September 06, 1999 12:00 PM

All over the drought-stricken eastern U.S., crops are dying and trees are turning brown—all, that is, except those trees fortunate enough to be wearing Lambert Cissel’s Treegator. The Treegator—which Cissel, 60, modestly calls “a bag with a hole in it”—is like a big polyethylene beanbag that holds 20 gallons of water. Wrapped around a tree trunk, it slowly drips lifesaving moisture from four holes to the roots.

“It’s better water conservation,” says Dottie Marshall, a deputy superintendent with the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., which uses Treegators along George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia. “It gives us an even distribution of water over an extended period of time”—up to 16 hours. In fact, the Treegator seems like such a good idea some park visitors have been stealing them, according to Marshall.

Cissel, who farms 600 acres of soybeans and sod near Lisbon, Md., with his idea more than a decade ago. he prototype was made of white plastic bags and, says Marge, “it looked like every tree had a Band-Aid on it.” Those bags weren’t strong enough, and Cissel, using Marge’s sewing machine, tried more than 100 materials before settling on the current model. This year the family business, run by his son Scott, 33, has sold a record 100,000 at $22 each—mostly to landscape architects and municipalities. Cissel may be one farmer who isn’t praying for rain.

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