Real Christmas Tree Guide

Many people believe that Christmas would not have the same festive feel without the scent of a 'real' Christmas tree, but some find them too messy. Here's our guide to real trees and how to look after them over Christmas.

A fresh tree will fill your house with a lovely aroma and, when decorated, will become the centrepiece of your celebrations. However, your choice of tree will depend on quite a few considerations including:

1. Amount of space that you have available, you have the practicalities of getting the tree in the house and you do not want it to completely dominate the room.
2. Size and type of decorations, for a large amount of heavy decorations you might want a more open tree with strong branches.
3. To avoid having hands that resemble pin cushions after the tree is decorated, choose one with soft rather than sharp needles.
4. Needle drop, if you are tired of sweeping up needles, choose a non-drop tree.
5. As for colour, you may like a bright or dark green - the latter will show lights to better effect, or you may find the hue of Blue Spruce a refreshing change.

Firs, spruces and pines are traditional Christmas trees and here are the most popular ones that you will find in garden centres:

Nordmann Fir (non-drop)

Particularly popular 'non-drop' tree as the glossy dark green needles with contrasting underside are blunt. A 'proper' Christmas Tree shape with a generous base and symmetrical shape.

Fraser Fir (non-drop)

Similar to the Nordmann with soft needles, good fragrance and neatly cone-shaped with a narrower base to suit a smaller room. Good needle retention, easy to decorate.

Scots Pine (non-drop)

Great bright green colour and fragrance with a pleasing shape and strong branches, will remain fresh and retain its sharper needles throughout Christmas.

Blue Spruce (non-drop)

Very attractive grey green / blue colour, nice scent, but with non-drop sharp needles. Strong branches are suitable to hold lots of baubles and treats.

Lodgepole Pine (non-drop)

The name gives a clue as to how American Indians used this tree, it has both great fragrance and excellent needle retention. Similar to Scots Pine.

Norway Spruce

Until recently Britain's most popular tree, but its short and painfully sharp needles will drop very readily especially if water isn't provided.

How Christmas Trees Are Grown

Cut Christmas Trees

Commercially grown and cut down just above ground height. If an inch is cut off the bottom of the trunk and the tree is kept well watered, this type will survive the Christmas season in good shape especially the non-drop varieties, It will then need to be recycled.

Potted (sometimes referred to as Containerised)

These trees have been lifted with some of their roots and potted. Take note that the root system is extremely unlikely to sustain any future growth and won't noticeably prevent needle drop.

Container Grown Trees

These have actually been grown in containers and should be cared for in the same way as a potted plant. They can be planted out in the garden if you have the right type of moisture retentive acid soil.

How To Care For Your Tree

Follow a few simple rules and it's easy to maintain the fresh look and natural scent of a tree, and avoid the downside of clearing up dozens of fallen needles.

Buy a Fresh Tree

Rule One is to buy a fresh Christmas Tree. Most trees are cut down well before they reach the retailer, so buy early – you are probably in a better position to look after one tree than a retailer who has hundreds.

Test the needles, if they are already falling off, walk away. Feel how heavy the tree is if it feels too light this is a sign of dehydration, as are brittle stems that snap when bent.

How To Prevent Needle Drop

Whether the tree still has roots or not shouldn't matter in the relatively short time it is in your house. 'Potted Christmas Trees' or container grown trees with roots can be cared for in the same way as indoor plants.

Once home, cut an inch off the bottom of unrooted trees. This will aid the tree's intake of water.

The tree then needs to be positioned in water, like you it won't survive Christmas without lots of refreshment, perhaps three pints a day. It's best to buy a purpose built stand that has a reservoir of water, rather than messing about with buckets and bricks.

If, when you get the tree home, you aren't ready to bring it into the house, leave it outside in a cool dark place. If it has netting, keep this on until you are ready to start decorating, it makes getting it into the house and positioning much easier.

Keep The Tree Cool

Locate the tree away from any sources of heat i.e. central heating radiators. Christmas trees like cool conditions, unheated conservatories and porches are great places to put them.

Remember to regularly refresh the water. Imagine it as a very large cut flower, the most important rule is not to let it dry out even once. Check daily whether there is enough water and replenish regularly.

On Twelfth Night

Re-cycle. Many if not most local councils offer this service. You can also use fresh needles in pot pourri and even tea. Keen gardeners will use them to introduce acid into alkaline soils.

Trees that have been properly grown in containers (not potted trees) can be planted in the garden for next year if you have moisture retentive acid soil.

There you have it, a few do's and don'ts so that the all important tree remains in tip top condition for you to enjoy over Christmas and then will provide a useful resource after the festive fun finishes.

So before going to the garden centre, consider:
1. What size and shape is most appropriate to where the tree is to be positioned  
2. Whether needle drop important
3. How many and what type of ornaments/lights are going to be used for decoration 
4. How the tree will be watered and what type of stand or container is required
5. Whether the tree is destined to be recycled or planted out in the garden