How to choose your Christmas tree
Fake or real? Pre-lit or PVC? We asked the festive experts for the ultimate guide to picking the perfect Christmas tree
As December arrives, and the first hint of Christmas is finally in the air, households up and down the country will be digging out the festive decorations. But just how should you choose your tree? We've asked the experts …
Don't rely on your eye because everything looks smaller outdoors. "Every year we get calls from customers asking 'have you got a saw?'" laughs John Brennan, owner of Irish Christmas Trees (Irishchristmastrees.com).
The average room has a ceiling height of 2.4m or 8ft so a 7 or 8ft tree is more than adequate unless you're living in a Georgian or Victorian home. If you have to to prune, always cut from the bottom, as the 'leader' branch, at the top of the tree will look odd if it's trimmed.
Which real tree?
There are two main types of 'real' Christmas tree: Noble Fir and Nordmann Fir. "The better of the two is the Nobel Fir," explains John, who has been in the industry for over 50 years. It will hold its needles longer, has a lovely smell and is a beautiful blue/green colour."
A good quality 7/8ft Noble Fir will set you back around €60. Nordmann firs don't have the same smell and, in general, won't last as long but are more common and can cost less since Noble firs are harder to grow. Both varieties are non-shed so shouldn't be leaving a carpet of needles.
How to get the most out of your real tree
If the tree has any yellow or brown branches, it could be a sign of necrosis which means it'll lose its needles faster. You want your tree to be as fresh as possible so get it cut to order or at least try and look for ones that are being stored outside and out of their packaging.
"The colour of the tree is important as it denotes the health of the tree," explains Dermot Page, chair of the Irish Christmas Tree Growers Association. "Needles should be stiff and not floppy and branches should stand out from the tree."
Just like with flowers, you can prolong the tree's life-span by taking a bit off the bottom.
"Ask the seller to chop an inch off the trunk so that when you take it home, the water will be absorbed quickly," adds Dermot.
"In the first week the tree will absorb much more water than during the following weeks but do keep an eye on the water level, remember to water it every day and keep it away from heat. Do this and your tree will last the whole Christmas period."
Don't think you can just chop down your own tree
If you want a real tree check out lovearealtree.ie for retailers. Not only does illegal felling carry severe penalties, there's also a good chance you'll cut down the wrong thing.
"There's always someone who thinks they can just hop a fence and ends up cutting down a Sitka Spruce, which isn't like a traditional Christmas tree and has a very distinctive smell," says John.
"They then spend the rest of Christmas wondering where the smell of cat pee is coming from."
When should you fake fir?
If you want options outside the big two of Noble and Nordmann firs then artificial is a world of choice, from more exotic pines to feathers and tinsel.
"There are hundreds of styles," says Marie Devitt a buyer for Newlands Home and Garden Centre (newlands.ie).
"You can also get that perfect shape that you're never going to get in nature
Additionally you can theme your Christmas greenery by buying tree, garlands and wreaths in matching styles. Most artificial trees are flame retardant and allergy free and you don't need to worry about leaving the heat on.
"No bucket of water will save a tree if it's beside a radiator or over underfloor heating," says John.
"I like to promote Irish Christmas trees and 90pc of our trade is in real trees but there are situations where a real tree just isn't suitable."
Fake fir - the technical bit
Artificial trees can range in size from 2ft to 15ft and, up to 9ft, tend to go up in half-foot sizes, but where you need to pay attention is in girth and tip count.
"Our trees come from an American family company and come in small, medium and large," explains Marie.
"But an American medium (54-58ins round) is more than large enough for the average Irish home."
Slim or Pencil trees are best for for small-space living while foliage-free birch trees offer a contemporary, unobtrusive look.
Tip count is a bit like thread count, a higher number signifing better bushy density. Newlands' most popular tree is a Douglas fir with a 1867 tip count, priced at €275. That might sound pricey - but a good fake will last 15 to 20 years, a fraction of the cost of buying real every year.
Fantastic plastic and hooks versus hinges
Artificial trees are made using two types of plastic: PVC and PE.
"The main difference in materials is in how the trees look," explains Barry Doyle, co-owner of Arboretum Home and Garden Heaven in Co Carlow (arboretum.ie).
"PVC needles are attached to the fake tree branches using wires. PE fake trees are fabricated, so both the needles and the branches better resemble those of a real tree."
Hinged branches are permanently attached and easier to fluff out. Hook-in branches tend to be cheaper but involve more work matching colour-coded, different-sized branches to joints in a central 'trunk' which doesn't look as realistic.
Marie recommends fluffing out a hinged tree from the bottom up, to get the best effect. "It's a bit like in a hairdressers when they pin your hair up on the top to dry underneath," she explains.
"Bring out the bottom branches arranging them with two out and one up to give the fullest effect before releasing the next layer up."
Pre-lit and accents
The fear with pre-lit trees in the past was that if one bulb went out then so did all the others.
"The way to avoid this is get a pre-lit tree with LED lights or one with burn-out protection," says Barry.
LED lights don't get hot so are less of a fire risk and also cut down on wires, adapters and tangled fairy light angst, they also use less energy and last longer.
Many trees now include 'accents' of fake snow, berries and cones. These trees don't need as much decorating, but bear in mind you might not want to look at a dinstinctive tree every year.