February 2007 // Volume 45 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB7

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Containerized Table-Top Christmas Trees: Interest Among Pennsylvania Consumers and Attitudes Concerning Care and Handling

Sixty-one percent of 392 consumer-survey participants were aware that containerized table-top Christmas trees were available for purchase. Eighty-seven percent of participants responded that they were likely to actually plant a containerized table-top Christmas tree in their yard after the holidays. In response to post-planting care, 24% felt that they wouldn't be able to properly care for the tree and that it wouldn't survive. Extension personnel need to work with growers to ensure that only cold hardy trees are sold for this purpose and that educational materials are offered that will provide consumers with proper planting guideline and care instructions.

Kathleen M. Kelley
Assistant Professor of Consumer Horticulture

Ricky M. Bates
Assistant Professor of Ornamental Horticulture

The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania


Over time, consumer attitudes toward agricultural products change, as a result of newly introduced goods and behavioral and demographic changes. Producers and Green Industry retailers need to be aware of these shifts in attitudes and buying habits, as well as any consumer educational needs relative to purchasing, caring for, and using new and potential goods. Extension personnel can play a key role in the discovery of these trends through consumer research. In addition, Extension personnel should strive to:

  • Identify any educational needs this clientele group might have,

  • Help producers by identifying and characterizing consumer interest in products they could consider growing,

  • Provide information crucial to the success of the venture, and

  • Continue to serve as a valuable educational resource.

In recent years, Christmas tree producers have experienced a change in demand for full-sized live Christmas trees. According to a telephone survey conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide for the National Christmas Tree Association (Drake, 2004), the percent of households in the United States using a live Christmas tree declined from almost 50% in 1996 to 27% in 2003. Another source (Helmsing, 2004) noted that this industry is losing market share, as sales of live trees have decreased from 35 million in 1990 to 23 million in 2002.

Researchers have conducted studies to investigate consumer interest in alternatives to full-sized Christmas trees and have found that there is acceptance for decorated table-top Christmas trees (Behe, Walden, Duck, Cregg, Kelley, & Lineberger, 2005). In addition, anecdotal evidence also suggests that demand for small 3 to 4 ft (0.91 to 1.22 m) table-top Christmas trees is increasing (Hoogasian, 1990).

Offering small, containerized evergreens as table-top Christmas trees provides consumers with a product that can also function as a landscape specimen after indoor display. They are also less likely to drop needles when displayed, compared to cut trees, which can dry out (Chastagner, 1986), and are easier to transport and set up (Florkowski & Lindstrom, 1995). When introducing a novel item it may be necessary to educate consumers about how to properly care for it, to ensure a positive and long-lasting experience. The study reported here examined Pennsylvanian consumers' attitudes towards containerized conifers and identified their educational needs relative to the care and handling of this potential product.

Objectives were to:

  • Investigate Pennsylvanian consumers' interest in purchasing containerized table-top Christmas trees, a potential product for Pennsylvania Christmas tree growers;

  • Quantify the use of secondary trees, their placement in the household, and importance;

  • Understand consumer interest in planting the trees in the landscape after the holiday season; and

  • Determine how comfortable participants would be with planting and caring for the trees in the landscape.

Materials and Methods

A consumer-research study was conducted during the summer of 2003, at Ag Progress Days, Rock Springs, Pennsylvania, 19 and 20 Aug. 2003. This annual event attracts 50,000 attendees, consisting of a diverse group ranging from producers to consumers. Though the sample was not a randomly generated one, it was necessary to find a venue where consumers could view live, containerized table-top Christmas trees. Results of other research have identified intangibles, such as fragrance (Helmsing, 2003), as important in the decision to purchase Christmas trees. Hence, the site provided a location where large a group of participants were able to view containerized trees.

Trees were approximately 24 to 36-inches tall, displayed in five-gallon containers, and included: Abies balsamea (Canaan fir), Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir), Picea glauca 'Conica' (Dwarf Alberta spruce), Thuja occidentalis (Eastern arborvitae), Picea omorika (Serbian spruce), Pinus strobiformis (Southwestern white pine), and Picea glauca (White spruce). All participants were told that the species were also suitable as landscape trees in Pennsylvania and that they could be planted outdoors after the holiday season.

Signs were placed on the main pedestrian paths to direct consumers toward the survey site. In addition, the survey was described in the program brochure and announced over a loud speaker at hourly intervals. Consumers who were in the vicinity of the survey site were approached and asked to participate in a 10-minute, written survey.

They were then asked to read a consent statement that described the purpose of the study and told that they would be given a Yankee® votive candle as an incentive to participate. Various marketing research guides and primers published on the Internet (Anonymous, n.d., Kennaugh, n.d., and Woodal, 2006) suggest the use of small incentives as a way to increase response rates and as a standard practice by market research firms. Consenting consumers were then asked to answer questions (using Likert scales and single and multiple-response items) about past Christmas tree purchases, their interest in purchasing trees similar to displayed examples, using such trees as landscape plants after the end of the Christmas season, how confident they feel they would be in caring for the trees after being planted, and demographic questions.


A total of 392 consumers participated in the survey. Table 1. reflects the demographic characteristics of the survey respondents.

Table 1.
Demographic Characteristics of Consumers Who Participated in a Survey Conducted to Determine Interest in Containerized Table-Top Christmas Trees

Attribute Percent of Responding Participants
Gender (n=366)
Female 63%
Male 37%
Age (n=370)
75 years and older 3%
50 to 74 years of age 44%
25 to 49 years of age 47%
18 to 24 years of age 6%
Education (n=373)
Some high school 1%
High school graduate 32%
Some college/technical school and associate degree/technical school graduate 26%
Bachelor's degree 26%
Master's degree or greater 15%
Household income (n=311)
Less than $20,000 11%
$20,001 to $39,999 24%
$40,000 to $59,999 21%
$60,000 to $99,999 26%
$100,000 to $139,999 12%
$140,000 and greater 6%
State of residence (n=371)
Pennsylvania 92%

Ninety-three percent of respondents had displayed a Christmas tree indoors during the holidays, with 69% of participants displaying a live tree in 2002. On average, only one live tree was displayed in the home; however, in some instances up to four trees were displayed. The average number of artificial trees displayed in the home was also one, with anywhere from none to seven trees displayed in any one home. Reasons for using more than one tree varied; however, more than half of those who responded to this question indicated that they enjoyed decorating more than one tree (54%; Table 2).

Table 2.
Reasons Respondents Chose to use more than One Christmas Tree in their Home During the Holiday Season

Reason Percent of Participantsz
Participant enjoys decorating more than one tree 54%
Trees added decorative features for entertaining 44%
A separate tree was used for a family member's private bedroom 25%
An additional tree was needed to display extra ornaments 15%
zResponses do not sum to 100% as participants were asked to cite all reasons why more than one tree was used in their home.

Christmas trees were displayed in the living room (76%), family room (37%), and dinning room (10%). An equal number of participants (5%) displayed trees in the kitchen, in a secondary bedroom, and outdoors at the home's entrance (5%). Other less popular locations included a hallway/foyer (4%), den (4%), master bedroom (3%), four-seasons room or conservatory (1%), and on balconies and decks (<1%). Quantifying the use of a secondary tree can help growers determine if they should invest in developing marketing strategies to promote table top-trees for such a purpose, as a way to increase sales.

Questions were included in the survey to determine current and potential use of table-top Christmas trees (Table 3), likelihood that trees would be planted outdoors after the Christmas season, and how comfortable consumers felt about caring for the trees as a landscape plant.

Table 3.
Participant Responses to Purchasing of Table-Top Christmas Trees, Usage, and Post-Season Care

Survey Attribute Percent of Participants
Aware that table-top Christmas trees, such as the ones viewed, were available for purchase 61%
Had actually purchase either a cut or containerized table-top Christmas tree 24%
Of the 24% who purchased either a cut or containerized table-top Christmas tree, trees were:
a. Planted in containers 63%
b. Cut and displayed in a tree stand 29%
c. Both containerized and cut and displayed in a tree stand 8%
Trees purchased were given as a gift 44%
Trees purchased were used in the purchaser's home 69%

Of those who purchased a containerized table-top Christmas tree:

  • 86% planted the tree in their yard;

  • 9% indicated that they had discarded the tree after Christmas; and

  • 5% gave them to friends or family after the holidays.

Hence, it appears that a majority of participants may be planting the trees in their yards to enhance their property with a landscape tree. Thirty-seven percent reported that the table-top tree survived for 2 or more years, while 49% reported that it didn't survive the first year after planting.

While only a quarter of the participants actually purchased either a cut or containerized table-top Christmas trees in the past, the percent of all survey participants interested in purchasing trees similar to those displayed was 54%. When asked specifically about their interest in purchasing a containerized table-top tree, with the option of planting it outdoors after the holiday season, the percent of all survey participants interested in doing so increased to 91%. Asked how likely they would be to actually plant the table-top Christmas tree in their yard after the holidays, 87% said they were likely to do so (combined total of somewhat likely [9%], likely [21%], and very likely [58%]). Therefore, there appears to be a high level of interest in this value-added product.

It is evident, however, that consumers need information on how to properly plant and care for the trees. Participants' confidence in caring for a containerized table-top Christmas tree varied:

  • 24% of the respondents felt that they wouldn't be able to properly care for the tree and that the tree wouldn't survive;

  • 42% felt reasonably confident that the tree would survive; and

  • 34% felt very confident that they could care for the tree.


Ninety-three percent of the participants responded that they have displayed either a real or artificial Christmas tree in their own home, a higher percent than the 79% of those who participated in the Wirthlin Worldwide survey, also conducted in 2003 (Drake, 2004). Consumers who participated in this survey appear to have a greater interest in using live Christmas trees. Sixty-nine percent of these participants displayed a live Christmas tree in their home as opposed to other data that indicated only 27% of consumers did so (Drake, 2004).

The difference in response could be due to the methodology used and selection of the sample. The study conducted by Drake was administered using a telephone survey of households throughout the U.S., while the consumers who participated in this study were primarily from Pennsylvania and were available to view live specimens. Both were desirable characteristics for the purpose of this research, because the focus was to identify potential demand for a Pennsylvania product that could appeal to Pennsylvanians and consumers residing in neighboring states.

Though the target market resides primarily in the Mid-Atlantic, demand and usage of the containerized table-top trees could be experienced in other regions in the U.S. In addition, a population that widely used Christmas trees was also desirable as they currently use a similar good and may be more likely to be early adapters and purchase containerized table-top Christmas trees when first available. With an audience already willing to use a live Christmas tree indoors, a live containerized table-top Christmas tree could be relatively easy to introduce to this population. For those participants who didn't display a full-sized live tree, a live containerized table-top Christmas tree might provide a clean, low maintenance, and environmentally friendly alternative, when offered at an acceptable price. To increase awareness a promotional campaign could be implemented to educate consumers about the benefits and features of these tree species.

Obstacles growers may have to overcome include educating consumers about how to plant and care for containerized table-top Christmas trees after the holiday season. Traditionally, establishment rates for balled-and-burlapped live trees planted after Christmas has been low (Babits, 1978). Alternative handling recommendations include placing trees in protected areas until spring planting, or overwintering trees in an unheated, protected location such as a garage (Bates & Despot, unpublished data). Educational fact sheets written for consumers could be used to inform them about these trees and their potential uses, as well as how to reduce tree loss by selecting the proper plant, planting, and post-planting care. Additional research is needed to determine which species are adapted to local or regional climatic conditions and tolerant to post-display handling and the optimal environmental conditions necessary to improve the establishment of containerized conifers used as live Christmas trees.

In a related study, 96% of growers who sell containerized trees encouraged their customers to plant them in their landscape after the holiday season (Kelley & Bates, unpublished data); however, 24% of participants in this study felt that they wouldn't be able to properly care for the tree and that it wouldn't survive. In addition, 49% of consumers who actually purchased containerized table-top Christmas trees had experienced loss the first year after planting. It is unknown whether species purchased were discarded after the holiday or didn't survive.

Growers should ask their local Extension service for recommendations for species recognized as being cold hardy in their region to ensure that consumers will benefit from the use of the tree both indoors and outdoors. Purchasing a hardy containerized table-top Christmas tree can reduced the chance of having a disappointing planting experience or guilty feeling about discarding a live tree, because consumers have the option of planting this renewable resource.


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