Finding the perfect Christmas tree can be a challenge. But finding a tree with the perfect looks and the perfect price tag -- now that's a trick.
This time of year, it's nearly impossible to drive more than a mile or two without seeing trees for sale -- out of the backs of pick-up trucks, at road-side tree lots, in hardware stores, and direct from North Carolina farmers at the state Farmers Market in Raleigh.
The hardware stores, as you might expect, have the lowest prices on standard-size Fraser Firs, the most popular among Christmas trees. At Home Depot, a 6- to 7-footer, for example, sells for $31.97, which was the cheapest I came across other than those being sold out of pick-up trucks for $20 a pop.
But what you save in price, you might give up in selection and freshness.
At the farmers market, you can find everything from a $10 table-top model to a $200 mammoth 12-footer. If you're timing is right, you just might choose a tree coming straight off flatbed trucks from the mountains, some with snow still on them.
"These trees here were just cut," said Steven Cole, whose family has been in the Christmas tree business in the North Carolina mountains for nearly 40 years.
If the budget is tight this Christmas, tree farmers at the market had several suggestions for saving a little money on trees:
- Buy a smaller tree. A four-footer at the farmers market will only set you back about $20.
- Buying a less-full tree or one that's slightly off center could shave as much as $10 off the price of a tree.
- Buy later in the season when prices tend to drop.
Here's a selection of prices I found around the Triangle:
At Lowe's Home Improvement stores, prices ranged from $19.97 for a 5- to 6-footer to $55 for an 8- to 9-foot Fraser Fir.
At Home Depot, Frasers also start at $19.97 and go as high as $117 for a 10- to 11-foot tree.
At Ace Hardware stores, tree prices ranged from $34.99 for a 6- to 7-footer to $49.99 for an 8- to 10-foot tree. (Not all Ace Hardwares sell trees so call ahead.)
At the Ace Hardware I stopped at in Cary, at the intersection of Cary Parkway and Old Apex Road, manager Eddie Shearon said he sells a lot of his trees to repeat customers who know he babies his trees.
"We keep them in water and once a day we hose them down," he said.
At Booger Mountain, which has four tree lots in the Triangle this year, trees start at about $38 for a six-footer and go up from there to about $100 for a 9- to 10-foot tree, said Chris Bright, who was minding the lot on Laura Duncan Road near the Apex/Cary border.
Back at the farmers market, you can find a tree size and price for just about any budget among the dozen or so farmers.
Table-top trees range in price from $10 to $20 and come with their own tree stand.
You can expect to pay between $40 and $65 for a 6- to 7-foot tree and somewhere in the neighborhood of $120 for a nice and full 10-foot Fraser Fir.
Oh, and then there are the trees flocked in white, red, purple and pink. That's an extra $4.50 per foot so not for the frugal billfold but very fun.