To find, cut a Christmas tree in Merced County, you'd better hurry

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comDecember 15, 2013 

— Christmas-tree shoppers still have a chance to find and cut their own tree in Merced County, but the pickings are growing slim, according to area tree farm operators.

Janet Minturn, who owns Hilmar Forest with her husband Sam, said the busiest time for her farm has passed, but said latecomers are trickling in every day.

“We have a lot of people we’ve seen for many, many years,” the 70-year-old said, adding that many families make a tradition of picking their tree.

The rush for a fir, pine or cypress starts the day after Thanksgiving for many tree farms and continues through Christmas Eve.

Located at 8608 Washington Road, Hilmar Forest is made up of about 1,000 trees on four acres, surrounded by about 15 acres of almonds. The Minturns have been selling trees since 1973 and grow mostly Monterey pine and incense cedar. They also have a collection of other species pre-cut from Oregon.

Sam Minturn, 70, executive director at the California Christmas Tree Association, said the cold snap in the area has not been a problem for his trees. He said the season has been strong and will continue as long as the rain holds off.

“You make all your money in three or four weeks,” he said.

Hilmar Forest’s trees range in price depending on their height.

The closest option for tree shoppers on the West Side is the 10-acre Pine Country Christmas Tree Farm in Gustine. The farm at 30503 Worthington Road averages 1,200 to 1,400 trees per acre, according to owner Will Martin.

“We’ve been hit pretty hard this year,” the 65-year-old said, referring to a busy tree-buying season. “We still have a few left though.”

Martin said he’s been planting trees for 35 years and selling them for 32 – it takes about three years for the saplings to grow to full-fledged trees. His farm draws buyers from areas of the county’s West Side such as Los Banos and Gustine, as well as from Stanislaus County, cities such as Newman and Patterson.

Martin said this month’s weather has benefited business, as opposed to last year’s rainy weekends.

The retiree said his only crops are the Monterey pines, which make up the vast majority of his trees, as well as incense cedar and Monterey cypress. All the trees are the same price, he said.

The farm features a gift shop and antique farm equipment.

Another farm in Merced County, Atwater Jordan Christmas Forest, has been picked pretty clean, according to its staff. The business is at 10948 Atwater Jordan Rd.

About 79 percent of all households will display a Christmas tree in their home this holiday season, according to a Nielsen survey of 30,000 households. That’s a slight increase compared to last year.

Of those trees, 80 percent will be artificial trees and 20 percent will be real, the survey said.

For more information, including California tree farm locations and hours of operation by county, go to www.cachristmas.com/real-tree-choose-cut.html.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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