Tree farms offer more family entertainment


December 09, 2007|By Ted Shelsby

The lead-up to the holidays is the time when many people bundle up, grab a hatchet and take to the woods in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

Now, many of the 300 or so tree farms in Maryland are making the venture more of an experience for customers. A growing trend in the industry is turning the purchase of a tree into a family outing and a day of recreation, said Wayne Thomas, president of the Maryland Christmas Tree Association and owner of a tree farm near Manchester, Carroll County.

Some farms serve lunch, some offer hayrides and some have a petting zoo, Thomas said.

The first two weekends in December are usually the peak selling period for pick-and-cut tree farms, he said. Most of the farms are 20 to 30 acres and typically have 800 to 1,000 trees per acre. They also sell a variety of other holiday decorations, including homemade wreaths and cuts of holly.

Maryland's tree farms were dealt a setback by this year's drought, as dry conditions destroyed about one-third of the Christmas tree seedlings that were planted, Thomas said. But the full impact will not likely be visible for a few years.

"The trees look really good this year," Thomas said. "But eight or nine years down the road, people may see a shortage of trees or slightly smaller trees."

It's only in recent years that Christmas trees have been considered a part of Maryland agriculture, first included in the state agriculture census in 2002. At that time, there were 3,205 acres of trees in Maryland with sales totaling $2.3 million.

Those are the latest figures available, according to Dale P. Hawks, deputy director of the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.

To help shoppers find the perfect tree, the association prepared a directory of its roughly 100 pick-and-cut tree farm members. The directory lists the type of trees and other decorations offered by each farm, along with directions, phone numbers and Web sites. The association's Web site is www.marylandchristmastrees .org.

The Delaware Department of Agriculture has prepared a list of tips for choosing and caring for Christmas trees. The suggestions include:

Keep the tree in a cool, shaded area, sheltered from the wind, with the trunk in a bucket of water until you are ready to bring it into the house.

Just before putting a cut tree into its stand, trim an inch or two off the trunk. The cut allows the tree to take up water needed to keep it fresh.

Check the water level at least once a day to see that it is above the bottom of the tree's trunk. It is not uncommon for a tree to take up a quart or more of water a day.

The department offered other suggestions for testing the freshness of an already-cut tree from a retail lot, including:

Bend a needle to check its resilience. If it does not break, but springs back into position, the tree is fresh.

Bump the base of the tree on the ground. If the needles don't fall, the tree is fresh. (Some varieties don't retain their needles as well as others, and some trees might harbor loose needles that dropped earlier and lodge in foliage.)

If the bottom of the trunk is sappy and moist, the tree is fresh.

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