TAKING THE FAMILY out to cut your own Christmas tree can be a terrific trip back in time. And there are any number of nearby tree farms eager to let you have a whack at it.

But before you get caught up in the excitement and pleasure of traditional hewing, a few basics:

1. Phone first. Make sure the farm has the size, price and type of tree you want. Average prices range from $15 to $30 (and up) a tree. Some sell by length (around $3 per foot).

2. Trees look smaller in the field than in your living room. Measure your space, then your tree.

3. Dress for it. You're not going to Georgetown Park, but into woods and pastures. High heels and bucks won't cut it.

4. Be prepared. Bring a pruning saw. Most tree farms supply them, but you may have to wait for one on a busy day. Also, if you have a small car, bring a shet and rope to protect the tree from 55-mile-an-hour winds that dry out the needles. (The trunk or other enclosed area is the best place for a tree.)

5. Back at the homestead, cut an inch off the butt of the tree just before you put it in water. This prolongs the life of the tree and reduces danger of a fire.

Now that you're ready, here's a chopping list of area farms where you can cut the Christmas tree of your choice:

MARYLAND

ANNE ARUNDEL

HILLTOP FARM -- six miles south of Upper Marlboro. Weekdays 2 to 5; Saturday 9 to 5; closed Sundays. White and Scotch pine. Take Route 4 south six miles, turn right on Lower Pindell Road for one mile; turn left on Mallard Road for 1/2 mile to sign on right. 301/855-8431.

MASQUE FARM -- one mile southwest of Annapolis. Open 9 to 4 daily. White and Scotch pine, Norway and blue spruce. From U.S. 50 take Route 2 south to Route 665; turn right on Route 387 (Spa Road) to farm. 301/757- 4454.

BALTIMORE COUNTY

FROSTEE TREE FARM -- near Whitemarsh Mall. By appointment only on weekdays; 9 to 5:30 weekends. White and Austrian pine, Douglas and Fraser fir, Norway, blue and white spruce. From I-95 north, exit east on U.S. 40 and go left on Ebenezer Road (becomes Cowenton Avenue) to sign on left. 301/687-3344 or 301/256-5560.

LOCKSLEY TREE FARM -- near Jacksonville. Open 10 to 5 daily. White and Scotch pine, Douglas fir, blue and white spruce. From Baltimore Beltway take Exit 27. Go north on Route 146 one-half mile past Jacksonville; bear right on Stansberry Mill Road and turn right to farm. 301/666- 2652.

TIMBER HILL FARM -- near Maryland Line. Weekends only: open 8 to 4 Saturday; 9 to 4 Sunday. From I-83 take Exit 36. Go east on Route 439, continue four miles to sign on left. 301/357-4295.

VENTURA FARMS -- near Butler. Open daily 9 to 4, Wednesday through Sunday. White and Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Norway and Blue spruce. From Baltimore Beltway take Falls Road north past Shawan Road. Go five miles to Butler Road and look for sign. 301/771-4510.

CALVERT COUNTY

ELMWOOD FARM -- near Dunkirk. Open December 14, daily, 1 to dusk; Sunday 2 to dusk. Scotch pine. From Beltway take Route 4 south 22 miles. Turn left at Mt. Harmony Road and go 3/10-mile to sign. 301/586-2292.

CARROLL COUNTY

J.C.K. TREE FARM -- eight miles west of Westminster. Open 10 to 5 daily; weekends 9 to 5. White, Scotch and Austrian pine, Norway spruce. Take Route 140 west eight miles to Mayberry Road; turn right and follow signs. 301/837-2320 or 301/346-7597.

PINE VALLEY FARM -- near Woodbine. Open 1 to 4 weekdays; 9 to dark weekends. Take I-70 Exit 71; go north four miles on Woodbine Road, then right on Fannie Dorsey Road to sign on left. 301/795-8314.

THOMAS TREE FARM -- near Manchester. Open 10 to 5 weekdays and Saturday; noon to 5 Sunday. White and Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Norway and blue spruce. Take I-270 west to Damascus, turn east on Route 27 which deadends at Route 30 in Manchester; turn north following sign to farm 1/3 of a mile.301/374-9589.

FREDERICK COUNTY

CLEMSONVILLE CHRISTMAS TREE FARM -- three miles east of Libertytown. Open 10 to 5 daily through December 24. White and Scotch pine. From Baltimore Beltway take Route 26 west (Liberty Road). Turn right on Clemsonville Road to signs. From Frederick take Route 26 east then left on Clemsonville Road to sign. 301/876-8733.

FRANZ TREE FARM -- five miles west of Damascus. Open 1 to 5 weekdays; 9 to 5 weekends. White and Scotch pine, and Norway spruce. From I-270 take Route 27 to Damascus. At Damascus turn north on Route 27; turn left on Route 80 for three miles then left (opposite Overlook Lane) to farm. Or from I-70, take Route 27 south 4 miles, turn right at Route 80. 301/831-6840.

HARDEE FARMS -- four miles northeast of Woodsboro. Open 9:30 to 4:30 weekdays; weekends 9 to 4:30. White and Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Norway and blue spruce. From I-70 or I-270 take U.S. 15 north around Frederick. Turn right on Liberty Road (Route 26) two miles. Turn left on Woodsboro Pike (Route 194) through Woodsboro 21/2 miles to New Midway. Turn right on Renner Road, go two miles to sign. 301/384-6576 or 301/384-9455.

UNIONVILLE TREE FARM -- two miles south of Unionville. Open 9 to 4 weekends only to December 21. White and Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Norway, blue and white spruce. From Baltimore Beltway take Route 26 west 30 miles; make left at Clemsonville Road then right at Woodville Road; two miles to sign on left. 301/829-2799.

WOODVILLE FOREST FARM -- six miles northwest of Mt. Airy. Open 9 to 4 this weekend only. White, Scotch and Austrian pine, Douglas fir, blue spruce. From I-70 or U.S. 40 take Route 27 into Mt. Airy business district. Turn left at Prospect Road then right at Old Annapolis Road. Make right on Woodville Road, then right on Peddicord Road to sign. 301/829-1478.

HARFORD COUNTY

HICKORY HILL TREE FARM -- three miles northwest of Bel Air. Open daily 9 to 9. White and Scotch pine, white and Norway spruce. From Baltimore Beltway take Exit 32, then U.S. 1 north. Make left at Route 543, then right at Copenhaver Road; follow signs. 301/838-6668 or 301/879- 7789.

JARRETTSVILLE NURSERIES -- five miles north of Jarrettsville. Open 10 to 4:30 weekdays; 9:30 to 4:30 weekends. White and Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Norway spruce. From Baltimore Beltway Exit 27, take Route 146 to Madonna. Turn right on Route 23, then left on Route 165. Make right on St. Clair Bridge Road to sign. 301/838- 3966.

MARANATHA TREE FARM -- six miles from Maryland line. Open 9:30 to 4:30 daily, except Monday. White and Scotch pine, Douglas, Fraser and Concolor fir, Norway and white spruce. From I-83 take Exit 36 east, turn left on Route 439 and left at Dry Branch-Jolly Acres Road, right at sign. 301/838-8342.

WALNUT GROVE TREE FARM -- open 8 to 5 weekdays and Saturdays, closed Sundays. White and Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Norway spruce. From U.S. 1 north take Route 152 west six miles; go north on Route 165 a mile, left at Charles Street a mile, right on Walnut Grove Tree Farm Lane. 301/557-7737.

HOWARD COUNTY

GLEN ARBOR FARM -- about three miles south of West Friendship. Open 9 to 5 weekends; noon to dark Thursday- Friday. White, Scotch and Austrian pine. From Beltway, take U.S. 29 (Colesville Road) north to Route 32 north; turn left on Pfefferkorn to sign on left. 301/730-0201.

KYNE NURSERY -- 21/2 miles south of Sykesville. Weekdays 10 to dark; Saturday 8 to dark; Sunday 10 to dark. White and Scotch pine, Douglas and Balsam fir, Norway spruce. From I-70 take Exit 78 (Route 32) north 1/2mile; turn left on Old Frederick Road (Route 99) for 11/2 miles. Turn right on Underwood Road to deadend; turn left on Forsythe Road for 1/2 mile to sign on left. 301/442- 2088.

WATERFORD FARM -- about 13 miles north of Olney (four miles south of Glenwood). Weekends only 10 to dark. Scotch, Austrian and white pine. From I-70 take Route 97 south six miles and turn right on Jenning's Chapel Road. Go 11/2 miles bearing right onto Daisy Road for 100 feet to sign on right. Take Georgia Avenue (Route 97 north) 12 miles, turn left on Jenning's Chapel Road. 301/486-4630. MONTGOMERY COUNTY

MG TREE FARM -- nine miles west of Damascus. By appointment only through December 24. Scotch pine, Douglas fir. Take I-270 north to Route 118 East. Go north on Route 355 to Route 27 east to sign on left. 301/253- 2636.

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY

TANNER FARM -- about 20 miles southeast of Washington. Open weekends only: 9 to 6 Saturday; 10 to 6 Sunday. White and Scotch pine, Norway spruce. From Beltway, take Route 5 south eight miles; make left at Route 381, then left at Baden-Westwood Road; 3/4 mile to sign. 301/579-2238.

VIRGINIA

CULPEPER COUNTY

ROSE DALE FARM -- Rixeyville. Daily 9 to 5. White pine. I-66 to Warrenton, go west on U.S. 211 to U.S. 229 to Rixeyville Post Office, turn right to sign 1/2 mile on right. 703/937-4779.

FAUQUIER COUNTY

CHRISTMAS TREE CORRAL -- Marshall. Dawn to dusk through December 24. Blue and White spruce. White, Scotch and Austrian pine, Fraser fir, Hemlock. Take Exit 6 off I-66 west (Marshall Exit). Go 61/2 miles south on Route 647; farm on left. 703/364-1776.

FREDERICK COUNTY

DANNY-DAYLE PLANTATION -- Northeast of Winchester. Open weekends daylight to dark. White and Scotch pine, spruce and fir. Take Route 7 east to Winchester; turn north on Route 656 and left on Route 661 to farm. Or take Route 11 north of Winchester, east on Route 661 miles to farm. 703/662-9026.

PINEHILL TREE FARM -- Winchester. Open 9 to 5 daily. White and Scotch pine. Take U.S. 50 about five miles west of Winchester; turn onto private dirt road about 100 yards past Route 608; follow arrows. 703/877-1643.

SHERWOOD CHRISTMAS TREE FARM -- Near Winchester. Open 8 to 5 daily. White and Scotch pine. North from Winchester on U.S. 522 to Gainesboro, right on Route 694 at Reynolds Store, take first private lane on the left to the farm. 703/888-3597 and 3061.

WALNUT RIDGE FARM -- Clear Brook, near Winchester. Open 10 to 5 weekends. White and Scotch pine, Norway and blue spruce. Take I-66 west to I-81 north; take Exit 84, (Whitehall Exit) and go west on Route 669 to north on Route 661; farm two miles down the road. 703/667-7277.

LOUDOUN COUNTY

LOUDOUN NURSERY -- 20 miles west of Fairfax City. Open 10 to 4 Monday-Friday; 9 to 5 weekends through December 15. White and Scotch pine, balled and burlapped white pine and blue spruce. Take U.S. 50 to Route 860 north two miles; turn right on Route 617; farm is 1/4 mile on right. 703/327-6586.

MIDDLEBURG CHRISTMAS TREE FARM -- Middleburg. 10 to 4, Saturday and Sunday. White and Scotch pine. From the Beltway, take I-66 West 61/2 miles to U.S. 50 west 22 miles into Middleburg. Turn right (at flashing yellow light) onto Route 626. Go six miles to Route 630, turn right; farm is 1/2 mile on left. 202/234- 6011.

TICONDEROGA FARM -- Chantilly. Saturday 8 to dark; 9 to dark Sunday; weekdays by appointment only. White and Scotch pine, cedar. I-66 west to first Manassas exit. Take Route 234 north, go through light at U.S. 29 and U.S. 211 continuing 21/2 miles to the first right on Route 659 (Gum Spring Road). Go three miles to first right (Route 613, a dirt road). Follow signs. 202/659-4414 or 703/437-3344.

WHITE OAK FARM -- Middleburg. 10 to 5 daily to December 24. White pine. Three miles west of Middleburg on U.S. 50, turn north on Route 611 for 1.8 miles to Route 790; 11/2 miles to farm; follow signs. 703/687-6121.

WOODWORTH'S CHRISTMAS TREE FARM -- Leesburg. Weekdays 1 to 5; weekends 9 to 5. White and Scotch pine. From Beltway take I-66 west (Front Royal) eight miles to U.S. 50 west. Go 10 miles to right on Route 606 to left on Route 621. Bear right 41/2 miles through Arcola, make left on Route 617 (dirt road). Farm 1/2 mile on right. 703/327- 4431 after 6 p.m.

RAPPAHANNOCK COUNTY

CHESTNUT HILLS FARM -- Amissville. Open 9 to 5 through December 23. White pine. From Warrenton take U.S. 211 west to Amissville, turn left onto Route 611 and continue 300 yards to farm on right. From Warrenton take U.S. 211 west to Amissville, left on Route 611 to farm on right. 703/937-5461.

PARSON TREE FARM -- Washington. Open 9 to 5, December 14 ONLY. Douglas fir. Take I-66 to Gainesville, turn west on U.S. 29/211, continue west on U.S. 211 to Washington and follow signs. Call 703/675-3122.

YULE LOG FARM -- near Marshall. Open 9 to 5 weekends until sold out; call first. Scotch, white and Virginia pine, blue and Norway spruce. Take I-66 to second Marshall exit, west on Route 647 to Route 637, light two miles to log house on hill. 703/364-2811.

WARREN COUNTY

SKYLINE EVERGREEN FARM -- Bentonville. Open daily during daylight hours to December 23. Norway and white spruce, Scotch and white pine. From Front Royal, take U.S. 340 south 10 miles to Bentonville, then take Route 613 east two miles to farm. 703/635-4366 or 527-2743.