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O Christmas tree

How lovely are your real, freshly cut, old-fashioned branches

Posted: December 12, 2008 8:08 p.m.
Updated: December 13, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Four-year-old Wyatt Laramy checks out a Monterey pine at Nancy's Ranch.

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The day they make a scented candle or air freshener that really, truly fills my house with the smell of a fresh-cut Christmas tree - well, that's the day I'll buy an artificial tree.

Or, maybe not.

Sure, real Christmas trees are messy, often unruly critters, and when they get old they dry up and drop gunk all over your carpet. But the same thing can be said about your grandma - and you wouldn't replace her with a plastic replica you can store most of the year in a box, would you? Well, would you?

A real Christmas tree just brings with it an aura of Wenceslas-in-the-wilderness or something. The smell, texture and coolness to the touch are part of it, but that tree standing in the corner always feels more like a benevolent friend than a decoration. And it's the best kind of friend - the kind that understands when you say "OK, love ya, been nice, buh-bye," as you shove it out the door on the 26th.

As with any kind of friend, you should choose your tree wisely. And, at least until you kick it to the curb after Christmas, you must treat it like a treasured guest. Keep things cool or it will show its prickly side. Withhold the drink and it will dump on you.

Drinking is very important to Christmas trees. According to Nancy Roatcap, a newly cut tree can "drink" up to a gallon of water in one night.

Roatcap is the owner of Nancy's Ranch, the Christmas tree farm beside Magic Mountain Parkway, just east of Interstate 5. The farm offers cut-your-own Monterey pines and a variety of pre-cut trees, including grand firs, Fraser firs, Noble firs and Douglas firs.

Aside from her more than 25 years in the Christmas tree business, Roatcap, and her ranch, are also "Tree Fresh" certified by the California Christmas Tree Association, so she knows her stuff.

Pre-cut trees
The pre-cut Christmas trees at Nancy's Ranch are brought in fresh from the state of Washington. As they arrive, and while they are still bundled up in netting, their bases are fresh-trimmed, and the trees stored together with their bases in water in a special holding area. (Other Christmas tree lots do not take this extra step.) As they are needed to replace trees in the purchase display, they are trimmed again, unbundled, and placed in stands, which are kept filled with water. The whole procedure is designed to keep the trees as fresh as possible.

Of course, your choice of the type and size of your tree is up to you, but prices range from $19.95 to $449.95. Roatcap noted that in the last couple years, prices for Christmas trees have actually been coming down because of a glut on the market. So this year you may be able to get more tree for less.

Cut your own
The cut-your-own Christmas trees at Nancy's Ranch are Monterey pines. "That's what grows here and they respond well to pruning. That's what you have to do a lot of (pruning) to get them to turn into Christmas trees," Roatcap said. The Monterey pines grow to between six and 12 feet tall in four years, depending on water and soil, she added.

Cutting your own Christmas tree, of course, ensures its ultimate freshness when you take it home. And, if cared for properly, Roatcap said her trees should stay fresh for four to five weeks.

"I provide the saws," Roatcap said. "You get to cut your own tree, which is kind of rare now." She went on to explain that some other lots send an employee out to cut the tree for you.

She noted that you should cut your tree with as much trunk left on it as possible to allow you to cut it to size when you get it home.

After you cut your tree, you tow it back in a wagon to the checkout, where it is drilled for the tree stand spike - and wrapped in netting, if you desire.

Cut-your-own prices range from $29.95 to $99.95.

Care and feeding
Roatcap said you should get your tree into water as soon as you get it home, and, if you can, "condition" the tree. This means storing the tree (with its base in a bucket of water) in the garage or other cool place for a few days before bringing it into the warm house. These first, critical days are when the tree drinks the most water.

Before you bring the tree into the house, trim the end of the trunk again. Be sure to always keep the base of the trunk deep in water and, "Use a tree preservative. It helps keep the sap stream open," Roatcap said.

Loyal customers
Roatcap has been involved with the Christmas tree farm since the 1980s, when her father ran it and it was called Windmill. She took over in 1997 and gave it the name Nancy's Ranch. She leases the land from Newhall Land and Farming, and though the land available to her is less these days, due to various construction projects, she still maintains about 8.5 acres. She expects to renew her lease and stay in operation for years to come.

With all that history, it's no surprise there are many loyal customers. On the day Roatcap was interviewed, some of these fans were purchasing trees.

The Laramys: The Laramy family members were longtime residents of the SCV, but now live in Bakersfield. They come back to Nancy's Ranch every year to cut their own tree because of the atmosphere and because there are no cut-your-own tree lots in Bakersfield. On this day the group included grandmother Sue Laramy, grandfather Jeff, son Chris and four-year-old grandson Wyatt.

Stephanie Silver: Stephanie Silver lives in North Hollywood and has been coming to the tree farm since the 1980s. She fondly remembers coming with her mother for many years, and always considered the trip an "adventure." Though her mother is no longer living, Silver keeps coming for that adventure and to remember those happy days with her mother.

Nancy's Ranch is open through Dec. 24. The lot opens at 10 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends.

The cut-your-own farm closes at dusk, but the pre-cut yard stays open until 9 p.m. Visit www.nancysranch.com or call (661) 255-6943 for information.

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