The days when pioneers would go into the forest or friendly neighbor's field and cut a Christmas tree to put in the living room may be gone from America forever, but don't give up. There still are "forests" where you can cut your own tree--even in the city. They're choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms, and they're in suburban and rural areas as well as cities throughout Southern California.
Farm trees have been grown especially for holiday harvesting. When one is cut, another is planted in its place. In Southern California, you will find stands of Monterey Pine, the only Christmas tree that grows well in our warmer climate. (Silver tips, spruces and other pines are shipped in as cut trees from Oregon, Washington and Montana, although some are also available in containers, as "living Christmas trees," which many farms carry.)
Because the Monterey Pine is grown here, it is already acclimatized, which adds to its longevity. It is long-needled, well shaped and as fragrant as a douglas fir.
You have a choice of sizes on the tree farms, although most operators don't like to see you cut anything five feet or under. The six-footer, which has taken six years to grow, is the best-shaped tree because it has reached maturity. The five-footers are still growing.
Most farms are open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. but some close at dusk. If you're planning an evening visit, call ahead. Free parking is available. Various farms offer such features as free candy canes; hot coffee or, on weekends, a visiting Santa Claus. Some have wreaths and garlands for sale; at others boughs and greens may be free for the taking. A few provide hay-wagon rides and some have picnic areas.
Once you've selected your tree farm, the only thing you have to take along is your happy family--and perhaps a camera to record the holiday event. Saws, ropes and measuring sticks are provided.
There's even support labor available, should you need it--youths who will saw, tie and carry the tree to your car if your energy gives out before your enthusiasm. (There's no extra charge, but many of these helpers work only for tips.)
Tree prices can vary according to location and the farm's policy. Some lots have a single price--about $40--regardless of size.
You can also purchase a stand at the farms, to hold the water so vital to keeping the tree fresh and fragrant. Some have a spike in the center to help hold the tree upright, and, at some locations, the trunk is drilled to accommodate this.
Five of the farms, including one 15 minutes from Los Angeles' City Hall, are operated by Bud Lyon and his wife, Espie, in partnership with Dudley Gray.
Bud Lyon, a 20-year veteran of the business, is a director of the National Christmas Tree Assn. and president of the California Christmas Tree Growers.
Here is a listing of the nearly 80 members of the choose-and-cut tree farms that range from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.
Los Angeles County
Andrews Christmas Tree Farm, 10954 Independence Ave., Chatsworth, (818) 341-9858.
Cerritos Christmas Trees, 16401 S. Piuma, Cerritos, (213) 865-7330.
Christmas Tree Lane, 7150 Jackson St., Paramount, (213) 429-1484. Opens Saturday.
Elkins Choose & Cut, 6901 Atlantic Ave., North Long Beach, (213) 863-4668. Opens Saturday.
Fairgrove Christmas Tree Farm, 14855 Fairgrove Ave., La Puente, (818) 917-1080.
Frosty's Forest Inc., 23256 Lyons Ave., Newhall, (805) 253-9266.
Grand Avenue Tree Farm, 1135 S. Grand Ave., Glendora, (818) 331-4553.
Grandpa's Christmas Tree Farm, at corner of Clementina Drive and Paso Verde, Hacienda Heights, (818) 968-9804.
Green Acres Christmas Trees, 16401 Roscoe Blvd., Sepulveda, (818) 892-1021.
Green & Fresh Christmas Tree Farm, 3190 E. Del Mar Blvd., Pasadena, (818) 792-6725, (818) 960-7081, (818) 337-5785. Opens Saturday.
Lyon's Christmas Trees, 23711 Crenshaw Blvd., Torrance, (213) 530-6220.
Lyon's Christmas Trees, 8500 Hellman Ave., Rosemead, (818) 288-7050.
Lyon's Christmas Trees, 8500 Valley Blvd., Rosemead, (818) 288-0387.
Lyon's Christmas Trees, 15438 E. Gale Ave., City of Industry, (818) 330-3716.
Lyon's Christmas Tree Farm, 16391 E. Gale Ave., City of Industry, (818) 961-8388.
Lyon's Christmas Tree Farm, 6215 Telegraph Road, Commerce, (213) 721-4200.
Santa's Forest Christmas Tree Farm, 5911 E. Firestone Blvd., Downey, (213) 928-0722.
South Bay Christmas Tree Farm, 19150 S. Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance. Opens Saturday.
Sturrock Christmas Tree Farm, 6700 N. San Dimas Canyon Road, San Dimas, (714) 599-2630.
Windmill Christmas Tree Farm, 25500 Rye Canyon Road, Valencia Industrial Park, Valencia, (805) 255-6943.
Windmill Christmas Tree Farm, 29101 Old Road, Interstate 5 and California 126, Castaic.
Anaheim Green Tree Farms, 2715 W. Broadway, Anaheim, (714) 524-9398.
Peltzer Pines, 1545 N. Batavia St., Orange, (714) 637-5555.
Peltzer Pines, 7596 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 897-6161.
Peltzer Pines, 9801 S. Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, (714) 637-5555.
Peltzer Pines, 3864 Miraloma St., Anaheim, (714) 637-5555.