When it comes to putting up Christmas trees, there are typically two types of people: Those who get busy decorating the tree right after the Thanksgiving dishes are washed, and those who wait until just before Christmas Eve before venturing out to buy a tree.
Those who waited until the last minute this year were no doubt disappointed to discover that tree stands and garden centers across eastern Long Island had been pretty much picked clean of trees, wreaths, and other greenery by the middle of the month.
“The main reason they sold out is there are more people out here, and people aren’t traveling as much,” said Phil Bucking of the Sag Harbor Garden Center, referring to the influx of new residents in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “This year, our trees came in earlier than usual — on the Friday before Thanksgiving — and we were selling them as we unloaded them.”
It was the same story at Country Gardens Agway in Bridgehampton. The reason? “Everybody from the city moved out here,” said Joe Butts. “You can see that just by how busy it’s been.”
Normally, Agway will have a handful of trees left over each Christmas, but not this year.
“We sold out two weeks ago,” Mr. Butts said on Monday.
“Everyone wants their houses to be more festive this year,” said Midge Fowler of Fowler’s Garden Center in Southampton. “And there is a huge demand because a lot of people are spending more time at home.”
Like many other merchants, John Smith of the Serene Green farm stand in Noyac said he had ordered more trees than usual this year to try to be ready for an anticipated bump in sales. But on Friday, all that remained were a few centerpieces and a single tree with a red “sold” label tied to one of its branches.
“I just feel bad for our good customers,” he said.
John Tuohy, the president of the Sag Harbor Lions Club, which holds an annual fundraising tree sale, said he was happy sales were good, but disappointed the club did not order more trees this year.
“It was the best year ever,” he said, noting that all proceeds go to help buy guide dogs for the blind and provide scholarships for local students. He said the club ordered about 10 percent more trees than normal this year, but could have doubled that.
“It’s an awesome experience,” he said of the annual tree sale. “The community comes together and it’s nice to see so many repeat customers.”
The run on trees has extended to the west as well. Bay Gardens in Center Moriches started the season with 1,300 trees, but by this week only about 12 to 15 remained, with most of those 12-to-14-footers.
Debbie Cannarelli, the gift shop buyer for the Cannarelli family business, said the taller trees are proving to be popular with customers who have cathedral ceilings in their houses. “We’ve found there’s a demand for them, luckily,” she said.
Mr. Bucking, whose trees come mostly from Quebec and Vermont, said it is difficult to reorder later in the season. For starters, growers do not want to ship out anything less than a full tractor-trailer load, and they can hold upward of 1,000 trees. Plus, he said, in more northern climates where most tree farms are, winter can arrive early. “The weather can cause logistical problems,” he said. “It’s hard to cut them, bundle them, and lift them up if they are buried in snow.”
Ms. Cannarelli said it was not only cold weather that has had an impact on supplies. Many trees are grown in the Carolinas, which have experienced a number of hurricanes in recent years, damaging growing trees, she said.
Some special trees are shipped in all the way from California, said Mr. Bucking, but the rising number of wildfires have cut sharply into that supply.
The shortage has also been fueled by other pure economic factors. Ms. Fowler said that it takes about 12 years to grow a 9-foot tree. “Think back to 2008. That’s when the recession hit,” she said. “People were planting fewer trees.”
Ms. Fowler said her business had been able to buy a few extra trees from dealers upisland when its own stock ran out, but those supplies have long since been exhausted.
In the meantime, people who have nice fir trees in their yards may want to keep a security light on or, better yet, wrap them in burlap until after Christmas.
With reporting by Brendan O’Reilly.