The Complete Guide to Choosing the Best Artificial Christmas Tree

If you don't like the mess of a real evergreen, or if allergies prevent you from having a live tree, try an artificial Christmas tree for your holiday decor.

Christmas trees are a classic element in holiday decorating. However, some people don't like the fuss and mess of a live tree, while others have allergies that preclude them from displaying a real evergreen. Buying an artificial Christmas tree might save you the hassle of heading out to the tree farm on a cold day to choose a real tree (cue the iconic Christmas Vacation scene), but there are a few factors to consider before you make a selection.

An artificial tree can also be a more eco-friendly and cost-effective option than chopping down a live fir. If you're wondering how to choose an artificial Christmas tree, consider the size, accents, and height. To help you find the right tree for your home, we talked to Jennifer Derry, chief merchandising officer at Balsam Hill, to learn the must-know tips about selecting artificial Christmas trees.

Use these helpful ideas as a guide when purchasing your fake trees for the holidays. We'll show you how to choose the most realistic artificial Christmas tree with lights or without.

green silver and gold christmas tree decor
Adam Albright

Why Choose an Artificial Christmas Tree?

An artificial Christmas tree is definitely an investment, especially if you buy a nice one. But if you're not totally set on a live option, there are plenty of benefits to opting for an artificial tree. For one, they last season after season while staying evergreen.

And as Derry says, "choosing an artificial tree doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to the look and feel of a real tree." There are so many realistic tree options (along with plenty of fragrance options for that fresh-cut smell) that your holiday guests won't be able to tell the difference.

Derry says the benefits of artificial trees don't stop there: "They're non-allergenic, flame-retardant, don't need daily watering, and when used for at least five years, they are the most environmentally friendly and cost-effective choice."

Selecting an Artificial Christmas Tree Height and Width

Most artificial Christmas trees for the holidays come in one of three widths, generally labeled as full, slim, or pencil. Artificial trees also come in a range of heights, beginning at the tabletop size and increasing usually in half-foot increments up to about 12 feet. To ensure the best fake tree for your home, measure the spot where you plan to display the fake Christmas tree and leave enough room to maneuver around it to decorate.

Derry recommends allowing for at least 6 inches from the ceiling and the wall to accommodate any tree topper you decide to use in future years. "As for the width of the tree, you should choose a full-size artificial Christmas tree if you have a spacious area and a narrow or slim one for limited spaces," she says.

She also adds that if space is a real concern, you can opt for a flat-back Christmas tree, which allows the tree to sit closer to the wall while still giving you the classic holiday look.

candy cane christmas tree and presents
Adam Albright

Lights or No Lights?

Consider whether a pre-lit tree is worth the added cost. Typically, pre-lit trees are more expensive, but having one will save you time and stress when it's time to decorate the tree. Plus, you don't have to worry about untangling strands of lights after you drag the holiday boxes up from the basement.

If you decide to buy a pre-lit Christmas tree, you'll also need to consider what kind of lights are the best option for you. "Pre-lit artificial trees come with either incandescent or LED lights," Derry explains. "There are benefits to both, as LED lights consume less electricity and produce less heat than incandescent bulbs, but incandescent lights cost less."

Choosing a Fake Tree Material

You can find artificial trees in just about every variety of real trees, so looking through all the options can be overwhelming if you're not sure what you want. "Certain types of trees may hold special meaning because they remind you of the Christmas tree you had growing up, and choosing the right tree just really comes down to personal preference," Derry says.

If you're shopping online, Derry suggests requesting samples of the branches—especially if you're purchasing an expensive tree you plan to use for years. Balsam Hill offers a Branch Sample Kit that allows you to look and feel all 22 kinds of branches before you place an order.

  • Types of Branches: Artificial trees come with two types of branches—hinged or hook-in. Hinged fake trees, which consist of just a few parts, have permanently affixed branches and are generally easier to set up. Hook-in branches are individually hooked into a specific spot on a central tree pole. These fake trees take much more time to put together and cannot be pre-lit, but they also tend to be less expensive.
  • Types of Material: Fake trees are made using one of two types of plastic: PVC or PE. The main difference in materials is in how the trees look. 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. Branch tips may also be sculpted, which means they better replicate the look of a real evergreen.
  • Tinsel, Feather, and Other Artificial Christmas Trees: While many fake trees for Christmas are designed to resemble real evergreens, some of them are designed to fill a different decorating need. Tinsel and feather trees are two common examples; these are typically white, silver, or gold. While many are often used as tabletop trees, tinsel trees are available in full-size as well.

Editor's Tip: The density or tip count indicates how full your fake tree looks. When purchasing, evaluate your fake tree's branches for sturdiness; if you have lots of ornaments, you want branches sturdy enough to hold them.

Christmas tree next to white sofa with gifts
Jay Wilde

Choosing Artificial Tree Accents

  • Pre-lit Fake Trees: Pre-lit artificial trees are a great way to minimize setup and cleanup (and avoid the holiday trauma of a giant ball of tangled lights). However, pre-lit fake trees are generally more expensive, and you can't change the size or color of the lights from year to year. Swapping burned-out lights for fresh ones may also be a challenge. If you choose a pre-lit fake tree, look for one that is labeled "continuous on" or "with burn-out protection." This means that if a single bulb on the strand burns out, the rest of the lights stay on.
  • Flocked or Accented Fake Trees: When an artificial tree is flocked, its branches look like they have been dusted with snow or glitter. You can choose how flocked you want your fake tree to be; some are dusted more heavily than others. Additional fake tree accents also may include natural-looking elements, such as pinecones and berries. Keep in mind that these items cannot be removed, so choose flocked or accented fake trees may not match your decorating style if it changes from year to year.
flocked christmas tree
Courtesy of Lowe's

Additional Considerations When Choosing Fake Trees

  • Price: Just as fake trees can be found in all sizes, they can also be found in all price ranges. Ultimately, the quality of the tree and additional accents will affect the pricing. While off-the-shelf varieties are generally affordable, custom fake trees are also available but keep in mind that they come with a custom price tag.
  • What's Included: The general life expectancy of a fake tree is about 10 years, and some may come with a warranty. Stands are usually included; plastic versions may be less stable than those made of metal. Some fake trees also include additional accessories such as a storage bag. Your fake tree should also be fire-retardant and fade-resistant.
  • Decorating with Both Fake and Real Trees: Both artificial and live evergreens can be deftly worked into a variety of holiday styles and schemes. A small fake tree is a great tabletop choice to display a themed set of decorations or to complete a room's color scheme, in addition to a full-size live evergreen. A miniature tabletop evergreen can be used in a room where there isn't lots of space, such as the kitchen, for added fragrance.
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