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To fake tree, or not to fake tree, that is the Christmas question

Two clay Christmas trees in an artificial snowy landscape

According to a recent Which? survey, two thirds of us now have an artificial Christmas tree, and only around a fifth of us have a real one. Are real trees on the way out or are they vital to your festive cheer?

It appears that the Christmas ritual of choosing a tree, wrestling it into the car, dragging it through the house, giving it pride of place in the living room, breathing in the pine scent and vacuuming up the needles afterwards is becoming a thing of the past. We’re now more likely to bring a plastic tree down from the loft and take it out of the box.

Our survey has shown that the most popular type of artificial Christmas tree by far is one that looks real. It’s a trend that has been confirmed by two Which?-recommended garden centres: Aylett Nurseries in St Albans and Coolings in Kent both say that, while sales of real trees remain healthy, sales of realistic artificial trees have increased.

Even better than the real thing?

Fake trees have come a long way since the bright green PVC atrocities of yesteryear. Nowadays they are modelled on real trees and have ‘real’ tree names such as ‘English Pine’. They have polyethylene tips, and the best (which can cost several hundred pounds) look pretty real. They create no needle mess, come in different shapes and sizes and have adjustable branches. Some even come with fairy lights already attached.

Not that any of this is convincing me. My parents ‘went fake’ a few years ago and I now have a brief sulk when I go home every Christmas. There’s no pine smell for starters, and the whole thing just looks too perfect. For years we had a real tree, so what’s changed?

Costly Christmas trees

Mum says a combination of factors led her and Dad to get a fake tree. Dad got fed up of digging up soil to put the tree in, and latterly of filling a Christmas tree stand and topping it up with water. Fallen needles were a bit of an issue, and real trees were too wide for the corner of the room where it usually goes. Mum also thinks real trees have got more expensive and she can’t justify paying £33 (the average spend according to our survey) for something that only lasts a couple of weeks.

I think mum and I will have to differ on this one. I can’t abide fake plants of any kind – fake box balls, fake turf or fake Christmas trees. They give absolutely nothing back in terms of oxygen or wildlife habitats. They’re becoming more and more common, and they make my heart sink. It’s like we’re turning our backs on nature – something that most of us get precious little of already.

A real Christmas tree, on the other hand, is usually grown as a sustainable crop, contributes to the local economy and provides a habitat for wildlife while it grows. And according to the National Trust, just five minutes gazing at a tree can reduce stress levels. If that isn’t a recipe for a happy Christmas, I don’t know what is.

What sort of Christmas tree will you have this year?

A real tree (48%, 719 Votes)

An artificial tree (40%, 601 Votes)

I will not have a Christmas tree (11%, 165 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,486

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Comments
Guest

I cut a branch off my yew tree.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Guest

I like the smell and non-uniformity of a real tree. We have one in the living room and one outside the front door. A local guy grows these and sells them relatively cheaply – last year we got two 6 ft spuce for £10 each. No contest! It’s probably less effort hoovering up the needles than clambering up into the loft.

Profile photo of BR
Guest

Where do you live ? I’m sure we’d all like to know where you can get a 6ft tree for £10,
I like a real tree but they tend to be £40 – £50 for anything of a decent size where I am, and thats a lot to spend on something that will wither and die and be thrown out in a matter of days

Guest
Alan says:
5 December 2012

Wow! I also want to know where one can get ANY real tree for £10!
All the garden centres round me in Bedfordshire start at £30 for a wee weedy thing and work up to £60+.
Even dear old TESCO charge more than £10.

Profile photo of Katie Benson
Guest

I’ve never had my own Christmas tree, having spent most festive seasons away from home since my university days. I’d like to have a tree this year, but my flat is very tiny.

If anyone spots a 2 ft real tree in the London area, let me know!

Profile photo of Nikki Whiteman
Guest

I have to admit that I have a fake tree – and it’s teeny tiny. My flat’s quite small so that’s the main reason, but I’m also usually away for Christmas so it seems a bit pointless buying a tree that’s just going to drop all its needles and leave me with a mess to clean up in the new year.

I love the smell of a real tree, my Dad always gets a real one and it gives his house a real Christmassy smell and feel. I don’t think they’re vital, though – I can get a similar Christmassy smell by mulling some wine!

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Guest

I bought my real tree last night from a Christmas tree farm. We saved money by choosing one from the ‘orphans’ corner where they sell off all the slightly mishapen trees for only £15 – pretty good for a 5ft Nordman.

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Guest

Should have said it came from The Christmas Tree Farm at Chesham in Buckinghamshire.

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Guest

I go to stay with family from before Christmas to after New Year. They always have a proper tree. I just put up an artificial tree with lights on a timer to make the house look occupied when I’m away.

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Guest

One should NEVER feel guilty about having an artificial Christmas tree, that’s my opinion !

Having a living tree inside a hot dry home is nothing other than an act of cruelty.
I invested in a good quality artificial tree a few years ago. You can hardly tell it’s a ‘fake’ it is so well made. Why spend £40 or more plus an extra trip every year just to get the real thing ?
If you want the smell of a real tree then you can buy a pine oil spray. It’s that simple !

The last living tree we had was a Nordic Spruce purchased in December 2000.
It survived well for two Christmas holidays before we planted it out.
Twelve years on, the tree is in great shape.
It now stands at an impressive height of 20 feet in our back garden !

Guest
Corrine says:
29 November 2012

While I would love to have a real tree, I find they are so expensive. At our local farm, every year the price has increased and last year, I refused to pay their prices. I would have had to pay at least £40 for a small tree and around £60 for a decent sized one. It seems rather a waste of money for something that will only last a few weeks. I’d prefer to spend the money on my family and use an artifical one which has been in the family for years and looks lovely.

Guest
Graham Cox says:
30 November 2012

Oh dear. I though there was going to be some information in this item.

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Guest

Hello Graham, Which? Convo is your place to have a debate. If you’d like useful information about which Christmas tree to get, here’s our guide.

Guest
Chris Benson says:
30 November 2012

Two yeas ago we decided to buy a real, growing tree. We found one in a local garden centre that looked good and bought it. When we got it home, we thought the pot was rather small and decided to re-pot it straightaway. Then we found that it had clearly been ripped out of the ground and had been just shoved in a pot with a bit of earth. It had almost no root at all and was clearly not going to survive long. We took it back, and the garden centre told us that if we wanted a growing tree we should have bought a container-grown one. To be fair, they agreed to exchange it, and refunded the difference in cost as the container-grown one, being rather small (only a couple of feet high), was actually cheaper. Two years on we still have it and it’s at least doubled in height and looks really good!

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Guest

Be wary of planting it in the garden eventually as it can grow to up 100ft (30m) tall and like most evergreens it sheds its sharp needles all year round which is a real pain if its near a path or patio – our neighbours had one that overhung our garden which we absolutely hated for this reason!

Guest
Michelle says:
30 November 2012

Although I agree with all the positive comments about real Christmas Trees we twigged a couple of years ago that my husband is allergic to the mould spores that are produced in rapidly increasing numbers once a tree is cut and inside. He always had a reaction to any scratches whilst setting up the tree but we never made the connection with these and a cold and feeling unwell every Christmas holiday until I read a newspaper article. He has been fine for the last 2 years since we bought an artificial tree. So if someone in your family is ill every year might be worth doing a scratch test.

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Guest

I’d never had a real Christmas tree until my husband and I got our own home. I do like the smell of the needles, but the size of the trees doesn’t really suit the suit the size of your average modern semi – I end up walking into it constantly. I usually have the best of both worlds with a real tree in the sitting room and a fake one in the bedroom.
I’ve read a few comments on this ‘fake versus real’ story from the real tree industry, who are promulgating the myth that there is something super special and magical about the family heading off to choose their tree, that you miss out on if you have a fake one. The idea that traipsing around B&Q garden centre department (in our case) in the dark and cold is a special treat that all the family will remember forever is bunkum.
It doesn’t matter if the tree is fake or real, getting it ready for Christmas is the memorable bit.
I do however have a fake-tree associated magical memory. It is of us all clustering excitedly around the loft ladder while my dad retrieved our fake tree from the loft. We were all fervently hoping that he dad wouldn’t manage to fall through the ceiling this time, like he had searching for the tree the previous year!
Ah the stuff of magical christmas memories!

Guest

22 years ago we bought a potted 2 foot real Christmas tree when our son was born. It has been re-potted, fed and kept in the garden to be brought out every Christmas. It is mis-shapen but has great character and also looks great when decorated. Throughout his teenage years he complained bitterly about it and said we should get a plastic one. Recently, to test the water, I said were were going to get a plastic one. He objected strongly saying it was HIS tree and therefore we couldn’t throw it out!!! Of course we shall continue to care for it and no doubt he will inflict it on his children!

Guest
Janet A says:
30 November 2012

I too was expecting information. Having clicked on the link in the email, in the section where it said “what are the merits of real versus fake trees? We’ve put together the pros and cons of different trees, including their prices, in our expert guide” I was expecting the expert guide!

Profile photo of alannd
Guest

We’ve gone fake for the first time this year!
Totally unexpectedly as well, my children have always loved going to buy the tree every year and so I was amazed when they saw a fake tree at Costco and decide that they would like this one.
The fake 7.5′ tree, with built in lights, cost over £280 so I’m hoping that we’ll have it for years to come now.
Our real tree used to cost £10 a foot and we usually ended up with a 7′ tree.
We haven’t taken it out of the box yet, but I guess I can always put it on Ebay if it’s not right for us.

Profile photo of Borin
Guest

Artificial again this year as will be away for much of the Christmas period. Also, I love having proper candles on the tree, so artificial is much safer. Any chance of a rewiew of realistic Christmas Tree room sprays?!

Profile photo of wavechange
Guest

Candles on Christmas trees? I suppose there is nothing like a real fire at Christmas. 🙂

Perhaps a review of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers would be good too.

Profile photo of Didi
Guest

I used to spend days looking for wonderfully shaped and lovely smelling real Christmas trees. However, since having cream carpets and a pet I have opted for artificial trees and although not quite as good to look at as the real thing they are so practical and save both time and a small fortune despite the initial expense. I still fill vases with long pinned real pine branches and I have to admit to previously always having felt guilty about killing off a whole tree each year.

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Guest

The use of ‘fake’ to describe artificial trees is highly tendentious.
Now retired, I have amongst other things been involved in the growing and selling of hundreds of thousands of British grown Christmas trees – they are the most profitable tree crop (I am not sure about including fruit trees in that statement) .
I cannot see any environmental benefits to growing Christmas trees in ecological or other ways. In carbon terms by the time you plant them, tend them over five or six years, harvest them, get people to come and collect them, dispose of them, then it could well be that they generate more carbon than an artificial tree kept for a few years.
As for me I bought an excellent artificial tree five years ago at a post Christmas sale, saved myself money and gained convenience. A non forester could hardly tell from a couple of metres or so that it is artificial. The only ‘con’ is that though the artificial tree takes down into separate parts it still takes storage space and it takes me about an hour to set up each Christmas. A pro, to some, might be that the land made available fron not planting Christmas trees can be used to grow our native broadleaves
Best wishes, John

Guest
Margaret says:
1 December 2012

Two years ago I came out in a rash after decorating the real christmas tree. We have had a real Christmas tree ever since we were married getting on for fifty years. I love real Christmas trees, they smell so nice. However the rash was unpleasant. So now we have bought an artificial one.
Best wishes
Margaret

Profile photo of malcolm r
Guest

B, the trees were bought from Ellesborough in Buckinghamshire – in the village hall grounds during December. Don’t tell all your friends though until I’ve been there for mine. Incidentally, the Forestry Commission just down the road sell trees, but at a much higher price.

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Guest

For me it’s got to be a real tree. I’ve even grown my own on two occasions on various allotments – in the days when allotments weren’t so sought after and I had the space. On both occasions I had to give up the plot just as the trees were reaching a decent size. It was definitely worthwhile. One-year-old seedlings cost about £2 each, if you buy ten. They need no treatment other than an occasional weeding and if you cost the land at £5 (assuming you could grow another crop on it) this works out at £27 for a six-year-old tree. I’ve just spent £36 on a 6 foot tree in our local garden centre. Tempted to try again!

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Guest

We can’t remember when we bought our 1.8 m artificial tree. More than 14 years ago but possibly 21 years old this year. It stores in the loft in its origional box complete with lights and decorations.
This year it is having a makeover with several new LED light strings I bought in the January sales and powered with a PSU from an old printer. Just 6 W down from 60 W with more lights.
As for the artificial bit, well to be a bit pedantic and misurable, isn’t it all artificial? How many conifers were growing in Jerusalem 2012 years ago? So come on explain what a real Christmas tree is, I would love to know!

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Guest

Good to see some recycling going on, Brian. I frequently find a use for power supplies and have just repaired a Christmas decoration for a friend.

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Guest

Hi there

I’ve just heard back from the Carbon Trust about their views on this debate from an environmental point of view. They have told me: “A real pine or fir tree naturally absorbs CO2 and releases oxygen. The best thing you can do at Christmas is keep a tree alive and breathing. Disposing of a tree by composting produces CO2 and methane. An artificial tree has a higher carbon footprint than a natural one because of the energy intensive production processes involved. By far the best option is a potted tree which, with care, can be replanted after the festive season and re-used year after year.”

I’m intrigued by the fact that they’re advising against composting a tree, as that is a gardener’s mantra. But a cut living tree is clearly better, and a potted tree best of all.

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Guest

I don’t think a Christmas tree would produce very good compost – best chipped as a mulch. Growing Christmas trees for cutting will be good anyway – they will absorb CO2 and produce oxygen, and are replaced each year . Producing plastic trees uses up oil resources – not so good.

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Guest

There definitely weren’t any artificial trees growing in Jerusalem 2012 years ago, but there were real ones in Germany where the traditional originated. Don’t ‘Christmas’ trees owe more to the pagan mid-winter festival? You bring a bit of evergreen foliage into the house as a reminder that winter will not last forever and spring will return. Death and rebirth and all that, but nothing really to do with the Christian festival. So, it has to be a living tree. Or a formerly living tree that will be recycled into a mulch for the garden.

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Guest

Bad news – our local £10-a-tree seller hasn’t turned up this year. Good news – bought the last two trees from another local supplier – 7 foot tall £15 each. One for the lounge, one outside the door. Still like real trees.
Happy Christmas.