- The Washington Times - Monday, November 26, 2001

HAGERSTOWN, Md. The dry fall weather makes it doubly important to choose a fresh-cut Christmas tree this holiday season, growers and fire officials say.
Trees that are cut or dug just before decorating will stay fresher longer, resulting in fewer fallen needles and less fire danger. For safest results, cut it yourself at a tree farm and put it in water immediately at home, said Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Robert B. Thomas Jr.
"Our best advice to consumers is certainly, if they're going to place a Christmas tree in their home, to opt for a fresh-cut tree," Marshal Thomas said.
He recommended avoiding trees sold by supermarkets, since some will have been cut weeks before they arrive.
"The moisture content of those trees, this year, will be substantially less than in prior years due to the lack of rain in our region," Marshal Thomas said.
That advice suits local tree growers preparing for the seasonal rush. Tree farms typically open the weekend after Thanksgiving and experience peak demand about two weeks before Christmas.
Conditions are driest in parts of Central and Western Maryland. In Harford County, where April-through-October rainfall was 8.6 inches below normal, Environmental Evergreens Tree Farm lost two-thirds of this year's transplanted seedlings, owner Bob Chance said.
"I want to emphasize to people to tag their trees now and not to cut them until the day they need them in their homes," Mr. Chance said. "There's not a lot of moisture in their trunks, so it just makes a lot of common sense to let the trees live in the ground as long as possible."
Mr. Chance said he prefers selling conifers live, roots and all, for transplantation in the yard after the holidays. It is difficult digging the trees this year, however, because the earth is so hard at his farm near Darlington.
"I'm irrigating for three days before I try to put a spade in the ground," Mr. Chance said.
The Gaver Tree Farm, near New Market, also lost seedlings this season, the third dry year in the past four in southeastern Frederick County, Lisa Gaver said.
"This year, we planted a new field, larger than usual, to compensate for the two drought years," Miss Gaver said. "We had a 20 percent loss in white pine seedlings, but all the other varieties are doing beautiful."
Strong roots are the key to seedling survival, said Mehrl Mayne of Mayne's Trees in Buckeystown, a few miles south of Frederick. Mr. Mayne said he buys Fraser fir seedlings grown by Weyerhaeuser Co. in Washington state from seeds produced in West Virginia.
The trees sprout in greenhouses and are nurtured a year before being moved to outdoor beds for two more years, Mr. Mayne said. The pampering pays off in well-developed roots, he said.
Mr. Mayne said a 7- to 8-foot tree, even one grown under normal moisture conditions, will drink as much as a gallon of water in the first four hours after being cut and moved indoors. He recommended replenishing the tree-stand reservoir frequently.
"We try to tell customers, never let the tree get out of water," Mr. Mayne said.

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