Real Christmas trees – how to choose, decorate and look after them

Make sure you read this before picking up your festive fir

Unless you’re one of the 10 per cent of people who already have their Christmas tree up, you’ve probably got a trip to your local garden centre scheduled for early December. But before you go, it’s worth reading our guide to choosing the perfect real tree. Pick the right type for your home and look after it properly, and it will look healthy and hearty right through until January 6th.

Real tree too much hassle? Best artificial Christmas trees to light up the festive season

Buying a real Christmas tree – know your fir types

Real-Christmas-tree-fir-types

By far the most popular tree in the UK today is the Nordmann fir, a variety with excellent needle retention. It has a good full shape, and a glossy green colour. If you like to put your tree up early, but still want it look its best on Christmas day, this is the tree for you.

The Norway spruce was the tree that Prince Albert first brought to Windsor Castle back in 1841, popularising the idea of decorating a tree at Christmas. The variety still a traditional favourite, particularly because of its classic fresh scent, but it is prone to dropping needles. ‘It boasts a lovely pyramid shape,’ says Craig Roman, in-house expert at Dobbies Garden Centres. ‘This is the tree we all remember from our childhood, and although the needles will not last as long as some other varieties, it is a good choice for those with cooler rooms, or tend to put their tree up a little later. They also make great display trees for the front garden to welcome your guests over the festive period.’

You won’t find too many Noble firs available to buy, but if you’re after the ultimate luxury tree, it’s worth seeking one out. ‘Whorls of blue-tinged needles adorn these gorgeous chunky trees, and the nicely spaced foliage provides the perfect place for all your baubles and decorations,’ says Craig. You will find them in garden centres, but make sure you get there quick!

Hate trees that drop needles? The Forestry Commission tells us that a Lodgepole pine has the best retention of them. You’ll know a Lodgepole by its bushy appearance, long green needles and branches that point upwards, not to mention its strong pine scent.

Prices vary across the country but, as a general guide, expect to pay from £30 for a 6ft Norway spruce, and from £45 for a 6ft Nordmann fir.

Did you know? Around six to eight million real Christmas trees are sold in UK every year.

Real Christmas trees vs fake trees

Real-Christmas-trees-vs-fake

The experts in trees, woodlands and sustainable forestry, Forestry Commission England, give these reasons as to why their real trees beat the artificial alternatives:

  1. It’s estimated that real trees use 10 times fewer materials and five times less energy than artificial trees.
  2. They are completely biodegradable and can be recycled and composted.
  3. They are grown in the UK.
  4. Real trees are a renewable resource, with one tree planted for every tree harvested.
  5. Growing real Christmas trees provides jobs in rural areas, where employment can be hard to come by.
  6. You’ll receive a free baby sapling, so you can plant your own tree.
  7. You’ll also get a certificate of authenticity that guarantees the tree’s quality, signed by Father Christmas!

To find your nearest forest sales centre, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/christmas

How to choose your real Christmas tree

Real-Christmas-tree-pick-you-favourite

Image credit: Forestry Commission, Crown Copyright

Before you leave the house, measure the height of the room that you want the tree to fit into. Don’t forget to factor in the height of the tree stand! You should also consider the width of the tree, which can vary wildly. ‘That’s why you should also never buy a Christmas tree ready-wrapped,’ advises Craig Roman. ‘When a tree is in the netting you don’t know what you’re getting. It could be too wide for your room or too uneven in shape.’

A cut tree should be fresh when purchased. Brush it gently with your fingers or tap it lightly on the ground – if it sheds lot of needles, it may be an old tree. Avoid any brittle branches and dull needles. ‘Like cats and dogs, you can tell if trees are healthy by the sheen of their coat,’ adds Craig. ‘Ideally, the tree should be a shiny, glossy green.’

Getting it home – first steps

Real-Christmas-tree-exterior

Image credit: Rachel Whiting

Cut off the netting to allow the branches to settle, and saw off about half an inch (2.5cm) from its base in order to open up its pores – just as you would do with fresh flowers. Next, put it in a bucket of water and keep it outside in a shady, sheltered spot until you’re ready to bring it indoors. Just before you carry it into the house, give it another gentle tap to shed any loose needles.

Once inside, stand your tree in a container that you can top up with water to help it last longer. You may be surprised by the amount of water it will drink!

How to decorate your real tree

Real-Christmas-tree-decorating

Yay, it’s the fun bit! However, preparation is everything. Before you even think about touching a bauble, secure the tree in its holder or pot. Next, add any strings of lights, starting a the bottom.

Now it’s time for the ornaments. Organise them by size, and hang the biggest baubles on the larger branches, and smaller trinkets on the more delicate sprigs. ‘On my own trees, I always fix the decorations to the tree with wire, rather than string,’ says Craig. ‘This means I can completely control where they sit, rather than rely on where they hang.’

More tree decorating tips: How to dress a Christmas tree

Caring for real Christmas trees

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Always make sure your tree trunk is immersed in water – ideally try to top it up every day as trees are thirsty fellows! Keep your tree in a cool, dry space, away from radiators or fires, and always remember to turn off your lights before going to bed. Larger bulbs can potentially dry out or even scorch the needles of your tree.

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