Let’s face it: the holiday season is stressful enough. Why burden yourself with the choosing, chopping, watering, and maintaining of a live Christmas tree when you can enjoy a lovely, no-fuss artificial tree for a fraction of the effort? It’s a personal decision, of course.
But if you’ve chosen to celebrate your holidays with an artificial tree, we at BestReviews want you to have the finest. So we donned our elf hats and scoured the consumer market for the most exceptional (yet affordable) fake trees available.
Just like real spruces, pines, and firs, artificial trees aren’t one size fits all. If you’re to choose a tree that will grace your holidays for the next 10 years or so, you have some important decisions to make. Height? Width? Color? Features? Price?
That’s why we created this shopping guide: to provide you with the Fake Tree 101 you need to make this important decision. If you’re thirsting to learn more about the glorious array of trees from which you must choose, please read on. And when you’re ready to select a tree, please see our product matrix above for our top picks.
Perhaps you’re still debating whether to buy a fake or live tree this year. With the right artificial tree, you can achieve the same standard of beauty that a freshly cut holiday tree provides. Here are some other great reasons to go artificial:
Over 500 types of evergreen trees exist today, but only a handful of varieties make it to the living rooms of Christmas celebrants each year. Three of the most common genera are the pine, fir, and spruce.
So how do you discern between a pine, fir, and spruce? Much of the difference lies in the needles. Pine needles grow in clusters of two, three, or five. Fir and spruce needles don’t grow in groups; they adhere individually to their branches. Fir needles are soft, but spruce needles are sharp.
Within the pine, fir, and spruce genera, you’ll find more specific tree species, such as the Colorado blue spruce and balsam fir. Here are six of the most common.
Tall and fairly slender, the balsam fir is a dark green, pyramid-shaped tree with a wispy tip and short needles.
Colorado Blue Spruce
The sturdy branches of the Colorado blue spruce extend in the classic triangular Christmas tree shape. Its needles exude a silvery blue-green hue that many people associate with the holidays.
The Douglas fir is one of the most popular holiday tree types. Interestingly, it doesn’t actually belong to the fir family. People love it for its lush appearance and soft, dark green/blue-green needles.
The Noble fir is known for its upward-sweeping branches and rich green needles. Noble fir branches are also frequently used in holiday wreaths and garlands.
Extremely popular in the U.S., the Scotch pine is known for its bright green color and upward-sweeping branches.
The stout, hearty Virginia pine is a popular Christmas tree choice in the southern states. A mature Virginia pine sports dense needles and pretty pine cones.
Before you buy a new artificial Christmas tree, we urge you to think critically about the size that you want. Today’s trees run the gamut in terms of height and width. The dimensions you choose should reflect your personal taste and the amount of dedicated space you have for a tree.
The tree height you choose will likely correlate with the height of your home’s ceiling. Eight- to ten-foot ceilings are the norm for most homes, but some people have vaulted or cathedral ceilings that extend much higher.
If you wish, you can measure the height of your ceiling before making a purchase. When calculating the numbers, take the height of your tree topper into account a well. Experts recommend that you allow for a foot or more of empty space between the top of your tree and the ceiling.
Some of the trees in our product matrix are available in your choice of heights. When in doubt, a 6’ tree generally fits most homes.
Similarly, your tree’s width should correlate with the amount of available tree space in your home. If you’re not sure whether you should buy a full-, medium-, slim-, or pencil-width tree, we advise you to measure the square footage of your proposed location.
Throughout the course of our research, we found trees as small as 30 inches in diameter and as large as 60 inches. We also found that manufacturers define “full,” “slim,” and “pencil-width” different ways, so it’s wise to look at actual numbers before selecting your tree — especially if your space is limited.
Unlit vs Pre-Lit
If you hate untangling Christmas lights — or the thought of arranging your lights harmoniously on branches makes your brain throb — you may want to consider a pre-lit tree. Many of today’s pre-lit trees come with LED lights, which stay fairly cool and consume little energy.
On the downside, you can’t alter the color or size of the bulbs on your pre-lit Christmas tree. If you buy a tree with tiny, clear bulbs, you’re stuck with tiny, clear bulbs for the life of the tree. However, you could certainly throw some excitement into the mix by adding strings of large, colorful bulbs, glowing Santa heads, or whatever you choose.
Pre-lit trees tend to cost more than their naked counterparts, and if you buy an LED tree, you may find that it burns much brighter than a tree with incandescent bulbs — maybe too bright. Then there’s the fear that if one bulb burns out, they’re all going down. Thankfully, plenty of modern trees offer “continuous on” and “burn-out protection” benefits to allay your fears.
Perhaps you’re interested in a non-bulb route to tree illumination. Or maybe you want to enhance your regular bulbs with some cool, festive technology. If so, consider a fiber optic tree.
Fiber optic trees have light fibers woven directly into their artificial branches. As a result, you can have a tree that glows blue, pink, purple, or whatever subset of the rainbow you choose. Fiber optic trees look sleek and very “cutting edge,” so if you like a little modernism with your holiday decor, consider a tree with this built-in technology.
On the downside, fiber optic trees don’t burn energy as efficiently as LED trees. The branches grow warm and could pose a threat to the fingers and paws of curious little ones. And, like other pre-lit trees, you lose a bit of creative freedom with a fiber optic tree. Of course, you could always compensate for that with your own unique ornaments and other decorative touches.
Your creative options don’t end with lighting. You can carry the festivity one step further by buying a tree that has been flocked. A flocked tree has been sprayed with artificial snow, and it gives the tree a heart-warming, wintry appearance that some people love. The practice of flocking dates back to the 1800s, when people used flour or cotton to make their tree look snowy.
To cast a snowy appearance on today’s artificial trees, manufacturer’s apply chemical mixtures that may include paper pulp and corn starch. But buyer beware: cheap flocking sheds like dandruff, litters your floor, and may end up passing the lips of small children and pets. If you want a flocked tree and don’t want a mess, we suggest you opt for a high-quality model.
Other optional accents include fake pine cones and berries. Of course, if you don’t own a tree with these accents but like their look, you can always find ornaments that make your tree look more forest-like.
An artificial tree’s branches attach to its body in one of two ways. Either the branches hook into a center pole (an assembly job completed by the owner), or they’re permanently affixed — hinged — to the body.
Trees with hooked branches tend to cost a bit less than their hinged counterparts, but they present more work for the owner each year. Nevertheless, some people enjoy putting their tree together and view it as a holiday tradition. When assembling a hooked-branch tree, start at the bottom and work your way upward, attaching each branch to its receiver hole in the center pole. Separate the limbs and fluff the tree as you go.
Trees with hinged branches generally arrive in two or three large pieces that the owner must join together. When assembling a hinged tree, begin at the bottom and fluff the branches and limbs as you move upward. Most owners find this job to be quick and painless.
How much do fake trees cost? In truth, you could spend anywhere from $15 to $600 (or more) on an artificial Christmas tree. The recommended products in our matrix, above, cater to average consumers who want a quality tree but don’t want to shell out an entire paycheck for the privilege.
We don’t advocate for dirt-cheap, poorly made Christmas trees for several reasons. First of all, we want the best for our consumers, and a low-quality product is simply out of the question.
Also important is the fact that, although the ideal artificial tree lasts a decade, families often try to stretch that time frame much longer. For that reason, you want a tree that’s well-engineered and durable. We’re proud of the products in our product matrix, all of which have received numerous enthusiastic endorsements from owners.
Your tree is only as stable as the stand in which it rests. The market boasts artificial trees with both plastic and metal stands. Unless you’re buying a smaller tree that stands less than six feet tall, we recommend a tree with a metal stand.
Opt for a tree that’s flame retardant or fire-resistant. Trees with a UL tag have passed safety standards established by Underwriters Laboratories, a global safety organization. Realize, however, that even the most “fire-proof” fake tree could catch fire under bad electrical conditions.
Avoid overloading your circuits with lights and other electronics, and never station an artificial tree within three feet an electrical source or heat vent. If you have a fireplace, keep the tree even farther away — eight feet at minimum.
When celebrating the spirit of Christmas, no one wants to catch an inadvertent glimpse of the metal or plastic pole inside their fake tree. For this reason, we recommend that you fluff and shape each branch of your tree until you’re completely satisfied. Fluffing the tree when it’s lit can help you visualize what your final product will look like.
And remember: just because your tree is artificial doesn’t mean the needles aren’t sharp. Keep a pair of rubber or gardening gloves nearby in case the assembly or fluffing process starts nipping at your fingers. The only entity doing any nipping here should be Jack Frost, and he’s supposed to concentrate on your nose, not your fingers.