A lot of people may be dreaming of a white Christmas this year, but many farmers in Maryland are looking for a green one.
Tree sales are being bolstered this year by nature, which delivered an early Christmas present to tree farmers in the form of relatively balmy weather. In contrast to the record lows and frequent snows last year, the weather has been mild this holiday season.
For Christmas tree growers and retailers, that has translated into larger-than-usual crowds on the weekends. In the warmer weather, more people have been traipsing across farm fields and lots in search of Christmas trees.
Combined with a strong crop of Christmas trees -- Maryland currently produces nearly every species of Christmas tree, from expensive Frazier firs to the ever-popular Scotch pines -- 1990 is turning out to be a bumper year for tree sales in Maryland, said Carville Akehurst, executive director of the Maryland Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Last year, in contrast, bitter cold kept would-be buyers away in droves from the hundreds of independent retailers and Christmas tree farms that dot the state.
"It's a strong market compared to last year," said Mr. Akehurst. "The weather has been very, very good for people to go out and purchase trees, especially at the choose-and-cut operations."
All told, Maryland's 200 growers will sell about 150,000 trees this season out of the total 1 million trees that will be purchased this year by Marylanders, Mr. Akehurst estimated.
Of those, more than two-thirds will be sold off choose-and-cut operations such as the Clemsonville Christmas Tree Farm in Union Bridge, a 200-acre spread near Frederick.
Owner Mike Ryan said about 7,000 cars arrived at the Clemsonville farm one recent Saturday, almost double the typical number for a weekend during the holiday retail season.
His guess was that the weekend turnout was being helped along by the unseasonably balmy weather.
"I'd say 99.9 percent of the people who come here leave with a tree in their car and a smile on their faces," said Mr. Ryan, a furniture salesman-turned-Christmas tree farmer. "Most kids look at this as a fun-filled experience. If it's freezing cold, that can wreck it for them."
Mr. Ryan's observation is shared by other growers and retailers, who report bumper crowds of shoppers willing to search open bTC fields and lots for the perfect Christmas tree.
At Kimball's Market in Ashton, a year-round fruit and produce market that opens a holiday shop every December, owner Danny Kimball also reports brisk Christmas tree sales.
Big sellers this year: Tall trees (over 7 feet), tabletop-sized trees (2 to 3 feet tall) and balled-and-burlapped trees, Mr. Kimball said.
He said balled-and-burlapped trees -- live trees that are sold with their roots bound in burlap for replanting after the holidays -- are popular among younger people with new homes and that tabletop trees are popular with customers who don't want to fuss with full-sized versions.
At the national level, mail-order trees are also popular this year, said Jeanne Weiss of the National Christmas Tree Association. L.L. Bean, Sears and Speigel are among the growing number of retailers that offer the packaged Christmas trees by mail, she said.
"I guess a lot of people don't want to have to worry about needles when they're dragging a tree up the stairs," she said.