Nordmann or Norway spruce?
Nordmanns and Norway spruces are the most commonly available Christmas trees, with Nordmanns the most commonly sold as they don't drop their needles as readily as Norway spruces.
- Characteristics: Cone-shaped, with open, spiky branches and silvery bark. Long, glossy, dark green needles, with a white stripe on the underside.
- Pros: Soft foliage and great needle retention have made this Britain’s most popular Christmas tree. Will stay fresh for a long time as long as it’s watered.
- Cons: One of the more expensive trees.
- Characteristics: Traditionally the most popular tree, but now overtaken by the Nordmann fir. Shorter, sharper needles that are a lighter green than those of the Nordmann fir.
- Pros: One of the cheapest trees. Soft foliage – so kids won’t hurt their hands when decorating.
- Cons: Prone to dropping its needles – you’ll need to water it regularly to prevent this.
Cut, containerised (potted) or container-grown trees?
You'll find Christmas trees sold either as cut trees or ones in pots. There's a crucial difference between the two kinds offered in pots that affects their longevity.
Cut Christmas trees
These are field-grown trees that are sawn off at ground level. Avoid any that are nailed to wooden stands as they’ll be harder to keep fresh. Many Norway spruces are trimmed during growth to improve the shape but are likely to cost more – look for ‘premium’ quality trees. When we trialled them, we put cut Nordmann and Norway trees into plastic stands with a good-sized water reservoir. The Nordmann started to look a little jaded and the Norway lost a few needles, but overall they looked fine after three weeks.
Verdict: If you just want an ornamental tree, this is the cheapest option. Treat it like a large cut flower and don’t forget to recycle it.
Container-grown Christmas trees
These are the most expensive option and have spent their lives in a pot. When we trialled them our two trees had been grown in small plastic pots and placed in a decorative pot; large roots growing through the bottom of the inner pot had been cut off. Both trees took up water and looked quite good at the end of the trial, although the Norway spruce had lost a few needles. Both would be worth keeping after Christmas. We also bought a smaller Norway spruce in a larger pot. Although this was the most expensive, it looked the best at the end of our trial.
- Verdict: A good investment if you want to keep a tree in the garden for two or three years.
Containerised (potted) Christmas trees
When we trialled these, the containerised trees we found were labelled ‘potted’ and the label said ‘freshly lifted … with a few roots’. They had been dug up and potted, destroying most of their roots in the process. In our trial, these were the hardest to look after as they were rammed into their pots so tightly that watering was impossible, and they didn’t take up much water from the saucer. Both types dried out quickly, the Norway losing most of its needles. The Nordmann didn’t fare much better, looking dull and lifeless at the end of our trial.
- Verdict: Avoid these trees. A cut tree is a better bet, or look for a container-grown tree.
How to care for your Christmas tree
The secret of a long-lasting Christmas tree is to care for it properly as then it will be less quick to drop its needles.
Caring for a cut Christmas tree
- Buy it as late as you dare – ideally the weekend before Christmas – if you want it to look good and last until Twelfth Night
- Look for freshly delivered stock. Choose one with a good shape and if you opt for a cut tree, pick one that has at least 30cm of clear trunk at the base.
- When you get it home, saw the bottom 3cm off the trunk of a cut tree and stand it in a bucket of water, somewhere cool. Clamp it securely into a stand with a water reservoir and top this up regularly. If the water disappears quickly, this is a good sign as it means the tree is absorbing it.
- Stand trees in a cool part of the room, well away from radiators. A living tree will do best in a cool room, porch or conservatory, especially if you intend to keep it. Stand the pot of the living tree in a deep saucer and keep the saucer topped up with water.
Caring for a Christmas tree in a pot
- Keep your tree indoors for no more than two weeks. If necessary, you can keep your tree in a sheltered spot outside until you’re ready to bring it in.
- Put a saucer under the pot to protect your furniture/floor, or place the pot inside another one 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 don’t leave it sitting in water.
- Try using ice cubes, which also help to keep the roots cool.
- Decorate with LED lights that won’t burn the tree.
What to with your tree after Christmas
- Cut trees are sometimes collected by local council refuse services.
- Alternatively, you'll need to take it to your local tip. Wrap it in a large sheet of plastic to avoid getting too many needles in your car.
- If you have a garden shredder or can borrow one, chop up your trees with loppers or a pruning saw and shred it. The shreddings can then either go in the compost bin or be used as a mulch, although avoid using them around plants as they steal nitrogen from the soil as they rot down.
- Trees in pots can be planted in the garden, though bear in mind that they will grow far too big for most gardens.
- Alternatively they can be kept in their pot and grown outside until Christmas. Each year, remove the top layer of compost in spring and put in fresh compost mixed with controlled-release feed. Water whenever the surface of the compost feels dry.