The same dry, warm weather that had Marylanders shedding their coats earlier in the month is making many Christmas trees drop their needles well before the holiday season ends.
With Christmas Eve only a day away, and many trees looking more tawdry than Tannenbaum, some buyers even find themselves in the market -- again -- for a tree.
Yesterday, Suzan Parker stripped all the ornaments off the dried-out Douglas fir she bought the Saturday after Thanksgiving and drove to three places before finding a reasonably priced substitute.
"I don't even know what kind it is," she said of the new tree. It was only $20, and it was green, so she told the vendor to put it in her trunk for the ride home to Sparks in Baltimore County.
The warm, sunny, breezy days that humans have enjoyed so much were murder on cut Christmas trees sitting on a lot, said Bryan Butler, an educator with the University of Maryland Extension Service. The trees lose moisture faster as they lie in the sun, sometimes for more than a month, before they are sold.
"It's rather bizarre when people are out shopping for Christmas trees in shorts," Butler said. "This is not something we normally deal with."
While parts of Maryland have experienced drought conditions forthe past two years, Butler said that is probably not the cause of the dropping needles. For one thing, many trees sold here are grown in other parts of the country and shipped here. There is no way to know when a tree was cut, either.
What counts is freshness, he said, and even precut trees can be kept moist.
"I personally bought a tree off a lot the first week of December and put it right in water, and I haven't had a problem," Butler said. "It drinks two liters of water every other day."
Ed Miller, owner of Grandfather's Garden Center in Columbia, said that while some vendors sell trees that were cut weeks before Thanksgiving and leave them untended, a reputable nursery will care for a tree and keep it moist. He and his staff mist their trees daily, and they order only trees cut after Thanksgiving, he said.
He tells customers to put the tree into a bucket of warm water and preservative within two hours of purchase -- and never ever let the water run out in the stand. If it does, the sap will harden at the bottom of the trunk and seal it from absorbing any more water.
Parker followed all the rules. She bought her tree at a home-improvement store as soon as they went on sale. The salesperson cut off a fresh slice of the trunk. She took it right home to a bucket of water.
And it still shriveled up.
"It was drooping so much the ornaments were falling off," she said.
Peg and John Wooldridge of Annapolis had to go far afield to fix their tree problem.
"I didn't even bring the tree in the house," Peg Wooldridge said of the first tree she bought the second week of December.
They brought it right home, cut off a slice from the bottom of the trunk and put it in a bucket of water for a drink. It took nary a sip -- for a whole week -- and just got browner.
"We ended up going to the Eastern Shore and cutting a tree," Peg Wooldridge said.
The first tree that Mark and Karen Karnes bought never made it past the front porch of their home in Rodgers Forge in Baltimore County. When they picked it up to carry it into the living room, it left a blanket of needles.
"We were running our hands across it, and everything just started falling off," Mark Karnes said. They returned it and got a refund to use toward a new tree.
Karnes said they have always bought their trees at that store and never had a problem until this year. His concern wasn't so much the look of the tree as safety -- the tree is just a few feet from their fireplace.
Dry Christmas trees can pose a fire danger, said Allan R. Gosnell, spokesman for the state fire marshal. "Each homeowner has to evaluate a tree. If the needles bend and bounce back, it's probably OK. If they break off, or it seems very dry, it's better to err on the side of caution and get it out of the home."
"Have you ever seen one burn?" Karnes said. "They just go puff, and they go up in seconds."
Pub Date: 12/23/98