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How to buy a Christmas tree that lasts for years

Easy tips on caring for a real Christmas tree

Fake Christmas trees are a fuss-free option for many of us at this busy time of year, but it’s easier than you might think to care for a real Christmas tree that can be used for years, Which? Gardening has found.

Christmas trees

Pot grown Christmas trees last for more than one year

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a tree. You might think a fake tree is the only option if you want to avoid needles in the carpet – and if you’re too busy looking for Christmas gifts to shop for a tree every year as well. But you can buy a real tree that will last for years – and, of course, real trees can’t be beaten for their fabulous looks and evocative smell. 

Pot-grown or container-grown Christmas trees

Which? Gardening senior researcher Adele Dyer says: ‘Cut Christmas trees are cheap, but of course they will die once the holidays are over. If you want a tree that will last for years, a pot-grown, or container-grown tree is the answer. These trees are specially grown in containers and can be kept in a pot in the garden ready to be brought back into the house next year.’

Be careful to check with the retailer or Christmas tree grower that you are buying the right kind of tree. We have seen many trees wrongly labelled as ‘container-grown trees’ which are in fact potted trees. These have been grown in the ground and then dug up and put into a container just before they are sold. Which? tests have shown that these trees lose much of their roots when they are dug up. As a result they often drop their needles and die very quickly.

Christmas tree care

Whatever kind of tree you choose, look for one where the needles are still green and springy when you run your hand along the branch. A balanced shape where the branches are evenly spaced, means you won’t have to hide an ugly side when you get it home. Check there are no obvious marks where the tree has been pruned. Finally, lift any potted tree out of its container a little way to make sure it has a good amount of root.

Keep your tree outside for as long as you can, especially pot-grown trees, which should not be inside for more than two weeks. Once in the house, keep all trees away from radiators and fires. Keep a plant pot saucer underneath a potted tree and remember to water it regularly to stop it drying out. Adding ice cubes is a good way to do this.

Remember that a cut tree needs water too. Think of it like a bunch of flowers in a vase and keep it in a stand that can hold water. Don’t forget to add more water every day so it looks wonderful with all your Christmas gifts underneath it.

Alternative Christmas trees

A collection of Christmas tree varieties

Dwarf conifers make great Christmas trees

Adele adds: ‘You don’t need to stick to a traditional tree. There are loads of dwarf conifers that will look great both indoors over Christmas and outside in the garden through the year. They also have the advantage of growing much more slowly than a traditional Norway spruce or Nordmann fir, so they won’t outgrow their pot too quickly.’

After Christmas acclimatise your pot-grown tree to the outside by putting it in a sheltered position, such as in a porch or next to a house wall, for a few weeks. In the spring, repot it using ericaceous compost and grit if it is outgrowing its pot and give it a feed with a slow-release fertiliser.

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