Choosing and Caring for your Christmas Tree

One of our favourite horticultural jobs at this time of year must be choosing our Christmas tree. Christmas trees have been around since medieval times in parts of Europe, especially in Germany, but they weren’t introduced into the UK until the early 1800s by Queen Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Streilz, the wife of King George III and then they grew in popularity throughout the Victorian era to plant decorating Christmas trees as a firm festive tradition.

To some, real Christmas trees might seem wasteful compared to using artificial, re-usable Christmas trees, but in reality, according to the Forestry Commission, real trees use ten times fewer materials and five times less energy compared to artificial ones and are totally biodegradable.

Real trees don’t suit everyone but for the people who do want one, you generally have a choice of Spruces (such as the traditional Norway Spruce) or Firs (such as the Nordman Fir or Douglas Fir). They each have their own pros and cons; the spruces tend to be cheaper but the firs don’t drop their needles so readily. If you want a large one then it will have to be a cut tree but you can get smaller pot grown trees that you can put back out into the garden after Christmas and reuse next year.

Norway Spruce – The archetypal traditional Christmas tree, the only one we knew when we were growing up in the 1970s. These give a wonderful classic look and give out a long lasting ‘Christmassy’ scent. They have smaller, more prickly needles and can drop more than the firs.

Nordman Fir – Marketed as ‘no-drop’ Christmas trees, Nordman firs have probably become the most popular trees in the UK in recent years. They certainly don’t drop their needles as much, they have softer needles and often have bigger gaps between the branches so can be easier to decorate. Because they are less prickly they are often better choices for families with children.

These days you can get a real tree from almost anywhere; garden centre, supermarket, DIY sheds, specialist Christmas tree farm or even online.

What ever you go for, and where ever you get it here’s a few tips on choosing and charing for it.

  • Try to buy your tree as close to Christmas as you can so it is as fresh as possible, Norway Spruces especially, lose their needles very quickly after coming indoors.
  • If you have a Christmas tree farm near to you then this makes a great festive day out, especially if you have kids. Incredibly fresh and local.
  • We try to get a tree which was grown in Scotland, you can often tell by the label, as they tend to have been cut relatively recently rather than a Scandinavian one that was cut months ago and just stored in a warehouse.
  • Try to look at your tree out of it’s netting so you can see the shape you want. Check the colour and give it a tap on the grown. You want a nice green tree, with fresh looking needles that stay on when you tap it.
  • Just remember to treat the tree like a cut flower, cut the bottom couple of inches off and make sure it has plenty of water. They can drink quite a bit of water so check every couple of days and top up if you have a stand that can hold a bit of water.
  • Don’t put it next to a radiator and keep it outside in a bucket of water until you are ready to bring it in.
  • Give it a feed every so often with sugary water or lemonade to help keep it looking better for longer.
  • When the time comes for taking it down, traditionally by Twelth Night or the 6th of January, make sure you recycle it. A lot of councils have tree recycling schemes or take to your local recycling centre or put in your green bin or even some zoos take them in for the animals. In some parts of the country, old Christmas trees have been used on beaches to help trap sand and to help prevent sand dunes from becoming eroded.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

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