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What’s better: a fake or real Christmas tree?

From renting a Christmas tree to growing your own, find out the various eco-friendly Christmas tree options available to you.

What’s better: a fake or real Christmas tree?

Christmas trees have been a long-standing festive tradition in British homes since Queen Charlotte introduced them in the late 1700s.

They’re typically not that great for the environment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go for a more sustainable and eco-friendly option if you’re looking for a tree for the festive period.

We’ve taken a look at the drawbacks and benefits of a variety of real and fake Christmas trees, so you can weigh up all of the options and the environmental cost to help you make the best eco-friendly decision for your home this Christmas.


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Renting a Christmas tree

Renting a Christmas tree

In recent years there’s been an explosion in Christmas tree hire companies, and many plant nurseries and garden centres are now offering a Christmas tree rental service.

The idea is simple and in principle it sounds like an eco-friendly option. The tree is dug out and delivered to your home and then collected and returned to the soil after Christmas.

If you’re considering tree rental, we’d recommend checking the distance the tree is travelling. This information should be clearly labelled or ask the seller where the tree was grown.

You can make sure it’s grown sustainably by looking for the FSC or Soil Association logos.

Typically it costs around £60 to rent a tree for the Christmas season, although this price can vary.

While the Christmas tree is under your care, it’s your responsibility to water it daily and to ensure it’s away from a heat source. Depending on the company, if the tree is badly damaged you could lose your deposit.

Growing your own Christmas tree

Growing your own Christmas tree

Full-grown from a sapling

If you choose to grow your own Christmas tree, you can enjoy your tree all year round.

But the average six-foot Christmas tree can take between six to 10 years to fully grow, so this is really only an option for those who are good at forward planning and have a large garden.

A Nordmann Fir Christmas tree sapling can cost as little as £9.99 (and if cared for could be used in your home for many years), while a six-foot tree is likely to set you back at least £50 (and is often a single-use item).

Of course, instead of getting a sapling you can always get a tree with roots and replant it after the New Year.

Caring for your Christmas tree in your home

Caring for your Christmas tree in your home

For living trees that are brought into your home, the Which? Gardening team recommends:

  • Putting a saucer under the pot to protect your furniture and floor, or place the pot inside a larger pot without drainage holes.
  • Choose a cool spot, away from radiators and fires, to prevent the tree from overheating. It should have some natural daylight.
  • Water regularly and don’t let it dry out, but make sure you don’t leave it sitting in water either.
  • Decorate with LED lights that won’t burn the tree.

Small potted trees

Small potted trees

For those with less space, there is also the option of buying and caring for your own small potted tree, which you can grow in the garden or on a balcony and bring in every December to decorate.

Once the festivities are over, gradually introduce the tree to colder conditions outdoors. Keep it in a sheltered position, next to a house wall and out of the wind for a few weeks.

Small trees are available to buy from a variety of retailers and cost between £7 to £15.

Caring for your Christmas tree in your garden

The Which? Gardening team recommends the following to ensure a long and happy life for your tree year round:

  • If heavy frosts are forecasted, cover the tree with a horticultural fleece.
  • Repot your tree every few years when the root outgrows the container. Choose a slightly larger pot with plenty of drainage holes, as conifers hate sitting in damp compost.
  • Use ericaceous compost. Mix in one part horticultural grit or sand to three parts compost for extra drainage.
  • Feed with slow-release ericaceous fertiliser or blood fish and bone in spring, or give a regular low dose of liquid feed from spring to autumn.
  • Water regularly and do not allow it to dry out.
  • A sunny position out of the wind is ideal. Blue-foliage conifers can tolerate partial shade for some of the day.
  • Prune sparingly and only if necessary in spring, nipping back new growth to even the shape and encourage branching.

Artificial Christmas trees

Artificial Christmas trees

If you are one of the many households that already own a fake Christmas tree we suggest using it for as long as possible to get your money’s worth out of it.

Then when the time to replace it finally comes, consider a non-plastic fake tree or a pre-owned one, which can be found online or in a local charity shop.

Bear in mind that if you purchase a new average-sized plastic tree, according to activesustainability.com you’ll need to use it for at least twelve years to offset its carbon footprint.

Another option is to get an artificial tree made from sustainable materials, such as wood.

There is a growing market for these new and unique tree sculptures, which in theory should last for decades.

Real tree from FSC certified sellers

Real tree from FSC certified sellers

FSC is a global forest certification system for wood, paper and other forest products.

FSC-certified Christmas trees are worth looking out for as it means that these trees were grown as part of a well-managed forest, protecting forest plants and animals.

For more information visit their website and learn about the FSC certification system.

Consider where it was grown

Another thing to consider when checking the label is how far the tree has travelled.

While Scotland is a large producer of Christmas trees, due to its ideal soil and good weather, some trees come to the UK from as far as Norway or beyond.

Always check the label to see which forest it was grown in.

For example, if a tree travelled only by car from Oslo to London that’s a trip of over 1000 miles, while Inverness to London is just under 600 miles.

What should you do with a dead Christmas tree?

What should you do with a dead Christmas tree?

Christmas tree recycling

Nearly six million Christmas trees go into landfills each year, which is hard to imagine.

It’s much better to recycle your Christmas tree if you can and there’s lots of places nationwide where you can do this. Many local councils even offer a Christmas tree collection once a year.

Otherwise you can usually have your tree collected as part of the garden waste collection, but we’d recommend cutting it up into three or four smaller bits first.

Composting

If you have the space you may wish to compost your old Christmas tree.

You’ll need to strip the branches and then cut them and the trunk into very small pieces (ideally no bigger than your thumb).

A wood shredder would make this a quick job if you have one.

If you don’t have a wood shredder, it’s worth bearing in mind that thick pieces of wood can take around two years to fully decompose.

Christmas tree upcycling

Christmas tree upcycling

Another idea, which perhaps is a bit more outside of the box, is upcycling your Christmas tree.

If you are more arts and crafts minded, this may be a fun festive challenge for the end of the Christmas season.

Which? verdict

If you already own a fake Christmas tree, you’re best off keeping it for as long as possible.

However, if you are getting a new Christmas tree this year, then consider potentially renting or growing your own, or go for a sustainable, non-plastic fake tree.

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