Lanai Hemstrom walks through rows of trees at her Hemstrom Valley Tree Farm in Granite Falls. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Lanai Hemstrom walks through rows of trees at her Hemstrom Valley Tree Farm in Granite Falls. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Granite Falls Christmas tree farmer in it for love, not money

Even when drought and disease strike, Lanai Hemstrom won’t give up on her trees.

Lanai Hemstrom proudly refers to herself as a tree hugger.

So it’s no wonder she decided to grow trees for a living. Lanai and her husband, Jerry, opened Hemstrom Valley Tree Farm in Granite Falls about seven years ago, and it’s been an adventure ever since.

Lanai likes to joke that a Christmas tree farm would be a good setting for a reality TV show.

“It’s something to watch people come out and go Christmas tree shopping,” she said. “They’ll wander around for five or six hours and then go back and pick the first tree they liked.”

She has regulars who come back every year, like the couple with triplets who always try to find a triple-top tree so they can put a tree topper on for each child. Or the woman who moved to Minnesota, but drove back to Washington for her Christmas tree.

“She goes, ‘I just can’t find trees like that out there,’ ” Lanai said with a laugh.

Her favorite memory is from the second year they were open. It was late one evening and the Hemstroms were about to close up shop for the night when a truck and trailer pulled into the lot. A couple and their six children — all dressed to the hilt in dresses and suits — had become lost while looking for the farm.

“This was around 6:30 and it was pitch black,” she said. “So we went and got our cars so we could shine the lights onto the trees.”

The family found one and the dad gave money to each of his children to give to Lanai. It was a heartwarming moment for her.

“It was making us all cry,” she said with a smile. “I mean it was a really happy story!”

Lanai and Jerry began planting their trees in 2002, long before they opened the farm for business. Currently about 50 percent of the trees are noble firs, the most popular type she sells. There are also the bushy Turkish fir trees and the stately Nordmann firs. They’re easier to grow and care for than the Douglas firs, Lanai said.

It takes about 10 years for a tree to mature to the point where it’s tall enough to be cut, Lanai said. She only sells her trees once they’ve topped 5 feet.

She debated opening a year earlier, but wasn’t sure they’d have enough trees above the 5-foot mark. They decided to wait, but then the trees seemed to grow taller overnight.

“I was like, ‘Stop growing!’ Jerry said I had to quit telling my trees I love them so much so they’ll quit growing so fast,” she said with a laugh.

It can be an emotional job for a tree hugger: Lanai cried when a 1,000-year-old spruce tree on their property fell down nearly three years ago. She has to repeatedly tell herself that it is OK to cut down the trees.

“The year we started, I walked out, I grabbed a saw and I cut down a tree and gave it away,” Lanai said. She told herself that the tree was going to look pretty in someone else’s house.

“That’s the only way I can do it,” she added.

A neighbor with a Christmas tree farm suggested to Lanai years ago that she should start her own.

“She said to me one day, when they were going to retire, that I should plant Christmas trees,” Lanai said. “And it was just the furthest thing from my brain.”

Lanai and Jerry eventually decided to run with the idea, although they say they had no clue how hard it would be until they started.

The drought this past summer didn’t make the work any easier.

“I look at my trees and say ‘Please don’t die. Please don’t die,’” Lanai said. “And they’re dying.”

Lanai watered the trees in the evenings and at night, when it was cooler. It took about two weeks to rotate her sprinklers around to water all 13,000 trees. She couldn’t prune them because that would have stressed her trees out more. She stopped mowing the grass growing up underneath the trees for fear a spark might cause a fire.

Even with all her efforts, many of the farm’s thousands of trees were stressed and dying.

“You have to plan a year ahead of time and take a wild guess on how many trees you’re going to need,” Lanai said. “What’s going to be my death toll this summer? It’s already well past what I ordered.”

Lanai also worries about insects and disease taking their toll on her trees.

She pointed out a neighboring farm whose trees had been taken over by what she called an incurable disease.

“We’re hoping that’s not what’s happening to our trees,” she said. “Many, many tree farms are getting this disease and it’s on the nobles. It’s really hard. It’s not a beetle, it’s a disease, and they don’t know where it came from.

“When I see a tree out here that’s stressed, I don’t know if it’s the drought or it’s the disease, and I’m debating whether to cut it out.”

Even with all the difficulties, Lanai wouldn’t trade in her trees for anything.

“We’ll never be able to retire off our trees,” Lanai said, adding that the money the farm makes helps pay the taxes on the land.

The homestead has been in Jerry Hemstrom’s family since 1886, and the couple intends to keep it in the family.

“You always hear about the family farm going under,” Lanai said. “We’re trying to keep it going.”

If you go

Hemstrom Valley Tree Farm. 4329 Robe Menzel Road, Granite Falls; 425-374-9308; hemstromvalleytreefarm.com

Christmas tree farms in Snohomish County

Adopt A Stream Foundation: Northwest Stream Center, McCollum Park, 600 128th St. SE, Everett; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, Dec. 6 through 24. Selection of live 3 to 5 foot Sitka spruce, Western red cedar and Douglas fir trees that are in pots. After the holidays, all trees returned to the center will be planted next to local streams helping out next year’s salmon runs. During December, admission is free to the 20-acre forest and wetland complex which has a half-mile trail, trout stream exhibit and an elevated nature trail that is about 3-feet above the forest floor and surrounding wetlands. More at www.streamkeeper.org.

Bowen Tree Farm: Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday-Sunday through Dec. 10; 19301 95th Ave. NE, Arlington. Shop for Nordmann, noble and grand firs. Trees of all sizes. Christmas Cottage store offers unique gifts and handmade crafts. More at bowenchristmastreefarm.com.

Farmer Brown’s Christmas Tree Farm: Open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday-Monday through Dec. 19; 12017 109th Ave. NE, Arlington. Complimentary hot chocolate, apple cider and coffee. Kettle corn also available. Bonfire, Christmas music, picnic tables and a wishing well. Call 360-659-6686 or go to www.brownxtree.com.

Fish Creek Tree Farm: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily Nov. 24 through Dec. 19; 18420 3rd Ave. NE, Arlington. Noble, Nordmann, grand, balsam and Douglas firs, white and Scotch pine, Norway spruce and wreaths. Call 360-652-9030. Visit www.facebook.com/fishcreektreefarm.

Holiday Forest: Open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 10; 3129 280th St. NW, Stanwood. Large selection of noble, Douglas, grand, balsam firs and blue spruce. Select your tree, have a cup of hot chocolate or apple cider, and take the kids on a holiday ride. More at www.holidayforestchristmastrees.com or email holidayforest@frontier.com.

JP Landscape Tree Farm: Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 29726 NE Cherry Valley Road, Duvall. U-cut, fresh cut and live Christmas trees. Noble, Fraser, grand, alpine and Nordmann firs. Complimentary hot cocoa or cider and firepit to keep you warm. Wreaths, mistletoe, holly and other festive items for sale. Call 425-844-2816 or go to duvallchristmastrees.com.

Lochsloy Acres Tree Farm: Open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday after Thanksgiving; 5511 Granite Falls Highway, Lake Stevens; 425-308-0355; www.lochsloyacres.com. Noble, Fraser, Nordmann, grand and Douglas firs. Wreaths while they last. No pets or chain saws allowed.

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest permits are available through Jan. 5. As part of the national Every Kid in a Park initiative, all fourth graders are eligible for a free holiday tree permit. Just print a voucher from www.everykidinapark.gov and present it at your local ranger station to claim your free permit. If you aren’t a fourth grader, you can purchase permits to cut Christmas trees on the national forest. Each permit costs $10 and will allow you to cut a tree up to 12 feet. Purchasing two permits for $20 will allow you to cut a tree up to 20 feet. More at www.fs.usda.gov.

Papa’s Tree Farm: 10029 Wagner Road, Snohomish; 9 a.m to 4 p.m. Nov. 26, Dec. 3 and Dec. 10. Open during the week by appointment. Free hot chocolate and apple cider. Natural wreaths. Noble and Nordmann firs, all sizes. Call 206-718-1708 or go to www.facebook.com/papastreefarm.snohomish.

Paterson’s Lazy Acres Tree Farm: Open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; 1315 188th St. NE, Arlington. Cut your own Christmas tree. Douglas, grand, noble and Fraser firs and Norway spruce. Free hot cider and candy canes. Assistance available on weekends. Keep dogs on leash. No chain saws allowed. Call 360-652-7661 or go to www.christmastreesucut.com.

Pilchuck Secret Valley Christmas: Open daily 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; 9533 Mose Road, Arlington. U-cut trees include Douglas, noble, balsam, Nordmann, grand and Turkish firs and Norway spruce. Free candy canes for the kids. Crackling fire, hot drinks and snacks. No chain saws allowed. Call 360-435-9799. Visit pilchuckxmastrees.com.

Promised Land U-Cut Christmas Trees: Open 9 a.m. to dusk Saturday and Sunday only; 22502 Dubuque Road, Snohomish. Noble, Grand and Douglas firs. Homemade wreaths and owner Barbara Thom’s book, “The Heart of a Shepherd,” also available. Free hot cocoa and cider. There is a fire to sit around and to roast marshmallows, and a manger scene where kids can dress up to take pictures. Call 425-737-5310 or go to www.facebook.com/promisedlandchristmastrees.

Reade Christmas Tree Ranch: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Dec. 10; 7724 171st Ave. SE, Snohomish. U-cut and pre-cut trees, including Douglas, grand, noble and Nordmann firs and Norway spruce. Complimentary hot cocoa, cider and coffee. Free candy canes for kids. Pets must be leashed at all times. Cash or credit only. Call 360-568-7391. Go to www.stockerfarms.com/reade-christmas-tree-ranch.aspx.

Red Rooster Ranch: Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving and the following weekends; 12909 279th Ave. NE, Granite Falls. Unique nobles from 4 to 12 feet tall. There will be a toasty campfire to warm you while you enjoy a spectacular view of the Cascade Range. Call 360-691-4274. Visit redroosterranch.weebly.com.

Shults Christmas Tree Farm: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday; 7111 Heggenes Road, Clinton; 360-341-4198; www.facebook.com/shultschristmastreefarm. Find a variety of trees to choose from. Free hot cider and candy canes while you look for your tree.

Snow Valley Christmas Tree Farm: Open 1 to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 24; 17651 W. Snoqualmie River Road NE, Duvall; 206-605-7563; snowvalleychristmastreefarm.com. Noble, grand, Frasier, Turkish and Nordmann firs and Norway spruce. Browse the farm’s gift shop. Complimentary homemade apple cider, hot chocolate, cookies and treats on weekends only.

Stocker Farms: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, through Dec. 10; 8705 Marsh Road, Snohomish. U-cut and fresh-cut trees, including Fraser, grand, Douglas, Nordmann and noble firs. Complimentary hot chocolate, coffee and candy canes. Keep warm by a fire. Wreaths and gift items for sale as well. Bring a canned food item to donate to local food banks. No pets allowed. Call 360-568-7391 or go to www.stockerfarms.com/christmas-trees.aspx.

Turner’s Christmas Tree Farm: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Nov. 24 through Dec. 23; 48907 Sauk Prairie Road, Darrington; 360-436-1932; www.turnerschristmastreefarm.simdif.com. Noble, grand and Douglas firs.

Wintergreen Tree Farm: Open 1 to 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday starting the day after Thanksgiving; 13606 S. Machias Road, Snohomish; 425-765-1806; www.wintergreentreefarm.com. U-cut and fresh cut trees. Cash only with an ATM on site.

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