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If the thought of purchasing an artificial holiday tree has you feeling like the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge, consider the benefits of owning one: You’ll save money by not having to buy a new tree year after year and you’ll never have to remember to water it.
“Allergies are also kept under control because unlike living trees, artificial trees don’t harbor allergens like mold or moss,” Mark Feldman, the chief home officer and general manager at Riverbend Home, tells MyDomaine.
Need more convincing?
“There’s no vacuuming up pine needles long after the holiday is over, and you’ll be able to extend the season by keeping your tree up longer,” Feldman adds.
Given that 82% of all household tree purchases were artificial in 2019, there’s no better time to explore the hows/whys/whats of artificial tree shopping. Ahead, experts share their best advice.
Before You Buy
Think you need to replace an existing artificial tree? If large sections of lights are out, if it's shedding a ton of needles, or if it's just not looking as full and "healthy" as it once did, those are all good indicators that it may be time to invest in another model.
Factors to Consider When Buying an Artificial Tree
“You’ll need to measure your intended space’s height and diameter, keeping in mind the tree will get wider as it gets taller,” Mac Harman, CEO and founder of Balsam Hill, says.
The rule of thumb is to allow a minimum of 6 inches to 1.5 feet between the top of your tree and your ceiling (don’t forget to include the height of your tree topper as well) and a minimum of 3 inches to 6 inches between the tree and adjacent walls.
“Make sure corners, windows and furniture are all taken into consideration,” Chris Butler, CEO of the National Tree Company, says.
It’s also important to contemplate storage space and where your tree is going to live off-season as your artificial tree won’t be going to the curb once the holidays are over.
The garage, attic and basement are top spots for tree storage, but according to Kim Tokarski, a Senior Merchant at Frontgate, you’ll need to be mindful of pests and moisture which can affect a tree’s longevity.
“Never keep your tree in the box it came in,” she advises. “Instead, consider a standing tree bag that allows for vertical or horizontal storage, one that’s puncture-resistant so your branches won’t poke through.”
Look for one that comes with a protective iron frame and inner straps to keep the tree secure along with a polyester interior that’s bonded to plastic to keep moisture and pests out. There are also bags that allow you to store your tree while it’s still assembled.
“Arrange the bag under your tree during setup, and then cover it with a tree skirt,” Tokarski suggests. “At the end of the season, simply remove the ornaments and pull the bag up.”
Trees come with different assembly instructions, but in general you should begin clearing an area where you’ll have adequate space to work, then inspect and lay them out all the pieces, identifying which section is the bottom, middle, and top.
“If there are any cracked or missing bulbs, now’s the time to replace them,” Feldman advises.
Start from the bottom, plug in the lights to make sure all the bulbs are working, then fluff and shape the branches to hide the trunk and make the tree look fuller. Repeat with each section. When complete, step back and look at the entire tree from a distance, searching for any holes.
Most artificial trees come with a sturdy built-in stand that won’t tip or get easily knocked over by children or pets. Simply add a decorative element such as a tree box or burlap skirt to hide the stand and elevate the look.
Types of Artificial Trees
Most artificial trees are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (PE) or a combination of both which will result in a thicker, fuller tree profile. “A quality tree has a higher percentage of PE material as part of its makeup,” Butler says.
Many of these trees have branches and crush-resistant needles that are molded from actual live trees to offer up a more realistic look and feel.
Pre-lit Versus Unlit
Trees that come decorated with lights save you from the hassle of having to string bulbs year after year.
“The majority of trees in the market are pre-lit and the quality of lights tend to be better than the inexpensive sets found on store shelves,” Butler shares.
Look for LED lights which have an even, consistent glow and won’t get hot to the touch.
“They’re more efficient and longer-lasting than incandescent lights and less likely to burn out,” Tokarski adds.
No one likes to see extension cords strewn across a room, so identify your nearest outlets and plan accordingly when choosing a spot for your tree.
Style and Size
The style options for artificial trees mimic those you would find in nature.
“The iconic Fraser Fir is the most popular choice for trees at both retail and tree lots,” Harman notes. “It’s been the tree of choice at the White House for years.”
Others include the Balsam Fir, Noble Fir, Douglas Fir, Spruce, and Pine. Sizes can range from 3 feet up to 12 feet or larger.
Cost of Buying an Artificial Christmas Tree
In general, trees with higher price tags have more lights, are made from better quality PE materials, and feature more branches and add-ons like reinforced gauge steel tips to better hold heavy ornaments. Expect to find quality trees starting around $400 and up into the thousands.
“But you can get a good quality tree while on a budget,” Butler shares. “Prices run the gamut from a good starter tree to something so real no one would believe that it didn’t come from a Christmas tree farm.”
How to Choose an Artificial Christmas Tree
Once you’ve determined the size and style of the tree you’d like to purchase (and evaluated your storage situation), it’s time to choose a color.
“Ask yourself, ‘What’s my holiday style? Am I a traditionalist who adores green or do I lean more towards a modern yuletide glam?’” Amber Dunford, the style director at Overstock, notes. “Pink and black are now trending as are wintery white and metallic trees.”
Some trees come lightly or heavily flocked with the look of freshly fallen snow. Choose pre-lit or light your own every year — it's up to you!
Where to Shop
You can check out trees at your local retailers for a traditional shopping experience. We recommend this approach if you're a first-time artificial tree buyer, or you would feel better seeing your options in-person.
Shopping online will provide the largest assortment of options and, thanks to high quality digital images, you can see what your tree will look like via multiple image views and closeups.
“Filters also allow you to narrow your search by height, lights, shape, and type,” Feldman says. “But my advice, no matter where you decide to buy, is to shop early. Supply chain issues are a real concern right now and you’ll need to order early for the best selection and to get your tree on time.”
If you’re nervous about buying a tree sight unseen, some companies offer kits where you can sample branch and needle types.
Where to Buy an Artificial Tree
Our editors recommend Frontgate, National Tree Company, Balsam Hill, Riverbend Home, and Overstock for great artificial tree options.
How Can You Make an Artificial Tree Appear More Real?
To ensure a more natural look, take the time to fluff each branch when it comes out of the box.
“You’ll need to fan the tips and pull out and shape the branches,” Tokarski says.
Consider purchasing tree-scented ornaments, placing essential oils, and pine-scented candles throughout your room.
“Adding earthy vibes like natural pinecones and garland will also make your tree look and feel more real-life,” Dunford notes.
How Long Will an Artificial Tree Last?
On average, with proper storage and use, an artificial tree should survive for a decade or more, Harman notes, who has heard of people keeping their trees for 25 years.
Be sure your tree comes with a multi-year warranty that extends to factory installed lights, frame, and foliage. Note: Most warranties do not cover decorative elements such as ornaments or ribbons.
What If I'm Limited on Space?
For small areas, you can opt for pencil trees with slimmer profiles, half-trees that sit flush against a wall, or tabletop trees for when you want to bring the holiday spirit to every small space in your home.
“These trees make it so you don’t have to rearrange furniture, plus they’re perfect for foyers and alcoves,” Tokarski says.
National Christmas Tree Association. "Seventy-Seven Percent of US Households Will Celebrate This Holiday Season With a Christmas Tree." October 2, 2019.