How to buy the best real christmas tree

Martyn Cox / 12 December 2014

Thinking about buying a living Christmas tree? Read our guide to choosing the best tree, and tips on keeping it green and healthy.

Containerised or cut?

Pot-grown trees are more expensive than their cut equivalent and tend to come in smaller sizes – typically between 2ft to 4ft. Despite paying a premium price, living trees can work out more economical over time as they can be kept in their pots and used for many years to come. Alternatively, they can be planted in the garden once the festivities are over.

How to choose a living Christmas tree

Pot-grown plants have increased in popularity over the past few years as they’re often seen as a greener alternative to cut or artificial trees.

Head to a garden centre, nursery or DIY store and you’ll find a number of different varieties on sale. It’s likely to include the traditional Norway spruce (Picea abies), along with Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana), blue spruce (Picea pungens) and Noble fir (Abies procera).

Take your time to find a tree with a good shape and well positioned branches. It should have a single, central leading branch that points upwards - avoid any with double leading branches or where the top has been removed. The foliage should be green and glossy, and needles shouldn’t come off easily when you run your hand along a branch.

Carefully lift potted trees from their pots to see that they are well rooted - some are lifted from nursery fields leading up to Christmas and have their roots literally rammed into a container. Unfortunately, 25% or more of the root system can lost during lifting and many trees struggle to survive.

Read our guide to the different varieties of Christmas trees available.

Caring for cut Christmas trees

To ensure your cut Christmas tree lasts for a long time, you need to care for it in the same way as you would a bunch of cut flowers.

When you get it home, cut about 3cm off the bottom using a pruning saw to allow it to take up moisture, then place it in a support stand that has a well in the bottom for adding water.

Fill with water and check daily, topping it up whenever necessary.

Caring for container-grown Christmas trees

Living Christmas trees are hardy plants that are used to life outdoors. They hate central heating so leave them in the garden for as long as possible, then gradually acclimatise them by transferring to a slightly warmer place for a few days, such as a front porch or cool conservatory.

Place the tree in a light position away from fires or radiators, which will cause excessive moisture loss. Slide a saucer under the container and keep plants well watered to avoid premature needle loss. Decorate the tree as normal, but use fairy lights with smaller bulbs – larger bulbs can damage foliage.

Where to position your tree

Display trees in a cool, light spot and not near a radiator or fire, which will cause excessive loss of moisture.

How long to keep your tree indoors

Ideally, don’t keep living trees in the house any longer than 12 days, but be guided by the tree. If it looks unhappy, move it back outside.

After Christmas

After Christmas, strip off the decorations from cut trees and take it to your local tip or garden centre collection point, where it will chipped up to make compost or mulch.

Alternatively, check to see whether your council offers a tree collection service.

Container-grown trees have a good chance of establishing in the garden, as long as they have not been kept inside for too long.

Read our guide to recycling living Christmas trees.

Keeping your container-grown Christmas tree

Relocating the tree from a warm room to a cold garden will give it a shock, so allow it to re-adjust in a cooler room.

If you have the space you could plant the tree but remember that conifers can grow very tall. Also, if you plan to use it as a Christmas tree again it’s unlikely to do well if dug up regularly.

For those wanting to reuse the tree in the future, the best solution is to keep it in a container. Each spring, move it into a slightly bigger pot filled with soil-based compost (John Innes No.3) along with some controlled release fertiliser granules.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.