Real Christmas trees – tips for choosing and looking after a real tree

Make sure you read this before picking up your festive fir
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  • Did you know around six to eight million real Christmas trees are sold in UK every year? Despite there being a wealth of fabulously realistic artificial Christmas trees, the power of the real tree is still strong. With many preferring the festive joy of choosing the tree for one, and the unmistakeable scent of pine.

    But before you go to pick up your seasonal spruce, it’s worth reading our guide to choosing the perfect real tree.

    Top tips for styling: How to decorate a Christmas tree – Ideal Home’s definitive step-by-step guide

    Pick the right type for your home and look after it properly, and it will look healthy and hearty right through until the twelfth day of advent – January 6th.

    Buying a real Christmas tree – know your 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.

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    What to look for in a fir tree

    ‘From cut to pot grown, Nordmann Fir to Norway Spruce, there’s a brilliant variety of real Christmas trees to choose from’ says Kamalvir Dhillon, category manager at B&Q.

    Sharing his expert tips on choosing the right fir for you he says, ‘Whilst each variant has different characteristics, the most important thing to look out for when choosing the tree is a deep green, healthy looking spruce – with little to no brown needles. Try giving the tree a little test by running your hands through a few of the branches – if the needles don’t drop you’re on to a winner!’

    Real Christmas trees vs fake trees


    Other than the gorgeous pine smell and luscious green look, their are loads of reasons to arrange your presents under a real tree rather than 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. If you buy a British grown tree you can guarantee that you are choosing a more sustainable option with a smaller carbon footprint than an artificial tree.
    4. Real trees are a renewable resource, at least one tree will be planted when one is harvested. At some plantations such as Infinity Christmas Trees they plant two new trees for every one harvested each year.
    5. Christmas tree plantations benefit the environment. The Infinity Christmas Trees plantations alone absorb 900 tonnes of CO2.
    6. Growing real Christmas trees provides jobs in rural areas, where employment can be hard to come by.

    ‘Real Christmas trees are a sustainable, renewable resource with a much smaller carbon footprint than artificial ones. Especially when they are home-grown like ours,’ explains Dave Brown, a Christmas tree grower of Infinity Christmas Trees.

    ‘We plant two new trees for every one we harvest and each year. Our Christmas tree plantations across the UK absorb 900 tonnes of CO2, benefiting the environment.’

    How to choose your real Christmas tree


    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 lots 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.’

    Also, choose a tree that isn’t pre-wrapped in netting,’ advises Wyevale Garden Centres’ Mark Sage. ‘This allows you to really see the shape and ensure branches aren’t bent into an upwards position.’

    ‘Trees left in netting aren’t able to benefit from air circulation and begin to form a micro-climate. This means the tree begins to warm up, drop needles and decompose at a much quicker rate.’

    To make sure you are getting a British grown tree that meets strict freshness standards look for a Grown in Britain logo, a non profit organisation champions home-grown forest products and plants.

    Getting it home – first steps


    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!

    Caring for real Christmas trees

    Christmas tree in blue living room

    Always make sure your tree trunk is immersed in water. Ideally try to top it up every day, as trees are thirsty fellows! Experts reveal the average Christmas tree can drink up to 1-2 litres of water a day!

    But did you know they drink more than water? Gardening guru David Domoney revealed the secret to a keeping your real tree is full-fat lemonade?!

    Who knew Christmas trees were the real secret lemonade drinkers?! David explains how lemonade is the secret drink to keep real trees looking fresh. ‘You can use florist’s cut flower food, or you can just mix up some sugar water or full-fat lemonade’ he explains.

    ‘Because it’s an element of food within. You’d be surprised just how much water the tree takes up’ he goes on to explain. ‘So adding a little bit of food keeps them looking fresher.’

    Remember trees grow outside in the cold, where they thrive. So always 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. They can be a fire hazard, so stay safe.

    ‘A little known tip – it’s key to keep your tree away from any fruit bowls in the home,’ reveals B&Q’s Kamalvir Dhillon. ‘Although they may be a staple during the festive period, fruit gives off ethylene gas which affects plants and trees, making needles drop quicker.’ Who knew? Banish the fruit bowl – stick to the chocolate instead.

    How to decorate your real tree


    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.

    ‘Avoid whittling the trunk of a tree to fit a stand,’ says Mark Sage. ‘Always buy a bigger stand as whittling can remove the most active cells from the outside of the trunk and make the tree thirsty as a consequence.’

    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 Roman. ‘This means I can completely control where they sit, rather than rely on where they hang.’

    Real tree too much hassle? Best artificial Christmas trees to dress your home for the festive season

    Real or faux, what’s your preference?

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