We Tried It: Pick Your Own Christmas Tree at Helemano Farms
Choose your own Christmas tree from more than 3,000 growing at this Oʻahu farm.
Updated Nov. 19, 2020
Thanksgiving is behind us, Christmas is just around the corner and the kids are begging for a Christmas tree. Instead of buying a Mainland fir from a parking lot, why not choose from thousands of Norfolk pines and Cypress trees growing on Oʻahu? Helemano Farms in Wahiawā has been growing thousands of Christmas trees since 2002. We visited with co-workers to find a tree for our office. It gave us a first-hand look at what’s for sale this year.
As soon as we arrived, my 5-year-old son jumped out of the car and ran through rows of small cypress trees, excited to find ones that were his size.The rows and rows of trees in multiple fields are fun for keiki (and keiki at heart) to run through and hide behind. The trees are organized by type and height, with most ranging from 4 to 15 feet tall, and have price tags on them.
“A lot of people like the Norfolk pines,” said farm owner Aaron O’Brien. “They last three months, don’t drop needles and the price starts at $50,” he said. Norfolk pines are what we think of as “Hawaiian” Christmas trees. They have lighter green, spaced-out branches and no pine needles. This year, the farm has around 1,600 to 2,000 of them for sale. They’re cheaper than the cypresses, which cost around $60, because they’re easier to grow. Norfolk pines grow a new tree from the trunk’s stump, while cypresses need to be replanted from branch cuttings, about half of which don’t survive. Cypresses also need to be pruned five to six times a year while Norfolks never need pruning.
When the family farm first opened, O’Brien and his parents planted 21 different varieties of trees. Without a dormant winter period, some species grew so fast they ended up with too much space between branches. The farm now offers three species of cypress trees in addition to the Norfolk Pines.
“Last year we ran out”
All of the cypress trees look more like traditional Mainland Christmas trees. Leland and Murray varieties are soft, full and green with a light pine scent and will last through the holiday season. Blue Ice and Sapphires have a silvery, blue-green color and a stronger pine scent but will only last for 3 to 4 weeks.
“Last year we ran out by the second weekend, but we have double the number this year,” O’Brien said.
You should still get there early if you want one of the 1,200 available. O’Brien said they’ve never run out of Norfolk Pines before, but that from a huge influx in social media followers he predicts that this year will be busier than ever.
However, “don’t come the first weekend if you don’t like crowds,” he said.
Our group selected a large cypress to decorate our offices. It took a farmhand just about 30 seconds to chop it down with a small hand saw, then he carried it to our car and bundled it for travel. You pay for your tree in the main office. In a nearby building, you’ll find Christmas wreaths made out of Norfolk Pine cuttings for sale, starting at $25.
Look for the huge Norfolk and the “Mama” tree
A visit to the farm can be as long or short as you’d like. If you have the time to look around, check out the oldest field, near the military grounds. You’ll find a several-story tall Norfolk pine that the family planted when they first leased the land in 2002. The farm was started by Aaron O’Brien’s father Mike, a retired agriculture executive. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could fulfill his dream of seeing Hawaiʻi families choose and cut down their own trees like he had experienced on the Mainland. The farm opened to the public in 2007. Some of Mike O’Brien’s ashes are scattered under that huge Norfolk, which is visible from his widowʻs house.
Next to the enormous Norfolk pine is a Murray cypress named “Mama.” She is the “mama” tree to all of the Murray cypresses sold at Helemano which were grown from this tree’s branches.
Wandering around the farm is a lot more fun than scrambling for a tree in a parking lot. Just remember to wear walking shoes you don’t mind getting dusty or muddy and be prepared for sun or rain. (We had both on our visit.) Look for special deals on pre-cut or Charlie Brown trees and go before you go if you don’t want to use one of two portable toilets on site.
In 2020, Helemano Farms is open Saturday, Nov. 21 through Wednesday, Dec. 23 from noon to sunset Wednesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to sunset on weekends. 1750 Whitmore Ave., Wahiawā, (808) 622-4287, helemanofarms.com