Trees: The choicest cuts for Christmas await at nearby farms, but take a merry measurement before you take one home.


December 05, 1996|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

About to make the trek to ye old Christmas tree farm? Whether you're a neophyte or have been at it for a while, tips on what to look for can be helpful. When it comes to selecting that perfect fresh Christmas tree, it's wise to start from the bottom up.

"The first thing people should look at is the handle, the trunk stem," says Paul McHugh, owner of Brandy Farms, located in Anne Arundel County north of Crofton.

The retired school teacher, who has been in the "choose and cut" Christmas tree business since 1989, explains that there should be about 7 to 12 inches from the ground to the first branch. Or at least try to picture how a tree would look if you remove those bottom branches, says McHugh, who writes children's literature in his spare time.

Move your eye up the tree and check out the next layer, called the "whirl branches." There should be no wide spaces between whirls, McHugh says.

There should be just one leader on the very top of the tree. That's the head branch that sticks up at the top, he says. (And the one where people usually place an angel or a star ornament.)

And, of course, you want a tree with a nice color. But don't get thrown off if it has a color usually associated with Halloween instead of Christmas.

"People should know that sometimes trees get to be a light tint of orange. That means they are defending themselves from the cold. That's OK," McHugh says.

Some folks have been known to become a tad confused about that slight orange color.

"I remember a farmer said he had sold a tree that had the light orange tint," McHugh recalls. "A customer came in the next year and said, 'I want one of those golden Scotch pines!' "

A light tinge of orange is fine, but that's as far as it should go. "Trees should not be brown, of course," he says.

McHugh says the tree should be just the correct height and width to fit your home. That should be obvious, but sometimes, when out in the field, people get a bit carried away and choose a grand tree that's larger than their homes can accommodate.

Here's his good and simple tip on choosing a size.

"Have someone stand in the spot where the tree is going to go and have them hold their arms up. Then repeat the same thing in the field to get some idea," McHugh says.

Now, that's done. You have chosen a tree and taken it home.

"Once you get it home, cut about a quarter to a half inch off the base of the trunk and put it in water," he says. Remember to keep the tree stand filled with water. The water will help prevent the trees from drying out and dropping their needles, but some trees "tend to hold their needles" more than others, he says. The white pine, the Scotch pine, East Coast Douglas firs and Frazier firs are examples of these.

"Norway spruce and white spruce are beautiful trees but tend to drop needles easily," he says.

Additional tips from the National Christmas Tree Association:

Do a freshness test. Gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand. Once you've chosen your tree, keep it in a sheltered, unheated area such as a porch or garage until you are ready to decorate it.

Keep your tree away from heat and draft sources such as fireplaces, radiators and television sets. Test light cords and connections before hanging them on the tree.

There are many Christmas tree farms throughout Maryland. But if you don't want to cut your own, one place to buy a Christmas tree and also do a good deed is in Baltimore at Memorial Stadium.

That sale is sponsored by the American Legion for the benefit of the Medical Eye Bank of Maryland. The tree sale runs daily through Dec. 20 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Here is a selection of tree farms in the Baltimore metropolitan area:

Anne Arundel County

Brandy Farms. (410) 721-5868. About 1 mile north of Crofton, take Route 3 north 1.5 miles. Right on St. Stephens for almost 1/2 mile to farm on left. Open through Dec. 15; weekdays noon to 4 p.m., weekends 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Friendship Trees. (410) 741-5712. From Capital Beltway take Route 4 south to Route 260 to Route 778. Go left on Route 778 a half mile to farm on left. Open through Dec. 19 or until sold out. Noon to 4: 30 p.m. daily, 9 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. weekends.

Mas-que Farm. (410) 757-4454. About 1 mile southwest of Annapolis. From U.S. 50, take Route 2 south a half mile. Turn left on Forest Drive for 1.5 miles; turn right on Spa Road for a quarter mile to sign on right. Open weekends through Dec. 22, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Baltimore County

Doyle's Tree Farm. (410) 357-8056. About 3 miles northeast of Hereford. From I-83, take Middletown Road (Exit 31) east a half mile to dead end at York Road. Turn right on York Road for quarter mile to left on Wiseburg Road and continue for half mile. Turn right on Bernoudy Road. Continue 1 mile to sign on right. Open through Dec. 22, weekends only, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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