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How do you pick your perfect Christmas tree?

Christmas tree shop

More and more people are choosing fake trees these days, but if you prefer the real thing, the choice can be overwhelming, so what should you pick?

While I’m a keen gardener and write about it for a living, I’ve got a fake Christmas tree. I bought it in a January sale about four years ago and it’s been dragged out of the loft every Christmas since.

It doesn’t smell as nice as the real thing and it gets pretty dusty, but it fits neatly into its allocated space.

I also know how many decorations I can get on it and there’s no mess or watering involved.

And it seems I’m not alone in choosing fake over fir.

While garden centre giant Wyevale has said that sales of supersized trees are soaring, something it puts down to a combination of machismo and one-upmanship, sales of real Christmas trees have generally fallen by a third over the past decade, as more and more people switch to fakes.

But if you’d like to keep it real and can’t see the wood for the trees when you’re faced with a forest at the local garden centre, here’s some advice that might help you make your choice.

Variety and price

Nordmann Fir or Norway Spruce Between them they corner 90-95% of the real-tree market. Nordmann Fir is the most popular, accounting for eight of ten real trees sold. They don’t drop needles in the way that a Norway Spruce does, although in our testing for Which? Gardening, we’ve found they can look dull if they’re not watered.

Expect to pay around £50 for a 180-210cm (around 6ft) fir tree from most retailers (although Aldi has 150-180cm – around 5ft – trees for £19), compared to about £35 for a spruce.

Containerised, container grown, or cut If you’ve got no idea what this means, then you really need to read this section.

Containerised (or potted or ‘freshly dug’) trees are ones that have been dug up and put into a pot. They usually have few roots and when we tested them, we found they didn’t take up water and were best avoided.

Container-grown trees, on the other hand, are grown in pots. They’re more expensive (usually around £10 more) than either of the other two types, but with watering, they last really well and can even be kept from year to year.

Cut trees are sawn off at ground level. This might not sound like a good thing, but if you treat them as you would a cut flower, we’ve found they can look good for over three weeks.

What type of Christmas tree are you going for this year?

Fake (45%, 180 Votes)

I'm not putting up a tree (31%, 122 Votes)

Cut (19%, 76 Votes)

Container-grown (3%, 13 Votes)

Containerised (2%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 397

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The right size

Real Christmas trees grown in the great outdoors have room to spread their branches, with no TVs or laden drinks trolleys to cramp their style.

Crucially, there’s no ceiling. If you don’t want to lop the top off your tree or fight your way to the sofa by thrusting aside its bristly branches like Lucy getting into Narnia, then you need to measure your space beforehand.

Looking after a real tree

The secret of a long-lasting Christmas tree is to care for it properly, as then it will be less quick to drop its needles.

Buy it as late as possible – ideally the weekend before the big day. That way, it should look good and last until Twelfth Night.

Are you happy with a fake or do you insist on the real thing? What are your tips on picking the perfect tree and caring for it?


We choose our tree from a pal’s forest (Nordmann) and pick it up on December 1st. Cut off the bottom 1″, stick it into a tree base that holds a lot of water, and then watch just how much water it takes in over three days. We end up refilling the container around four times.

We’ve experienced no needle drop over a five week period following this strategy. But the tree is only cut around an hour before we pick it up, so that’s possibly an important factor.

I agree with Ian.
The advice to buy at the last moment is unsound, unless homework is done beforehand to establish provenance from prospective vendors.

A high proportion of the trees on sale are brought in to the garden centres nearly a month before Christmas and not all of them have further deliveries. Many of these trees are also sourced bought from abroad.
Hence a tree for sale a few days before Christmas is likely to have been cut several weeks earlier, over a month if an import.

A tree bought two or three weeks before Christmas, an inch cut off, and left outside in water, is for these trees, going to be a sounder option than letting them dry out in the store for weeks.
A second consideration is that customer demand is inconsistent, and in an attempt to avoid unsaleable leftover stock, many vendors buy in cautiously and many sell out a week or more before Christmas. Those that have not, will have already sold their best stock, if displayed un-neted. If netted however the stragglers will be at less disadvantage to early buyers, for any remaining stock, so all may not be lost.

Happy hunting

For many years I have visited family and friends over Christmas, and I will be away for nearly two weeks. Though I do appreciate a real tree, it seems fairly pointless to have one if I’m not going to be there to enjoy it. Yesterday evening I decorated my artificial tree.