The demand for Christmas trees is heavy as usual in West Virginia, but this year they may be harder to get than in the past. And more expensive.

Some dealers say they're having a problem finding growers with enough trees to fill their needs. And some growers say they have more orders than they can handle.

Gene Bailey, secretary of the West Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association and also mayor of Princeton, already has orders from wholesalers for every tree he has available.

Bailey's wife said late last week he had sold about 3,000 cut trees and "if he had several thousand more, he could have sold them, too."

She said there appeared to be a shortage of trees throughout the industry.

The National Christmas Tree Association says the United States may be about 2 million Christmas trees short this year and that prices will generally be up about 5 percent.

"I've looked and looked for trees this year. The only thing I can figure is the farmers have just quit growing them," said dealer Sonny Holstein of South Charleston.

Holstein and others recommend that families buy their trees early and not wait until the week before Christmas.

In Elkins, Randy Allan of Allan's Christmas Tree Land, said it is wise to buy early but not to put the tree up in the house too early. He said that once purchased, the tree should be stored out of the sun and wind and out of "temperatures that are too warm."

Allan said he expected a good year for sales, both wholesale and retail.

Families wishing to cut their own tree may do so at Allan's. He takes them on "choose and cut" wagon rides. They pick out a tree and cut it themselves.

In Charleston, Dealer Joe Levenson has ordered 6,000 trees and says "the demand has increased somewhat" and "people are coming back from artificial trees."

Dale Lockard, owner of the Trim 'N' Tree shop in Clarksburg, sells artificial trees and said "business has been excellent." He said he believed warm autumn weather was one reason for a shortage of cut trees "because many trees have been cut too early and won't be fit by Christmas."

Growers and dealers alike agree the cost of trees has risen again.

Allan said a rule of thumb is that trees are sold to wholesalers at about $1 per foot. Dealers then sell them for $1.50 to well more than $2 a foot.

Artificial trees also cost more these days. One Charleston dealer said prices on her artificial trees started at $60.