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Tradition of fresh Christmas trees endures

| Monday, Dec. 19, 2005

The Christmas tree is one of the most familiar images of the holiday season and, although most people no longer chop down their own trees, the tradition of fresh trees is alive and well.

Alice Haines helps run the tree lot at her husband's business, Don Haines Produce, near the former Rob Roy's on Route 119 in Connellsville.

The Haines family has been selling Christmas trees on and off for five years.

They purchased 550 trees from Mennonites in Shippensburg and were down to 69 by the weekend, which is no surprise because they're selling the trees at $7 each.

"My husband doesn't believe in buying expensive trees," Haines said, adding that prices are kept low so less fortunate families can afford a tree for Christmas.

While Haines said the prices of their trees have gone up and down over the years depending when they bought them, they always have a variety.

Haines sells Austrian pine, blue spruce and other types of trees, but the best seller is the Scotch pine.

"They have short needles, and they hold the ornaments better," Haines said.

At Cellurale's Garden Center along Route 119 in Lemont Furnace, the best seller is the Frasier fir.

"They have soft needles, good needle retention," owner Jim Cellurale said. "And Martha Stewart likes them, too."

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, nearly 20 species are commonly grown and sold for use as Christmas trees in the U.S., including the Arizona cypress, balsam fir, Colorado blue spruce, Canaan fir, Eastern red cedar, grand fir, noble fir and white spruce.

Tree prices at Cellurale's start at $3 per foot for the Scotch pines, and up depending on the size and type of tree.

With artificial trees becoming more affordable over the years, live tree sellers said there was a dry spell in the market.

"People don't want to deal with dead branches, and they don't like hauling them out of the house," Haines said.

Cellurale said four years ago was a bad year for selling live trees, but more and more people are coming back to them.

Everyone agrees that there is something about the live trees that can't be duplicated artificially.

"I like the smell of pine in the house," Haines said. "That's what everyone says. And you can hang more ornaments on a real tree, plus it's traditional."

The National Christmas Tree Association has posted tips on selecting a live tree on its Web site:

= Be sure to know the size (height and width) needed before heading to the retail lot.

= Go to a retail lot that is well-lit and stores trees in a shaded area.

= Often, a tree obtained soon after its arrival on the retail lot will be very fresh because it was cut recently. Ask the retailer when they get the trees, if they are delivered once at the beginning of the season, or several times during the season.

= Do a freshness test on the trees. Green needles on fresh trees break crisply when bent sharply with the fingers -- much like a fresh carrot.

= Pines have different indicators because of the fibrous nature of their needles compared to firs. The needles on fresh firs do not break, unless they are very dry.

= Look for other indicators of dryness or deterioration: excessive needle loss, discolored foliage, musty odor, needle pliability and wrinkled bark. A good rule is when in doubt about the freshness of a tree, select another one. If none of the trees on the lot look fresh, go to another lot.

More selection tips, as well as suggestions on tree care and tree recycling, may be found on the association's Web site, www.christmastree.org.

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