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Sonoma County Christmas tree farms offer attractive alternatives

(From left)Jenny Ostroth, Josh Meyer, and Erik Breedlove look through a field containing Monterey Pines, Leyland Cypresses, Carolina Sapphire Cypresses and Blue Ice Cypresses for the perfect tree to cut at Little Hills Christmas Tree Farm in Petaluma, on Wednesday, November 29, 2017. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

JEFF COX,

Sure, the pre-cut Douglas and Noble firs from Oregon and Washington that fill our Christmas tree lots at this time of year make fine Christmas trees. But isn’t it more fun to make a family outing to cut one of your own from a local tree farm?

Not only are they more fun, but more practical because a fresh-cut tree will last longer than one cut who-knows-how-long-ago. And they may be more aesthetic if your fancy runs beyond the Doug Fir and Noble axis. You may find a variety of evergreens you like even more. They’re out there, waiting to be discovered; hoping, like Charlie Brown’s poor little runt of a tree, to be taken home and loved.

A survey of some of our local Christmas tree farms found a number of these lesser-known varieties available to adorn with lights and ornaments. They’re less favored not because they’re less beautiful or functional, but because the mass market doesn’t fill our big box store lots with them. Let’s take a look.

Little Hills Christmas Tree Farm: 961 Chapman Lane, Petaluma; 763-4678; littlehillschristmastree.com

Kriss and Carol Mungle started this 10-acre tree farm in 1988. They sell pre-cut Doug and Noble firs, but their acres are filled with a variety of other species, including natives like the Monterey Pine. It’s the most widely planted pine tree in the world because of its fast growth. It has a casual, rustic look and an open, airy habit that makes it suited for hanging ornaments.

The most popular Christmas tree in Southern California is the Leyland Cypress, and it’s gaining in popularity here, too. You can find it ready to be cut at Little Hills and other farms. It first appeared in Wales in 1888 when a Monterey Cypress crossed with a nearby Alaskan Cedar and made a natural hybrid. The fast-growing pyramidal tree has a dense, textured, feathery appearance with deeply-colored forest-green foliage.

"Of the trees people cut at our farm, Monterey Pines and Leyland Cypress are the most popular,” Kriss Mungle says. “People who grew up on the East Coast tend to prefer the Noble Firs because they resemble the Balsam Firs that are so popular back there.”

Frosty Mountain Tree Farm: 3600 Mariola Road, Sebastopol; 707-829-2351; frostymountaintreefarm.com

If you know the ornamental Colorado Blue Spruce, you’ll know it as a stocky tree with stiff blue-green needles. Its cousin, the White Spruce, is similar, but taller and more slender, with stiff, four-sided blue-green needles. It makes an excellent Christmas tree and it grows at Bill and Lynn Garlock’s Frosty Mountain Tree Farm. “I like it because it’s tolerant of wet soil,” Bill Garlock says, speaking like a true farmer.

The most popular tree for cutting on his 12-acre farm is the Doug Fir, but the Garlocks also have Scotch Pine, Sequoia Redwood, and Leyland Cypress to choose from. The Scotch Pine is native to Europe and Asia and holds its needles even when the tree dries out — a boon during the holiday season. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, it’s the most popular Christmas tree variety in America.

Garlock Tree Farm: 2275 Bloomfield Road, Sebastopol; 707-823-4307; garlocktreefarm.com

The late Bob and Sally Garlock started this playland of a tree farm in 1966, and it’s now run by their descendants. Besides cut-your-own trees, the farm has horse-drawn carriage rides, tractor-pulled hayrides, a jump house, picnic area, and more, so bring the kids and a basket of eats. Besides the usual Doug Firs and White Pines, this farm has White Fir, a native of the High Sierra. Its branches show good separation so it provides a fine scaffolding for ornaments. It has a sharp and piney, almost citrusy scent. You can also find the Grand Fir here. While native to the Pacific Northwest, this lovely fir’s lower range extends down to Gualala and it does fine planted in Sebastopol.

Larsen’s Christmas Tree Farm: 391 Marshall Avenue, Petaluma; 707-762-6317; petalumachristmas.com/trees.html

Larsen’s is another long-established Christmas tree farm in Sonoma County, begun in 1963. It’s now operated by Katherine and Richard Schmitt. Its selection of cut-your-own trees is large. Besides Leyland Cypress and Scotch Pine, there are “Sierra Redwoods,” another name for Giant Sequoias; Incense Cedar, native to most of California and the Pacific Northwest, with a tall, shaggy appearance, and Silvertip Fir, also known as Red Fir, which just might be the ideal Christmas tree. It has the perfect shape, the nicest branch separation, a gentle scent, and it retains its needles through a long holiday season.

Larsen’s also carries pre-cut Turkish Firs. These sturdy trees are as you might suspect, native to Turkey, but hold up their branches even when laden with heavy ornaments. The needles stay on the tree. They’re brought down from tree farms in Oregon.

Other tree farms you can visit include:

Celesta Farms: 3447 Celesta Court, Sebastopol; 707-829-9352; celestafarms.com

Grandma Buddy’s Christmas Trees: 8575 Graton Road, Sebastopol; 707-823-4547

Graton Fire Christmas Tree Farm: 3750 Gravenstein Highway N., Sebastopol; Gratonfire.com/treefarm.html

North Eagle Tree Farm: 6191 Sonoma Highway, Santa Rosa; 707-538-2554; Valleyofthemoonpottery.com

Reindeer Ridge: 3500 Mariola Road, Sebastopol; 707-829-1569; Reindeerridge.com

WallinFarm Christmas Trees: 840 Ferguson Road, Sebastopol; 707-823-6973; wallinfarm.com

Unfortunately, one of the most cherished Christmas tree farms in the county is closed this year. The Moon Mountain Christmas Tree Farm has been a Sonoma Valley holiday fixture for many decades, but this October the Nuns Fire ripped into the edge of the tree farm. Firefighters bulldozed a clear-cut path through the steep hills and roads to the farm to prevent total destruction, but the farm roads became impassable for commercial traffic. The trees, however, were mostly saved, and you can bet that next year, like in years past, local residents will be back there, free hot cider in hand, telling high school kids in Santa hats working for tips which tree to cut. It’s a Christmas gift to look forward to.

Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based garden and food writer who can be reached at jeffcox@sonic.net.