. Zig-zag the garland to create a tree shape and finish by hanging small ornaments on it. And just like an artificial tree, you can put this tree in storage at the end of the season and use it year after year.

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