By Colleen McTiernan
Growing up in South Florida, the closest I ever came to a Northern forest was when it was time to pick out our Christmas tree at the local Lowes. Walking into the pop-up tents that smelled like pine and rows filled with Fraser and Douglas firs truly felt like walking into the snow-covered winter woods to a girl who grew up with palm trees and mangroves.
Since moving to Gainesville, I have discovered a new way to pick out a Christmas tree while experiencing the magic of the woods. Here in Alachua County, we have two Christmas tree farms: Unicorn Hill Christmas Tree Farm in Gainesville and BK Cedars in Alachua. And while they may not offer the kinds of fir trees we typically associate with the season, they do offer something else: fresh trees grown right here in Florida!
Unicorn Hill Christmas Tree Farm
If you are looking for an authentic Christmas tree experience, consider taking a trip over to Unicorn Hill Christmas Tree Farm. The farm, which opened in 1982, provides families with an opportunity to stroll through six acres of trees, including tree types such as Carolina sapphire cypress, blue ice cypress, Burkii cedar, red cedar, sand pine, Virginia pine and spruce pine. As you explore, you may come across the deer, rabbits and other small animals that live in the surrounding woods, adding to the forest-like feel of the farm.
Once your family has found the perfect tree, you can either cut it down with a provided saw, or have someone at the farm cut it down for you. The farm provides everything you need to get your tree home, and it also sells necessary accessories like tree stands and fresheners.
Heather Bonnano visited the farm for the first time in 2016, but the nearby location and varied selection has her family intent on starting a new holiday tradition. “I wanted the true Christmas feel of buying a real tree, or at least as close as you can get in Florida,” she said, and Unicorn Hill Farm did just that.
If you are looking to start a new holiday tradition with your family, make your way over to BK Cedars to purchase a potted tree. Susan Kossuth, owner and operator, started the farm in 1980 with her husband. With her background as a tree physiologist and geneticist and his experience as a biochemist at the University of Florida, they were able to implement a tree improvement program to develop a red cedar selection with a good green color that was also resistant to mites. The resulting Robin Blue cedar is now the only cedar tree that is sold on the farm. For those looking for a tree native to the area, the southern red cedars like the Robin Blue are a good choice.
If the Robin Blue Cedar is not your style, the farm also sells a selection of Arizona cypress called Carolina sapphire. “A lot of people like that one because it’s nice and blue like Fraser Fir,” said Kossuth. “And it has a real nice smell to it when you crush the needles.”
With BK Cedars’ potted trees, you can keep your live tree indoors for the holiday season and then plant it in your yard and continue to enjoy it. The Kossuth’s originally used to plant their trees in the ground and allow customers (they get about 100 each season) to cut their own tree down. But after several customers mentioned an interest in trying to re-plant their cut tree, they decided to start selling potted trees. “We have a lot of people who don’t like the idea of cutting trees,” said Kossuth. “So, they get two for one — they get a Christmas tree and they get a landscape tree.” The potted trees, which come in three, seven, 15 and 30 gallon sizes, also come with an instruction booklet on how to properly plant your Christmas tree.
If you are looking for a real tree this year and want an experience beyond what a tree lot or a grocery store can offer, a local Christmas tree farm may be just what you need to start a new holiday tradition with the family.