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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One of the hottest items on store shelves this Christmas shopping season is tar paper and a gooey material used to fight off worms.

They re the materials needed for area residents to prevent what happened last April the annoyance and mess caused by cankerworms hatching in trees.

This is the time of year when the eggs are laid, said Don McSween, city arborist in Charlotte.

Actually, the best time to wrap a band of sticky material around tree trunks was last month. But warm weather through the first half of December might have given people extra time to ward off a repeat performance of last spring, when the worm problem seemed especially bad.

Once we get into some consistent cold weather, it s too late, McSween said. The eggs are laid by then.

A wingless moth actually is responsible for the problem. The moths climb into trees in late autumn and lay eggs. In the spring, those eggs hatch, and the worms leave a mess in the trees and under them.

The only way to stop the moths is by preventing them from climbing trees. McSween said there are two methods buying an already-made trap, or making one yourself with batting material, covered by tar paper, and then adding a sticky material on top.

Some prevention now can help a lot in the spring, McSween said.

The problem is that the material isn t easy to find now.

We sold out of our supply, said Ernie McLaney, of Organic Plant Healthcare in Matthews. Actually, the time frame we suggest for the traps is the last three weeks of November.

We ve had some pretty mild days, but a lot of the moths have probably gotten into the trees already.

An employee at Norwood Nursery on Albemarle Road in east Charlotte said her business sells out of the material about as quickly as we get it in.

One store that still has the material is Monroe Hardware in Mint Hill. As of this week, the store had some of the materials on its shelves.

It s been in heavy demand, said Sally Dean of Monroe Hardware. We sell out, then we order some more. It seems to be in heavy demand this year.

McSween said people looking for the materials should check with nurseries and local hardware stores. He has posted a list of some stores that might have the materials at http://bit.ly/ShQLdU.

You might want to hurry. Some of the long-range weather forecasts indicate a change to cooler weather is expected next week.

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