When the Old Farm Christmas Place in Cape Elizabeth opened for the season a couple weeks ago, it was pouring rain. But Trae Winchenbaugh said the parking lot was still full of customers looking to pick out their balsam firs for the holidays.

“In the early days, we would have trees left over at the end of the year,” said Winchenbaugh, who works in the gift barn. “And the last few years, we have sold out a week or two after Thanksgiving.”

Christmas tree farmers are advising people who want to trim a tree this year to shop early. Demand is high, especially as people who have recently moved to Maine celebrate their first holidays in the state. And supply is low, in part because many growers planted fewer trees during the Great Recession over a decade ago, when demand was low. Many farms sold out days or even weeks before Christmas last year, and they are predicting the same phenomenon this year.

“I call it like a Filene’s Basement sale,” Winchenbaugh joked. “They start fighting by the end of it.”

Matt Haas usually sells 30 to 50 trees a year at Harecrest Acres in Biddeford. The farm is only open on weekends, and Saturday is the first day of its season.

Nick Chapleau of Portland carries a tree he picked out with his family at The Old Farm Christmas Place of Maine in Cape Elizabeth on Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I think we’re going to get overwhelmed,” Haas said. “People seem a little anxious to get out shopping. We’ve been getting calls for over a week.”

Dewey Lloy used to open Balsam Ridge Christmas Tree Farm in Raymond the day after Thanksgiving. Last year, he opened a week early to give people more time and space to shop during the COVID-19 pandemic. It turned out to be the farm’s busiest season ever. Balsam Ridge closed its field at the end of November and sold out of precut trees by the first weekend of December.

This year, Lloy again opened the weekend before Thanksgiving. He said traffic is already up 30 percent, and he attributed the increase to a desire to spend time with family after the virus has disrupted so many lives.

“I get a sense that people want to do something that they can get out to do as a family activity,” Lloy said. “It harkens back to tradition.”

Visitors get a tractor ride through the tree farm at the Old Farm Christmas Place of Maine in Cape Elizabeth on Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

As more people relocate to Maine, Winchenbaugh also has noticed an increase in first-time customers and out-of-state area codes at the Old Christmas Farm Place. People who move from a big city to a more rural community want the experience of picking out and cutting down their own tree, she said.

“They’re living the Yankee Magazine fantasy,” she said.

But the inventory of available trees for sale is limited. Farmers said they’ve heard about other destinations shutting down for various reasons.

At McNeally Farms in Gorham, Phoebe McNeally said she expects its closure to be temporary. She and her siblings just did not have enough trees to open this year. The farm had a hard time finding seedlings a few years ago, she said, and they missed some planting years.

Twins Lucia, left, and Concetta Chapleau, 4, of Portland, carry a small tree they picked out with their family at The Old Farm Christmas Place of Maine in Cape Elizabeth on Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“We’re hopeful, but it may be a couple years out just because we need them to get bigger,” McNeally said. “If we open next year, it will be for a very limited amount.”

A seedling grows for seven to 10 years before it is considered full size, and suppliers and farmers generally planted fewer trees a decade ago, when they were feeling the effects of the Great Recession. Lynette Statye at Hanscome’s Christmas Tree Farm in North Yarmouth said that trend will affect selection in the fields, especially as the holiday draws near. Her words were a warning for last-minute shoppers.

“People coming toward the end of the season, we’re expecting them to have to take smaller trees,” she said.


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