- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2003

GLENELG, Md. — Sticking your hand in the middle of Linda Brown’s Christmas trees is like petting a luxurious, green fur.

This year, record rainfall at her Howard County farm brought the Scotch pines, white pines, Douglas firs and blue spruces a good, long drink of water. Like Christmas tree farms across Maryland, the result is rows and rows of the thickest, greenest boughs in years.

They even smell richer, lusher — more like Christmas.

“They’re nice and moist,” said Mrs. Brown, whose family has been growing Christmas trees for 14 years. “They’re like anything else — they get lots of water, and they grow.”

Maryland’s 200 tree farms, parched in a two-year drought, soaked up the water in 2003. The Department of Agriculture is forecasting a season of some of the supplest trees the state has seen.

“If they didn’t drown, they grew like crazy,” said Frank Gouin, professor emeritus and retired chairman of the University of Maryland horticulture department.

Mr. Gouin, who runs his own small Christmas tree farm and weaves 500 white pine wreaths to sell at the Annapolis Farmers’ Market every year, is seeing another sign of moist trees: loads of resin.

“I’m making wreaths right now, and I’ve got pitch all over my hands,” Mr. Gouin said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They’re just loaded.”

The smell of the supple foliage tells the story of this year’s weather, Mr. Gouin said. His workshop is filled with the thick odor of fresh pine.

“I just love coming in here,” he said.

When weather and soil conditions are right, the trees grow vigorously, Mr. Gouin said. This year, he said, “They’re getting the best growth they’ve ever had.” That can be up to 2 feet a year, twice as much as last year.

The trees needed more attention this summer, as their limbs grew more quickly and they gained height rapidly, farmers said. Shearing and pruning, done on the Browns’ TLV Tree Farm in June, was more work than usual.

The Browns allow their pines to grow only a foot at a time. After they gain a foot, they’re trimmed, so the branches aren’t spaced too far apart. Otherwise, the trees get a “Jack and the Beanstalk” look, Mrs. Brown said.

The evergreens also are sheared around the sides, so they keep the look of a Christmas tree — instead of a wild timber tree.

The trees are showing other signs of moisture as well, Mr. Gouin said. They’re heavier, and their needles likely will stay fresh long after Christmas.

“They’ll definitely hold their needles for a long time and maintain turgidity,” Mr. Gouin said. “When they’re dry, they won’t droop. The needles will stay more in an upright position.”

The trees leftover from last year were invigorated by the soaking rains, farmers said. Last year’s drought left many trees looking peaked, a little yellow and a lot dry.

“Drought just kind of squeezes things out of them. They’re just doing everything they can to survive,” said Jim Brown, Linda Brown’s husband and business partner.

The mature evergreens, a longtime symbol of spring’s promise to return, did survive the dry days of 2002 in Maryland. But many young seedlings, with only short roots to burrow into the dry soil, died.

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