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Every year, our poor holiday tree looks a bit like Charlie Brown’s tree by the time Christmas arrives. Needles cover the floor and the wrapped presents. Branches sag under the weight of ornaments. The aroma of the forest is long gone before Christmas day arrives. To make matters worse, we leave our tree up for all 12 days of Christmas. By the time the Feast of the Epiphany (the 12th day) arrives, our tree is pretty macabre. Were 12 drummers drumming to show up, the noise would cause the last of the needles to fall off.

“The problem is, the trees we buy off the lots are half dead when we get them,” my helpful husband said. “They’re cut somewhere up in Oregon or Washington and trucked down here. Then they sit on the lot for a day or two. They must be close to a week old before we ever get them home. Why don’t we cut our own tree this year, and see if we can beat these dead-tree blues.”

“Great,” my husband’s sarcastic wife replied, “I’ll put on some boots and buffalo plaid, grab an axe, and head for the hills with my big blue ox.”

“Settle down, Paula Bunyan,” Patrick said. “You’ll end up getting arrested for trespassing or for cutting down a tree on public land. Then I’ll have to go bail you out, which would be so embarrassing. When I said cut down our own tree, I meant at a Christmas-tree farm.”

“Oh, I get it,” I said. “But where?”

“I don’t know,” Patrick answered with a wink, “but I bet you could find out.”

He was right. Here’s what I found:

At Highland Valley Christmas Tree Farm in Ramona, you can choose and cut your own tree, or if you are not feeling your inner lumberjack, the farm will cut your tree for you. Over 3000 trees to choose from: Monterey pine or Leyland cypress for $8 per foot of tree; 20 percent off for military, 10 percent off for seniors. Closed Monday through Wednesday. Open Thursday and Friday from 3 till 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. The last day the farm is open for cutting is December 21; 18425 Highland Valley Road (760-789-0114).

The ten-acre family-owned Family Christmas Tree Farm in El Cajon grows California Monterey pine trees. “Each tree is individually priced, but you can get a really nice tree for 40 bucks,” said the salesman at the farm. They provide the saw and twine and you provide the muscles. Open seven days a week from 9 a.m. till 9 p.m. until December 23; 300 Pepper Drive; (619-448-5331).

If you want to catch a peek at Saint Nick while you fell a tree, head over to Pine Tree Acres in Ramona. Santa visits on weekends through December 14, when he heads back to his workshop up north for some final preparations. Pine Tree Acres has four acres of Monterey pines; you choose and cut, and they provide the hot cider. “Our trees are $8 a foot and we have some 15-foot trees and even taller,” said the saleslady. The farm also offers weekend pony rides and a small petting zoo. If you prefer to bring home a potted Christmas tree for planting after the holidays, the farm sells Aleppo, Italian stone, Deodar cedar, and Monterey pines in pots. Hours are Monday through Friday from 12 till 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m; 620 West Haverford Road; (760-788-5524).

House Evergreen Forest in Alpine sells Monterey pines. Open 8 a.m. until sunset, seven days a week; 3036 North Victoria Drive; (619-445-8300).

The experts agree: keep the tree out of sunlight and away from heat sources like fireplaces and heaters.

A tree will absorb a gallon of water or more within the first 24 hours of cutting. Make sure to keep your tree watered.  The days following the tree cutting, the tree will absorb a quart or more a day.

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