A rotten holiday season awaits anyone who steals an evergreen tree planted at parks in Hutchinson.

Workers this week will begin spraying evergreens throughout the park system with a chemical retardant that puts off an odor similar to rotten eggs when exposed to temperatures above 50 degrees.The non-toxic spray, primarily designed to ward off hungry rabbits and deer, has become an effective tool for the city in its battle to prevent evergreen tree thefts during the Christmas holiday, said city parks superintendent Tom Heintzman.

"If the tree happens to be cut down and taken into a home, at temperatures of 50 degrees it gives off a very noxious odor," Heintzman said.

Hutchinson, a town of about 40,000 residents 50 miles northwest of Wichita, started the spraying program in 1986 after thieves cut down six evergreen trees in city parks, Heintzman said.