The art and science of growing Christmas trees

December Ranch and Bourdets raise several varieties in San Juan Bautista and Hollister.

After over four years of planning and planting, December Ranch Christmas Trees in San Juan Bautista is open for business.

“We wanted to do something with the land we have out here,” said Lisa O’Callaghan, who owns and operates the ranch with her husband Dan. “We wanted something that would be fun to invite the community out to and to help provide them with wonderful memories of the season.”

The O’Callaghans started planting seedlings in 2016. They specialize in Douglas fir, Monterey pine, incense cedar, Leland cypress, and coastal redwood trees. They also carry pre-cut trees from Oregon in varieties not grown locally, including Noble fir and Nordmann fir.

“Christmas tree farming is actually very good for the environment,” O’Callaghan said. “They provide oxygen and take away carbon dioxide while they are growing. Then once a family cuts one down, we do what is called ‘stump culture.’ Unless someone cuts the tree all the way down to the ground, there is enough left for the tree to regrow on its own.”

December Ranch, located at 1187 Merrill Road, also replaces any tree that dies and plants more trees every year.

“We have about 3,500 planted right now,” O’Callaghan said. “It takes four or five years for a tree to get large enough to be cut down, so we need to keep planting more trees to be sure there are always enough trees available to our customers.”

Photo courtesy of December Ranch.
Photo courtesy of December Ranch.

In addition to trees, December Ranch has a barn where wreaths and garlands can be found, along with gift items, ornaments and local honey from Hanzelka. 

“We wanted to offer local vendors a place where they can sell handmade things,” O’Callaghan said. “These are the kinds of things you can’t find in any department stores. It is a good way to support the small businesses in the community.”

Vendors include Neil Ledford Woodcarving, Barn Girl Soaps and artist Sara Frieberg.

Residents can also find Monterey cypress, Monterey pine, and Leland cypress trees at Bourdets Christmas Trees in Hollister, which opened in 2002. They too offer cut trees from Oregon along with wreaths and garlands, and can also flock your tree.

Bourdets, located at 1271 Los Viboras Road, has had to bow to COVID-19 restrictions, which shut down some of their popular attractions.

“Our playground cannot be opened,” said owner John Bourdet. “We can’t put that many kids together. The same thing will keep our petting zoo closed. Our sleigh ride will be open, with people more spaced out. We will be wiping down everything between rides. And, of course, everyone here will be wearing masks.”

The owner expects the same number of customers this year compared to last, and said, “I think people want to get out and do something happy with their families. It is a nice chance to wander around the forest and we have 22 acres for them to come and enjoy.”

Bourdets also sells preservatives to make trees last longer, and shows customers how to best tend to their trees.

“We want our trees to stay fresh for the whole season,” Bourdet said. “When people get their tree home, they should have it standing in water right away. They should go beneath the waterline with a knife or a drill and break the bark—the bark is where the tree gets its water. And watch the water level. A tree should drink some water every day. If it slows up a little bit after a few days, just go around it and notch it again to keep stimulating the tree.”

With care, a tree can last a long time. “I have one customer who comes from Modesto for our Monterey cypress,” Bourdet said. “She took care of her tree and told me it was up until Valentine’s Day!”

December Ranch is open Friday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until Dec. 21. Bourdets Christmas Trees is open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.


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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.