Christmas tree guide: how to choose the perfect tree, plus homemade decoration ideas

Real Christmas tree or fake? Nordman fir or Norway spruce? Rent a Christmas tree or buy? Our Christmas tree guide looks at tree varieties, how to choose the perfect Christmas tree, plus advice on how to care for your tree and environmentally friendly options.

Christmas tree

For many of us having a real Christmas tree is one of the best things about the festive period – needles be damned. There’s nothing quite as evocative as the smell of warm pine in your living room, perhaps harkening back to some ancient connection with the landscape, and certainly linking to past traditions. Whether you cut your own from a Christmas Tree farm or order one in from Ikea, you’ll still have to decide on the height, the variety and the type of tree – cut-off or living.

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Our Christmas tree guide explains the pros and cons of the different types, where to get your Christmas tree from, how to make it last longer, explore some decoration ideas and take a brief look at the history of the Christmas tree in Britain .

Christmas tree types – which is the best tree to choose?

Choosing your real Christmas tree is always a highlight of the festive season, but other than the size and shape, what are the things to consider when buying your tree? We look at the pros and cons of the most popular varieties.

Norway Spruce

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The Norway Spruce – the ‘father of Christmas trees’
  • Needles  – Short and sharp to touch. Classic needle dropper.
  • Aroma – Long-lasting resinous aroma.
  • Shape – Wonderful shape with an abundance of branches that are perfect for smaller, delicate ornaments.

Known as the ‘father of Christmas trees’, this is the type that rapidly drops its needles if you forget to top up the water at the base. But keep it hydrated and you have the quintessential conical spruce with a long-lasting scent and delicate, thin branches that make threading smaller ornaments really easy. Just don’t position it next to the radiator unless you enjoy hoovering daily.

Nordmann Fir

Nordmann Fir Christmas Tree
The Nordmann fir Christmas tree, pictured here growing in the Netherlands, is one of the most popular varieties in Europe (Photo by: Getty Images)
  • Needles  – Glossy, dark and soft with a light blue underside. Minimal loss.
  • Aroma – Faint citrus scent, not immediately obvious.
  • Shape – Wide, even and bushy, so requires good space in the living room. For a 6ft tall tree, allow approximately 5ft space.

The Nordmann Fir is easily the most popular Christmas tree in Europe, and its big, soft needles make it a firm favourite with families who have children. The branches are bendy, and the needles are soft and rounded, which means hanging decorations can be a bit fiddly. But once on, your expensive glass baubles are pretty safe, even from overexcited family cats. The even shape of the tree makes decorating simple, and needles are long-lasting. A great all-rounder that can withstand a bit of neglect.

Spiced Christmas Tree biscuits (Photo by: Maciej Nicgorski / EyeEm via Getty Images)

Lodgepole Pine

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If you have high ceilings, the Lodgepole pine may be the tree for you
  • Needles  – Luscious and long. Good retention.
  • Aroma – Long-lasting pine scent.
  • Shape – Tall and slender.

If you have high ceilings, the Lodgepole pine may be the tree for you, as it looks its best in a big, tall and open space. With the best needle retention of all the varieties, Lodgepole pines are perfect for those who like to decorate their tree and little earlier and don’t want Christmas to end. The branches point upwards, giving an extra elegance to the overall shape.


The great Christmas tree debate: Real vs fake – which is better?

Artificial Christmas Tree
Real or artificial? The great Christmas tree debate./Credit: Getty.

There’s nothing quite like the smell and feel of a real Christmas tree, but often it’s more effort and seems rather wasteful when Christmas is over compared to the re-usable artificial ones. So why bother buying real?

Real trees use ten times fewer materials and five times less energy compared to artificial trees – and they are totally biodegradable. The Forestry Commission ensures it only sells trees that are UK grown and that more trees are planted each year than harvested.

Find a Forestry Commission Christmas tree site here.


UK locations to choose and cut your own Christmas tree

Christmas tree
Why not choose and chop your own tree this festive season?/Credit: Getty Images

Why not have the great satisfaction of selecting and chopping down your own Christmas tree at a specialist farm? Search for ‘Christmas tree farm near me’ to find your nearest – here are a few of our favourites:

Salem Christmas Tree Farm, Llandeilo

Turn choosing a Christmas tree into a festive day out in this 27-acre Welsh smallholding, which also offers stunning woodland walks, a Christmas shop and the chance for children to meet Father Christmas.

If you don’t fancy chopping your own tree, freshly cut trees are also on offer. This festive farm is open for business until dusk on Christmas Eve.

Friezeland Farm, Warwickshire

Choose from more than 30,000 tree varieties including,  tradition spruce trees, non-drop trees, blue spruce and pot grown trees at this large woodland estate in Warwickshire. You can pick and chop your own tree or opt to have it potted so you can plant in your garden after the festive season.

Leaton Knolls Estate, Shropshire

Leaton Knolls has a great variety of trees that have established it as Shropshire’s leading Christmas tree retailer for the past 30 years. With a range of pre-cut trees also available, those feeling adventurous can wander among the trees of the plantation and cut down the tree they want for their home.

Canalside Christmas Trees, Wiltshire

This small village Christmas Tree farm sits alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal in the picturesque village of Wootton Rivers, and offers a varied selection of Nordmann Fir and Norway Spruce trees. Customers can walk around the site, choose a tree and enjoy a mulled wine and mince pie while they wait.


Environmentally friendly Christmas tree options

Environmentally friendly Christmas tree options
Rent a tree or buy potted and reuse to help cut down on waste this Christmas./Credit: Getty.

It is estimated that more than seven million Christmas trees will become household waste each year. While many councils will turn old Christmas trees into green waste – shredding them and turning into compost, this process still generates 160,000 tonnes of waste each year, according to the Carbon Trust.

Alternatively, why not rent a tree or buy a potted tree which you can use each year? You’ll be able to return the tree to the supplier after the main event, where it will continue to be cared for and grown, sequestering carbon and providing a home for wildlife, for the rest of the year. Check out the following UK suppliers for more information:

Love a Christmas tree, Lincolnshire and surrounds

Festive Tree Hire, Reading & Berkshire

Cotswold Fir, Gloucester, Cheltenham & Stroud

Methley Estate, Huddersfield


Make your Christmas tree ornaments

Make spiced Christmas tree biscuits to hang from your tree with this easy recipe

Spiced Christmas Tree biscuits (Photo by: Maciej Nicgorski / EyeEm via Getty Images)
Spiced Christmas Tree biscuits (Photo by: Maciej Nicgorski / EyeEm via Getty Images)

Make your own tree decorations

Bring a touch of woodland charm to your festive tree this Christmas, with these easy-to-make birds…

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The history of the Christmas tree in Britain

In the UK the Christmas tree was first introduced in 1800 by the wife of King George III, Queen Charlotte, who brought the tradition from her native Germany, where it was common custom to have a yew tree in your home. She requested a yew tree be brought to Queen’s Lodge in Windsor, which she decorated herself.

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Christmas Eve At Windsor Castle, The Queen’s Christmas Tree./Credit: Getty Images.

Germany’s history with the Christmas tree dates back to medieval times, when a fir tree known as a ‘Paradise tree’ was hung with apples to represent Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

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By the time of her death in 1818, Christmas trees were a popular British festive tradition. Victorian Christmas trees were decorated with candles, sweets, dried fruit and strands of popcorn. Ornaments were home-made from pine cones, tin, fabric, straw and paper. Tinsel, it may surprise you to know, was originally made from thin strips of beaten silver. However, as it tarnished easily, it was soon phased out for other metals. The first manufactured tree decorations were sold in Woolworths in 1860.