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Are you after a real or fake Christmas tree?

A Christmas tree

If you’re out shopping for a Christmas tree, watch out for a shortage of the popular Nordmann fir. But maybe you’ve got a penchant for a fake tree? What type of Christmas tree will you pick up this year?

Even beyond the type of tree you’re after, there’s another question making the rounds this year – how many Christmas trees do you have?

The trend is to have more than one according to John Lewis. Apparently people are keen to experiment with different looks by buying an extra tree – it’s a style thing.

John Lewis is offering a mind-boggling 17 different styles of artificial tree – and by the way, paper is the ‘in thing’ if you want to be ahead of the game.

You can’t beat a real tree

Personally, I don’t think you can beat the smell of a real tree, so I’ve bought a non-drop Nordmann fir from my local Christmas tree farm. Buying locally is well worth the effort, as your tree won’t have travelled miles to get to you and should have been freshly cut.

The irony this year is that a shortage of Christmas trees in Scandinavia, teamed with a strong Euro, means that more of our home-grown trees are heading to the rest of Europe. It’s understandable, since our Christmas tree growers can earn up to 30% more by selling abroad.

But it does mean that Christmas trees may be thin on the ground in the UK, so if you want to make sure you get exactly what you want, it’s best to buy yours quickly.

Careful when buying container trees

My one top tip – if you want to buy a tree that’s still growing, look for one that’s spent its whole life in a pot (usually labelled ‘potted’) rather than one that’s been ripped out of the ground and potted up for sale (usually sold as ‘containerised’).

When we tested these trees at Which? Gardening, we unsurprisingly found that the containerised trees quickly turned up their toes and died.

So, what’s it going to be? A fake tree or a real tree? A Nordmann fir or a Scots pine? The choices are endless.


Real trees – proper Norway Spruce – cannot be beaten.

However, over the last decade or so it has become so expensive to buy them (they seem to be at a price premium now that the rather chunky and graceless Nordman has gained popularity) and they last such a short time (doubtless because most are cut in mid November or sooner) that I have started to grow my own.

Back in teh ’70’s my parents gave me a pack of Norway Spruce seeds one Christmas (I think I was about 7!) They all grew ever so well and from when I was about 13 until I was in my early 20’s we had a real tree at home each year, direct from the garden, and when they had grown so huge that we could not dig up, let alone get into the house, the remaining ones, we cut the stop 8 feet or so off the last few and used them as cut trees. They were fantastic, and of course almost free.

I now have a dozen growing on my allotment, in huge tubs, and in the next 1 or 2 years they will start to be big enough to use.

In the meantime I have finally bought a (vastly expensive) Artificial one that actually does look quite real (and so it should for the price – I will need to use it for at least 10 Christmases to outweigh the cost of even the most expensive of real trees!!)

I really hate artificial trees, especially the ones that most shops (incl all the John Lewis ones) sell which look like exactly what they are: green bottle brushes. However, it seems silly to keep buying ones that don’t get much past Boxing day. (I do stick rigidly to the 12 days of Christmas and my tree goes up the day before Christmas Eve and comes down on Jan 6th – 12th night – and it really is disheartening when by Dec 27th or 28th the tree is falling apart.) So, let’s hope the artificial one I’ve bought turns out to be worth having.

Sophie Gilbert says:
5 December 2010

The fragrance of a real tree cannot be matched by anything in the world. In order to save money, however, around 20 years ago I bought a Which?-recommended best buy fake tree from John Lewis and it looks as though it’ll last longer than I will. That will do for me.

oh, I dunno. I still rather like the smell of Play Doh

I bought a Norway Spruce once, I think it lost half the needles after about a week, the rest dried up. When I went to take it out some of the branches caught on the door frame. They rebounded and in one fell swoop the tree shed its entire load of needles all over my floor. Never again. Ten years on, I am still discovering its needles.

These days we go for a Nordmann Fir, you can’t beat it for needle retention or smell. Always get ours from a nearby farm shop where you can see the field the trees were cut from. I’m not a big fan of artificial trees designed to look like real trees so if I went for one I would just go for something quite contemporary that symbolised a tree without trying to look like one. Having said that good artificial trees look amazingly realistic.

The fallen needles, when it gets to 12th night, are one of the joys of the Norway Spruce: and if you have a half decent Hoover, you get the fantastic fragrance out of the vac for the next 2 or 3 months, ’till it needs emptying again. (If you have a half decent Hoover you also get every needle up in next to no time too!)

jack says:
6 December 2010

Agree about Nordman tree – but what about lights? I seek brilliants lights at good value> Have had to buy five packs for the tree alone. Now I need another 30 or 40 metres for the oak beams in extension I have built. I don’t want supermarket tat, fake flowers and can’t afford Harrods. The Noma LEDs look disappointingly dim, which is a shame because they have the right idea about adding on extra lengths to one transformer. Any ideas please

Wayne Conyers says:
13 December 2010

We bought a Nordmann this year. after many years of the partner hating real trees this year I put my foot down (yeah, now who wears the trousers, okay its taken me 10+ years to build up the courage)

After getting the fake tree down from the loft for its 4th visit to the living room I just could not muster the energy to stand there trying to pump up a load of metal wires and plastic leaves. Christmas was in danger of being murdered right there and then!

So I and my two oldest girls (6 and 4) Jumped in the car and went on a tree hunting mission. In the end after spending a fair bit of time testing the trees and looking at the branches we found a Nordman Fir. I think its beautiful, just how a tree should look and its a smidge under 6 foot with lovely thick branches. Nothing beats standing with the family decorating the tree. We all smelled it and currently its standing proud in the front room.

We looked at all the others and indeed a man at the customer services desk with a Norway Spruce which had shed its needles where it stood – it was literally falling apart as we walked past.

today its had a lovely drink of water (they need a lot) in it’s new stand and so far today I have not counted a single needle on the floor – and its had the 1.5 year old stealing the low hanging baubles.

I missed a real tree and would never go back, the combined smell of a tree and the turkey in the oven first thing in the morning is a joy to behold. Even now when sitting in the front room I find myself looking deeply at the tree for minutes at a time just looking at the lights and the colours.

The Nordmann so far is doing us proud!

Karen says:
25 November 2011

I have always been a lover of the real christmas tree but last year we were unfortunate enough to have a real tree complete with bugs. We bought the tree at our local garden centre and we didn’t notice straight away, but after a couple of days of the tree being inside in the warmth the bugs/beetles hatched. No matter how much bug spray I used, every day I was hoovering up about 50-100 bugs. This spoilt our tree and for that reason alone I am going to buy a fake one this year. Real trees are great but they can bring some unwelcome visitors into your home.