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That perfect Christmas tree will be harder to find, pricier this year

A resident of Manhattan's Upper West Side purchases a Christmas tree from a street vendor.

Angelo Merendino | Corbis | Getty Images

A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side purchases a Christmas tree from a street vendor.

Now that you’ve started your holiday shopping, you might want to think about where you will stash those gifts. Under the tree? Not so fast.

It will be harder to find Christmas trees this year. And that may drive up prices 5% to 10%, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

Don’t blame the Grinch. The problem is a matter of bad timing. When the economy started tanking due to the Great Recession starting in 2008, Christmas tree sales dropped. Growers didn’t cut down as many trees as they normally would as demand slackened. That left less room in the groves to plant seedlings.

Since a Christmas tree takes about a decade to hit a height of seven to eight feet — the size that families most prefer to grace their living rooms — growers now don’t have as many to cut and ship around the country as they have in past years, the Washington, D.C.-based trade group said.

As a result, that annual family tradition of traipsing to that sawdust-covered Christmas tree lot down the street or across town may mean settling for less than perfection.

“We believe everyone who wants to have a real tree will find one,” said Doug Hundley, the association’s spokesman. “They may not have the size they want or they might have to buy a different kind (because) we have a tight market.”

Home improvement store chains, which typically set up tree sales operations in their parking lots or nurseries, are watching warily.

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“We have not experienced any shortages or cost increases from our suppliers this year. However, with demand being so high, we encourage customers to buy now to ensure they get the size and type of tree they want,” Lowe’s spokesman Matt Michaels said in an e-mail.

Supply isn’t the only issue. Diesel fuel prices averaged $ 2.84 a gallon on Monday, 46 cents more a gallon than a year ago, according to AAA. That means higher shipping costs for truckloads of trees.

“The cost of freight on the darn things is up quite a bit, because diesel is up,” said Jayne Mitchell, who runs Tim Mitchell’s Christmas Trees in Scottsdale and Gilbert, Ariz. “I was unpleasantly surprised.”

Mitchell said she is charging about $ 4 more for its popular five- to seven-foot Noble Fir. Larger trees will see a bigger price increase.

Another reason for small harvests today is a decreasing number of growers, their ranks thinned during the recession.

“There were a lot of tree growers that went out of business,” said Dee Clark, owner of C&G Nursery in Newland, N.C. “That leads to an overall shortage across the industry.

Today, the U.S. is home to close to 15,000 Christmas tree farms. States that produce the most are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington.

Last year, 27.4 million Christmas trees were sold, the association said. The most popular varieties were Noble and Fraser firs, and consumers reported spending an average of $ 74.70 for a tree.

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