Keeping It Real

For many people, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a real tree. Here’s the essential guide to finding, and keeping, the right one for you

There was a time when artificial Christmas trees were all the rage, but these were a very different proposition to the durable and authentic looking products available now. Perhaps it was the same in your childhood: the plastic, aluminium or sparkling tinsel tree was hauled down from the attic in its box a week or so from the big day (rarely before then). The trunk was slotted together, placed in its stand and its branches unfolded. This ritual would be repeated annually until the tree was practically threadbare.

Artifical trees are brilliant, and can be really fun if you go for the glittery ones, but for some of us nothing beats the shape and scent of a real Christmas tree, each one an individual with its slight imperfections or quirks. Even the texture of their branches provides a sensory pleasure when you’re dressing them.

Real Christmas trees really help to bring the festive period to life and will give pleasure for many weeks. Even buying one can be turned into a memorable event as it’s great fun to select the perfect tree together. You can combine it with other festive activities to make the trip even more enjoyable – perhaps visit Santa’s grotto too, and finish off with some mince pies and a mug of hot chocolate in-store.

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Measure your space before you buy
Before you leave the house, work out where you’re going to put the tree and measure the available space so you buy the right size. A small tree is fine when space is limited, but will lack impact in a spacious spot with high ceilings, such as a Victorian bay window. Likewise, the attractive shape of a large tree will be lost if it’s shoehorned into a smaller space.
In years past, you might have found only one type of Christmas tree, but these days there are several different varieties to choose from, as well as cut trees and those growing in containers. If you really want the festive season to go with a bang, why not buy a cut tree for indoors and a pot-grown one for displaying outside?

Which variety is right for you?
The Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana) is the UK’s favourite cut Christmas tree, largely due to its ability to keep hold of its needles for longer. It has a symmetrical, triangular shape and tiered branches adorned with soft, dark green leaves. The underside of its needles are marked with attractive silvery stripes.
Other cut trees to consider are the Noble fir (Abies procera) for its great needle retention and well-spaced tiers of branches, and the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), which has blue-green leaves and a narrow shape, making it good for more confined spaces. On the downside, the Fraser fir has fairly dense growth, which makes it more difficult to dress the tree with hanging baubles.
Pot-grown Nordmanns are also available, along with the Serbian spruce (Picea omorika) and Blue spruce, known botanically as the Picea pungens. This native of the Rocky Mountains has a great shape, greyish green leaves that are shy to fall, a strong fragrance and horizontal branches, which makes adding ornaments easy.
Pot-grown trees are fine indoors for a short time over the festive period, but will need planting outdoors after Christmas. Cut trees will last for about four weeks if you look after them. Once it’s time to take your tree down, either feed it into a shredder to make mulch or take it to your nearest council recycling point. It's always a sad moment, as it symbolises the end of Christmas – but it'll be time to go out and choose your next tree before you know it.

Looking after your tree

Cut trees

  • Choose a specimen with glossy foliage. Avoid any that show signs of excessive leaf loss, as they’re unlikely to last very long.
  • As soon as you get it home, cut an inch off the bottom of the tree with a pruning saw and remove a few of the lower branches.
  • Secure the tree firmly in a stand with a reservoir of water at the bottom. It’s best not to put it in a bucket of sand or soil without water.
  • To prevent excessive moisture loss, don’t put it near a radiator or fire.
  • Check the water level daily and top it up whenever it falls. Don’t let the base stay dry for any longer than four hours, or a layer of sap will form over the cut end and the tree will dry out.

Pot grown trees

  • Trees in pots hate central heating, so leave them outdoors until the weekend before Christmas.
  • Place in a cool spot away from a radiator or fire.
  • Keep the compost damp, but not wet. Be careful when using water around trees with lights on.
  • A living tree shouldn’t be kept indoors any longer than 12 days, but move it back outdoors earlier if it shows signs of stress.
  • After Christmas, either plant in the garden or pot it into a larger container.

Words: Martyn Cox