The scent, the colour and the excitement in children's eyes are why real Christmas trees remain as popular as ever. But which variety is right for you?
Traditional or Needlefast?
There's still a significant demand for the traditional spruce tree but every year more so-called needlefast trees are sold. These supposedly have softer needles that don't drop as quickly.
Traditional trees have their drawbacks, but they outdo the newer types when it comes to their sweet smell of the forest.
What's your budget?
Traditional trees are generally cheaper as they grow faster in the tree nursery.
Needlefast varieties cost more as they grow slower.
But of course the bigger the tree, the higher the price.
If we go back far enough, the traditional Christmas tree wasn't even a conifer! It could even be argued that bringing a bough of an evergreen tree into the home pre-dates this Christian tradition.
Nowadays the traditional Christmas tree is a Norway Spruce.
The Norway spruce has that sweet forest scent that says 'Christmas'!
A well grown Norway spruce Christmas tree plantation
Norway spruces are not good at hanging onto their needles when brought inside. So unless the tree has been very recently cut, or has grown in a pot, you are going to get needles on the carpet.
Needles are small and sharply pointed so handle with care.
If you're ok with hoovering the needles up after Christmas or having a tree that may look a little bare by New Year's Eve, then this one's for you! You will also usually pay less for the traditional tres.
A Norway Spruce tree in a stand
- Occasionally you will find Sitka Spruce offered for sale. These might be the tops of forest trees and are inferior to Norway spruce. The needles on these can be unpleasant to handle.
There are many conifers grown as Christmas trees, but the most popular is the Caucasian or Nordman Fir.
Nordman firs have wide-spreading branches, and so require more room to be displayed. They lack that forest scent of Norway spruce, but they do hold onto their needles very well.
Needles are long on Nordman trees and are soft to handle, are dark green on top and slightly silver underneath.
A closeup of the tip of a Needlefast shoot. Image: Emerald Trees
The Nordman fir is the most widely sold Needlefast variety in Europe.
You might also find one of my favourites for sale, the Fraser Fir.
A Fraser fir Christmas tree
Fraser firs hang onto their needles well and have the shape and needle length of the traditional Norway spruce.
Unfortunately, Fraser firs are more challenging to grow than both Nordman and Norway trees.
The Noble Fir is a beauty! It has pale blue needles and holds onto its needles exceptionally well. It's compact and bushy but expensive to grow. If you're less concerned about cost, then this is the one for you!
A decorated Noble Fir Christmas tree
One of our four native conifers, the Scots Pine is occasionally available as a cut tree. It has very long needles that face up and is usually very skinny looking. Scots pine might suit your taste, but it is the least popular variety in the UK, although popular in North America.
The Colorado Spruce hangs onto its needles very well, which are very sharp and unpleasant to handle and blue on some varieties.
The Colorado Spruce is very slow to grow, so is usually quite expensive.
Real or Fake
A lot of people worry about cutting down real Christmas trees. But there's no need to fret, and here's why:
- Real trees are replanted to replace the one you bought
- Real trees create work for rural areas and support communities
- Real trees clean the air and store carbon as they grow
- Are less damaging than fake plastic trees
You'll sometimes find Needlefast also labelled as 'Non-Drop' Christmas trees.
Needlefast trees have a broader base than the traditional tree, and so the tree stand that you use will need to be bigger. However, once purchased, these stands will also be able to hold a thinner tree trunk base in future years.
If a tree comes in a pot, check that it has been grown in that pot and not just recently planted there. Many are just dug up with few roots attached and potted for sale at Christmas. These will struggle to survive after the holidays.
Pot grown Christmas trees
Growers recognise that for most of us, space in our homes is limited, so they tend to trim trees so that they are much narrower. As a result, they also have a much denser look to them.
Buying from a reputable source pays off if you have a problem with your tree.
And finally, if the tree doesn't look fresh and shiny, don't buy it! Dull colour and a soft feel to the needles will mean that the tree has been cut for a long time and has dried out.
A well decorated Christmas tree with presents underneath