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EARTHWATCH : Ever-Greening : This holiday, consider buying a live potted Christmas tree or mulching your cut one.


You'd think a column on Christmas trees would be a tame topic, eh? I thought so myself, only to discover that Ye Olde Tannenbaum has "roots," so to speak, in many environmental issues today.

It all began innocently. I was researching my modest proposal that Christmas should be the time for you to plant a tree--maybe the only one--this year. But despite my best efforts not to, I've unearthed a news item.

It seems that we in Ventura County are already into live Christmas trees and "they," just across the border (e.g. Canoga Park) are not. What's going on?

Green Thumb Nurseries, a California chain, was as puzzled as I that its Ventura location sells 2,000 live Christmas trees per year and the Canoga Park location only 500. There's lots of competition in Ventura and not much in Canoga Park. And it's cheaper not to buy a tree annually.

According to Larry Engman, manager of the Green Thumb in Ventura, both operations sold more than 5,000 cut Christmas trees this season. But I'll leave it to another Times reporter to uncover why we seem to be 400% more interested in the live product than our neighbors in the Big Orange.

My family's experience with live Christmas trees has been fun. Starting with a little tree during our condo days, we repotted it after each Yule, trading upwards pot-wise, you might say, for several years. Eventually, we used a half whiskey barrel--$20 to $30 at local nurseries, which is a fitting way to recycle such a container. And when we bought a house we planted it in the yard--away from the sprinklers because over-watering can cause root fungus. In or out of the pot, a weekly soaking is enough. Nowadays we put lights on the one in the yard and put the gifts next to the fireplace where the stockings are hanging.

Inveterate condo dwellers with a balcony can keep right on repotting and, according to Colette Lovo of Baron Bros. Nursery in Camarillo, "can wheel it back into the house at Christmas." The point of all this re-potting is to provide enough room so that the roots do not choke. Lovo said a well-tended potted pine will last "until the kids leave home."

TreePeople, the Supreme Court of such matters, reminded me that buying a potted pine involves "a commitment" and that you should think about the space where you'll keep it before you buy. They also took pains to point out that a cut Christmas tree, harvested from a local tree ranch, is as eco-friendly as a potted tree.

Last week's Ventura County Life section listed local ranches where you can cut your own, and TreePeople pointed out that operators of these ranches plant four trees for every one cut, making the trees a renewable resource. Actually, California growers plant 2 million a year and replace the one you bought within two weeks so the oxygen-making goes on almost without interruption. Also, it's not a water-intensive crop.

The second part of today's FYI lists places where you can return your cut tree to Mother Earth and help reduce the amount of waste going into crowded landfills. Californians dispose of 90,000 Christmas trees a year, but the Ventura County Recycling Consortium has organized a vigorous program. It is making wood chips for local parks to use as a water-conserving landscape cover and as an ingredient in local composting projects. That way you can give your Christmas tree a second life.


Live Christmas trees:

* Green Thumb International, Ventura 642-8517

* Hartley Wholesale Nursery, Moorpark 523-7438

* Phil Lee Nursery, Moorpark 529-3013

* Baron Bros. Nursery, Camarillo 484-0085

Treecycling (call the numbers below to find out about post-holiday drop-off sites or curbside pickup for your tree):

* Camarillo, 388-5392

* Fillmore, 524-3701

* Moorpark, 529-6864

* Oak Park, 654-3935

* Ojai, 646-5581 or 654-3935

* Oxnard, 984-4700

* Port Hueneme, 488-3625

* Santa Paula, 933-4213

* Simi Valley, 583-6753

* Thousand Oaks, 496-8679

* Ventura, 650-0884

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