For years, there's been a heated debate over whether fake Christmas trees are more eco-friendly than real trees that are cut down for the holidays and sold at your local supermarket. In truth, neither option is environmentally conscious. Killing a tree for a few weeks of enjoyment in December makes no more sense than buying an artificial one made in China that will shed plastic and likely end up in a landfill after five years of use. Luckily, there are other options that are more sustainable and will allow you to have a real tree in your home this holiday season — if you're into that sort of thing.
These days, many Christmas tree farms in Northern California require that customers leave the bottom third of the tree intact so that the tree will grow back in five to eight years. Essentially, you're pruning the tree rather than killing it. In fact, it's not uncommon to see trees at farms that have been "pruned" three or four times over the years. That way, one tree can generate multiple "Christmas trees" during the course of its life.
Many farms also do not use insecticides and pesticides, and instead employ organic principles. Plus, visiting tree farms can be a blast. Lots of folks bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it, meeting up with friends and family. There's also no need to bring a saw; the farms provide them for you. However, you will need some rope if you plan to tie the tree to the top of your car. We also recommend gloves. Cutting your own tree also tends to be cheaper than buying one that was cut for you. The typical farm price is $50. The one downside is that many of the best spots are in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of Los Gatos, so it's a trek getting there. Here are some of the best:
Four Winds Christmas Trees: If you have high ceilings and you want a giant tree, this is the place to go. Located on Skyline Boulevard, south of Los Gatos, this sixty-acre farm features tall trees that reach twenty feet and higher, and includes a massive selection of classic Douglas firs, along with grand firs, white firs, silver firs, spruces, and sequoias. That's right, they have redwoods — not coastal redwoods, but sequoia giganteas, the kind that grow into the big redwoods you see in the Sierra and in Yosemite National Park. Plus, they have hot cocoa and picnic areas.
Four Winds Christmas Trees, 19679 Skyline Blvd., Los Gatos, 408-399-9020, Four-Winds-Ranch.com
Patchen California Christmas Tree Farms: Located along Old Santa Cruz Highway, Patchen California Christmas Tree Farms is a leader in sustainable Christmas tree farming. The farm sells biodegradable tree stands, biodegradable bags to wrap around your tree to protect your car, and organic preservatives to keep your tree extra-green through the holidays. Patchen also offers a family-friendly experience (dogs on-leash are welcome), and is not as rugged as some of the other farms (it serves free hot mulled cider). The farm features Douglas firs, sequoias, and Monterey pines.
Patchen California Christmas Tree Farms, 22217 Old Santa Cruz Hwy., Los Gatos, 408-353-1615, PatchenCalifornia.com
Lone Star and Skyline Ranch: These two farms are owned by the same family and are located near each other in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Lone Star, just off Gist Road, specializes in tall Douglas firs and white firs. Skyline Ranch, which, you guessed it, is on Skyline Boulevard, features Douglas firs, Scotch pines, Monterey pines, and sequoias.
Bay Area Christmas Tree Farms, Gist Rd. and Skyline Blvd., Los Gatos, 408-395-0337, BayAreaChristmasTreeFarms.com
Black Road Christmas Tree Farms: This is a set of three farms on Black Road not far from Highway 17. They're all easy to get to, which is both a blessing and a curse: You won't have to drive on winding roads, but the farms are often sold out of good trees by the second weekend in December. They also have fewer big ones to choose from because the farms get picked over quickly, so the trees don't have a chance to grow tall. The farms feature Douglas firs, grand firs, white firs, sequoias, and Scotch pines.
Black Road Christmas Tree Farms, Black Rd., Los Gatos, 408-354-8472, Christmas-Tree-Farms.com
Castro Valley Christmas Tree Farm: Yes. A tree farm in the East Bay. You must be thinking, why is this one listed last? Well, it was closed last year, presumably because of a lack of good trees. It's scheduled to reopen this year on November 23, and we're hoping that it'll return to its former self. Ed Gilden, a UC Berkeley forestry professor, created the old farm in 1964. It features Douglas firs, sequoias, and Monterey pines.
Castro Valley Christmas Tree Farm, Redwood Rd. at Miller Rd., Castro Valley, 510-889-1992, CVChristmasTreeFarm.com
If you're still queasy about cutting a tree, or don't want to drive a long way to get one, there are two more options that are even more sustainable: Buying a potted Christmas tree or renting one. Be forewarned, however, these options are much more expensive:
East Bay Nursery: Located on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, East Bay Nursery sells potted spruces, white firs, Colorado firs, and coastal redwoods. They run $90 to $170, depending on the size and type of tree. East Bay Nursery also will provide you with detailed instructions on how to care for your tree indoors once Christmas is over, or how and where to plant it outdoors.
East Bay Nursery, 2332 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-845-6490, EastBayNursery.com
Plant Manning: If you can lease a car or an apartment, why not a potted Christmas tree? Plant Manning will rent a live tree to you over the holidays for $95 to $350, depending on the size of the tree. You can even rent the same tree year after year. The service includes delivery and pickup. There's on big drawback, however: Plant Manning doesn't deliver to the East Bay — only to the West and South bays.
San Jose Christmas Tree Rentals, 408 921-1600, PlantMan.com/live-christmas-tree.html