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Weather puts chill on annual tree sale

Thursday morning was a big haul for Brookhaven’s ShawnBurgett.

He walked out of the Lincoln County Soil and Water ConservationDistrict’s annual tree sale with 24 sawtooth oaks, 20 Georgiapeaches, 12 crabapples and numerous other trees. He could barelycarry the load to the parking lot.

“We have an orchard going. We have a couple acres cleared outwith about 45 peach trees, and we’re trying to get it to 65 or 70,”Burgett said. “No one else around here does it.”

Burgett was part of the usual crowd of gardeners, landscapersand outdoor enthusiasts who raided the National Guard Armory forthe annual tree sale, where thousands of young nursery-grownvarieties are sold for between $2 and $6. Besides encouragingpeople to plant trees to protect and beautify their land, the lowprices offer big savings, depending on species.

“We paid around $20 for peach trees at Lowe’s,” Burgett said.”Our cost for trees has gone down. Now if we could just keep thefertilizer costs down.”

While Burgett’s cost has gone down, officials said the cost ofhosting the tree sale has gone up dangerously, and the 2010 showmay be the annual event’s final act.

Mississippi Soil and Water Conservation District CommissionerMike Warren said the threat of coming snow in Southwest Mississippilikely kept this year’s crowd down to below-average numbers, aproblem that will likely cause the tree sale to lose money for thesecond year in a row.

“Whenever you’re operating on a slim budget to begin with, youcan’t just keep going down and down,” Warren said while lookingover room filled with plenty of leftover trees – a rare sight forthe usual whirlwind tree sale. “Unless somebody comes in betweennow and dinner, we’ve lost a lot of money.”

The tree sale has never been designed to turn a profit, but itneeds to at least break even to ensure its continuance, Warrensaid.

Though all those who work the sale are either volunteers ormembers of local forestry and conservation commissions, hosting theevent requires renting a facility, purchasing trees from a nurseryin Tennessee and paying to have them shipped to Brookhaven. Thecost is in the thousands.

Warren said leftover trees might be taken to the conservationdistrict’s office and sold throughout the coming days, allowingtree planters who missed Thursday morning’s event a secondchance.

He suspected many people stayed away from the tree sale fearingthe coming snow would kill their purchases, but that’s notnecessarily the case. The trees will survive several days if keptin a bucket of water, he said.

“People aren’t coming out because of the cold weather, but theydon’t realize these trees will last three or four weeks if you takecare of them,” Warren said. “You don’t have to run right home andplant them.”

Whether they plant immediately or store for weeks, Warrenencouraged people to plant trees. No matter what species, treesoffer several benefits in several areas, he said.

“If you plant a fruit tree, you get a benefit; a sawtooth oak,and wildlife gets a benefit,” he explained. “Then you’ve gotcypress you can plant in wetlands and help hold your wetlands. Someof these trees will produce timber, and if you by some honeysuckle,it produces beauty.”

Brookhaven’s Idella Byrd was looking for beauty at Thursday’stree sale, and she found it in a bag of persimmons, azealas,catalpas and peach trees.

“I’m looking to landscape my yard with beautiful trees in thefront and fruit trees in the back,” she said. “I want my yard to bebeautiful and contribute to the beautification of mycommunity.”

Sontag’s Josephine Porter was shopping for the future, takinghome white dogwoods, peach and plumb trees for her grandchildren toenjoy.

“We put out fruit trees for the grandkids. They just love tohave natural fruit, so we try to keep something healthy for them toeat on,” she said.

Brookhaven’s Rita Goss was conflicted as to what she wanted fromthe tree sale, so she bought a little of everything.

“I love things that flower, but I love pecan trees, too. I don’thave any pecan trees in my yard,” she said. “But I cam to get somecrepe myrtles, just to add some color.”

Former Lincoln County Election Commissioner Charles Smith boughtsawtooth oaks, crepe myrtles and persimmons for the wildlife on hisproperty, but perhaps his greatest feat was being a good husband tohis wife, Bettye.

“She got me up at 1 a.m., and I made coffee, heated the houseand got the truck warm. Then she got up about 2 a.m. and made me alist and said, ‘I think I’ll go back to bed.'” Smith said. “I don’tmind. I love coming out here and meeting people. You can’t beatsupporting forestry.”