It’s nearly time for that annual decision – which type of Christmas tree should I go for this time. I find myself conflicted every year: how about splashing out on an expensive specimen, with smart coloured foliage and beautiful drop-free needles; or should I assuage my guilt about my throw-away consumerism and go for something small, with a root system that I can keep in the garden and use again next year; or just wait until the last moment and get a deal on a cheap and cheerful, usually slightly misshapen, reject?
I can’t make the choice for you but here are some basic facts to inform your decision.
Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana) – Since the 1990s, the Nordmann fir, with its highly acclaimed ‘non-drop’ needles, has become the UK’s bestseller. It remains a more expensive option on account of the time it takes to grow, but with its citrus smell, and lovely soft needles, it is a great option for families with young children. The reliably triangular shape tends to be slightly more open and less dense than Norway spruce, so it is ideal for those who prefer baubles and other hanging decorations aplenty.
Norway spruce (Picea abies) – Although the Norway spruce accounts for just 10 to 15 per cent of UK sales, it remains the ‘traditional’ species for the British Christmas tree. Its triangular shape, dark green needles, gently drooping branches and distinctive ‘pine’ fragrance are the very essence of Christmas, and its dense bushy shape is excellent for decorating. It is also quite cheap when compared to other options. It does tend to shed its needles quite freely, however, particularly as the festive season progresses. Offset this by bringing it inside later than other varieties; keep it well watered and away from direct heat sources.
Blue spruce (Picea pungens) – Related to the Norway spruce, this is one of the most attractive Christmas trees, with a good natural shape, and distinguished by the striking blue-green – sometimes almost electric blue – needles. These are very sharp, however, so take care when handling it. Although its foliage is slower to drop than that of the Norway spruce, it is not a non-drop option. It does have a wonderfully distinctive ‘pine’ scent, and is so attractive that it commands attention even before it has been decorated.
Noble fir (Abies procera) – Introduced into Britain in 1830, noble fir is a native of the forests of Washington and Oregon, where it grows to a great height. Although it is thick stemmed, which can make it difficult to use with a tree stand, it has lovely, well-spaced foliage.
Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) – A new entry to Christmas trees in the UK, the blue-green Fraser fir is very popular in the eastern United States, and its narrower shape makes it ideal for smaller spaces. With dense foliage, it’s not ideal for bauble devotees, but with a minimalist approach, and plain lights, it can make a wonderful centrepiece.
Making the Right Choice
- Size matters – measure the space you want to fill, both the height and the width so the tree does not end up looking squashed or out of proportion. Write it down and take a tape measure and a pair of garden gloves with you go to choose one. The needles can be very uncomfortable – gloves help.
- Some needles are sharper than others – if you have children you may want a softer touch to your tree. Also, give the tree a shake and if needles drop off or if the needles break instead of bend when you fold them over it is probably not fresh enough – move on.
- Colour is also a consideration – traditional deep green – or trendy blue green?
- Price – there is quite a range of prices to choose from. Quality will always cost more – but do you really need that much quality – is your tree going to be the centrepiece for a big party weekend or does it just have to hit the spot for a couple of days?
Keeping it Fresh
- Once you get the Christmas tree home, cut off about a half inch from the bottom of the tree’s trunk (or ask the Christmas tree people to do this for you). The fresh cut will absorb more water, so your tree holds its needles and keeps its colour longer. Put the tree in water as quickly as you can after making the cut.
- Maintain your tree’s moisture. To keep your Christmas tree looking perfect, keep the water in your tree stand filled all the time. You may need to add water two or even three times the first few days. They are surprisingly thirsty.
- Keep your tree cool. As tempting as it may be to place the tree next to a fireplace, know that heat sources, like radiators will cause your tree to dry out faster.
Whichever tree you choose – have fun and enjoy the scent of pine and tradition in your home.