Information helps ax-wielders nab right tree

How many holidays do you have the chance to wield an ax? For Christmas celebrants, that time is now. Sure, there’s an additional thrill to driving out into the deep forest or sneaking to the neighbor’s backyard (the trail of needles, however, will give you away), but local tree farms have made pines a renewable crop. Find the one nearest and dearest and check out the tree-caring hints courtesy of the National Christmas Tree Organization and its local member, California Christmas Tree Association.

NCTA’s Web site at can give you a guide to trees, from their etymology, range and propagation (all G-rated). The CCTA’s Web site ( has an information guide and maps to local farms. To reach a live person (or at least voice mail), call its Merced headquarters at 209-723-8823.

Here’s where to find them:

  • Alhambra Valley Tree Farm, Reliez Valley and Alhambra Valley roads, Martinez, 925-228-5324. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 20. Call for possible hours through the 23rd. Tree types: Monterey pine, Sierra, redwood, incense cedar, Douglas fir, Scotch pine. No cutting after 5 p.m., but pre-cut selections available.
  • Clayton Tree Farm, 8690 Marsh Creek Road, 1 mile east of Clayton, 925-672-4569. Open 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 20. Tree types: Sierra redwood, Monterey pine and Afghan pine.
  • Castro Valley Christmas Tree Farm, Redwood Road, 1 mile past Willow Park Golf Course, Castro Valley, 510-889-1992. Open 9 a.m. to dark daily through Christmas Eve. Tree types: Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Monterey pine and Sierra redwood.
  • Bruderer’s Christmas Tree Farm, 3663 Solano Ave., Napa, 707-226-3502. Open 1-5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 20. Tree types: Monterey pine, Douglas fir, Scotch pine.
  • Napa Valley Christmas Tree Farm, 2130 Big Ranch Rd., Napa, 707-252-1000. Open 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays and Mondays until Christmas eve. Spotlighted area for evening cutting. Special Douglas fir clearance sale, any height $31, daylight hours only. Tree types: Douglas fir, Monterey pine, Scotch pine, noble fir.
It’s a thirsty creature

Once you’ve got your tree home, do you know how to take care of it? Here are some tips for making it last:

Before putting it in the stand, cut off at least one-half inch from the bottom to open up sap-clogged pores. Drilling holes for the stand won’t be enough.

Immediately place the tree in a sturdy stand which holds at least one gallon of water. If the tree isn’t going right into the living room, store it in a bucket on a porch or patio away from wind, cold or hot sun.

Don’t forget to water it daily. Expect it to quaff about a quart to a gallon of water every day.

Safety issues

Trees don’t start fires; people do. Actually, according to the National Fire Protection Association, electrical causes and lamps start almost half 46.9 percent of structure fires involving Christmas trees. Open flames, sparks and embers account for another 25 percent. The remaining fires were due to various ignition sources like gas-fueled equipment and cigarettes. So other than setting up the tree in an oxygen-deprived atmosphere and gathering around the presents with oxygen masks, here are some safety considerations.

Don’t overheat the tree. Avoid vents, fireplaces, wood stoves, fireplace inserts, radiators, television sets or sunny windows.

Leave room for an escape route just in case.

Opt for less heat-producing miniature lights, and check frayed or cracked wire insulation and broken sockets. If you’re buying new, get UL approved.

Don’t make the electric outlet octopus; let the tree’s natural beauty be the special effect.

Turn lights off when you leave the house or sleep.

Unless you have an Edwardian butler at ready with a fire extinguisher, don’t even think about lighted candles.

Don’t wait for the tree to become a shriveled corpse. After the holidays, promptly remove it for curbside recycling or disposal. Never stuff it in a wood stove or fireplace.

Green facts

Interesting tree facts to know and tell, courtesy of the National Christmas Tree Association

Roots: On the shortest day of the year in December, ancient Egyptians brought home green palm branches to symbolize life triumphing over death. The Roman winter festival Saturnalia, honoring the god of agricultural, involved decorating with evergreens. Druid priests hung golden apples from oak trees for winter solstice. During medieval times, red apples drooped from evergreens (the Paradise tree) to celebrate the feast of Adam and Eve on Dec. 24.

Green Christmas: The first Christmas tree can be tracked to a 16th century Strasbourg, Germany (now part of France) tradition. Families festooned fir trees with colored paper, fruits and sweets.

Leafing for America: German settlers and Hessian mercenaries imported for the Revolutionary War brought their tree habits with them. In December 1804, U.S. soldiers at Fort Dearborn (now Chicago) dragged trees from the woods into their barracks.

The “first” tree: The 14th president Franklin Pierce lighted the Christmas tree at the White House. In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge began the lighting ceremony now held every December on the White House lawn.

This article originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times