Artificial tree sales good, too

Has a more sophisticated Christmas-tree industry - which grows trees that are more lush than ever before - produced too much of a good thing? If your ornaments stick out straight from the tree, instead of hanging gracefully from the branches, your tree may be a victim of ''overshearing.''

''A tree is like a hedge - the closer you shear it the thicker it grows,'' says grower Philip Jones of Shelton, Conn. ''Some growers have a very bad habit of overshearing.'' He advises consumers who don't want the bushy look to ''complain to the vendor that you want one that's more natural.''

Many people in the United States skirt the bushiness issue altogether by buying artificial trees, which come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and degrees of density.

About a third of the households in America have artificial trees, says Bruce Robinson, executive vice-president of American Tree Company, the largest artificial-tree manufacturer in the world. Although growers say the ''live tree'' is slowly gaining back a larger share of the market, Mr. Robinson says his company's reorder season ''is super. The artificial tree market is doing very, very well.''

The average six-foot artificial costs $100 to $200 - a big investment for most families. But Robinson says an artificial tree is more economical in the long run. ''It's a matter of simple mathematics,'' he says. ''If you spend $30 a year for 10 years, that's $300. For $100 you can get a beautiful artificial tree - and they last almost indefinitely.''

But, say people who insist on real trees, who thinks of mathematics at Christmastime? And what about that great balsam-fir smell?

Well, this year, for the first time, American Tree Company is selling Christmas ornaments that have a balsam scent.

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