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Shoppers shouldn't bark up the wrong tree

November 29, 1997

Shoppers shouldn't bark up the wrong tree

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Larry Sharpe has a word of advice for people who plant to cut their own trees for the Christmas holiday.

"The first thing to do is watch out for the gopher holes. You can break your ankle," said Sharpe, a member of the Maryland Christmas Tree Association.

Sharpe, 76, has been growing Christmas trees for 27 years on his tree farm that straddles the border of Washington and Frederick counties near Wolfsville, Md.

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Sharpe said a white or a scotch pine at a cut-it-yourself farm shouldn't cost more than $15 or $20. A Douglas fir is a bit more. If you paid $50, you're getting robbed, Sharpe said.

Sharpe only sells his trees wholesale. Typical wholesale prices range from $8 to $13 a tree, he said. Sharpe said a Christmas tree takes seven years to grow, and costs the grower about $7.50.

Sharpe's tips for buying a tree:

* Make sure your eyes aren't bigger than your house.

* Dress to stay warm.

* If buying from a lot, run your hand along it's branches and see how many needles fall off.

Some tree lots import trees from as far away as Michigan, and those trees may have been cut in September and could be very dry, Sharpe said.

* If you must travel with the tree a long distance, protect it from the wind, which will dry it out.

If the tree must be tied to the top of a vehicle, wrap it in cloth or plastic, and have the trunk facing the rear of the car.

* Stamp the tree down on your driveway before bringing it inside. This will get rid of some of the loose needles.

* Cut about half an inch off the bottom of the tree when you get it home. Then cut a quarter inch slit in the bottom of the trunk to allow water to seep into the tree.

* Water the tree daily. A large tree can use a gallon of water in the first day alone.

A properly watered, fresh-cut tree could stay fresh for months.

* Use quality lights. Don't try and save money by using old lights.

* Turn off the lights when you leave the house.

* Some people recommend putting two galvanized roofing nails in the tree's water because something in the iron supposedly helps the tree last.

Forget putting aspirin, Clorox, or karo syrup in the water. They don't help.

* Keep the tree away from sources of heat, like radiators, which will dry it out.

* If the tree will be displayed in a public place, it must be a fresh-cut blue spruce, scotch pine or douglas fir, must be displayed within two days of cutting and can only be displayed for a maximum of 21 days. The grower must affix an official tag with watering information on the tree. For more information, call the Maryland Christmas Tree Association at 1-800-935-MCTA.

* After you take the tree down recycle it by turning it into mulch or leaving it in the backyard for the birds.

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