When you're wondering about the difference between a Douglas fir and a balsam fir, or a pine and a spruce, we can help! Here's our guide to sorting out which type to choose for your holiday celebrations.

By BH&G Garden Editors
Updated July 15, 2020
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It's hard to beat the aroma of a fresh Christmas tree filling your home. And for many of us, an evergreen decked out in merrily twinkling lights and shiny baubles is an essential part of our holiday celebrations. Whether you prefer to cut one down yourself or just pick from pre-cut ones—or maybe even order one online—it can be a bit confusing to choose from a bunch of trees that all seem to look the same. But don't stress—you really can't go wrong no matter what you pick. Here are seven of our favorite types of Christmas trees and the advantages each one offers.

Barbara Elliott Martin

Common Types of Christmas Trees

Although the region you live plays a large part in the types of evergreens locally available, the most common ones include firs, pines, and spruces, mainly because they are fairly easy to grow. However, across the United States you can find more than 35 different species grown for their Christmastime appeal. They all offer sturdy green boughs, a pleasant scent, and the classic shape that everyone looks for in their tree. But each has its own unique features that can affect its overall appearance and performance.

Peter Krumhardt

For a Full Shape: Douglas Fir

Boasting a pyramidal shape and bluish-green color, Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is a long-lasting cut tree that holds its needles well. It's one of the most popular types of Christmas trees, available in most regions. We love how lush and full it looks—thanks to its compact branches—and its strong evergreen scent.

Peter Krumhardt

For Heavy Ornaments: Fraser Fir

A richly fragrant evergreen tree, Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) has bicolor needles—deep green on top, silvery-white below. It is more cone-shape than pyramidal so it fits well in a small room or tucked in a tight corner. If you have a collection of heavy ornaments or lots of lights and garlands, the Fraser is a good choice because it has very sturdy branches.

Peter Krumhardt

For the Best Scent: Grand Fir

With shiny, bicolor needles—bright green on top, white-striped underneath—grand fir (Abies grandis) makes an elegant backdrop for sparkling Christmas lights. We love that its needles are softer to the touch than some other popular firs, and give the tree a fine-textured appearance. This species is possibly the most fragrant among firs, boasting a strong, spicy scent sure to make your home smell like the holidays.

Peter Krumhardt

For the Classic Shape: Noble Fir

This beautiful fir (Abies procera) has well-spaced branches covered with upwardly curved, blue-green needles. The dense needles of the noble fir aren't as prickly as some of its cousins, though its stiff branches can still support plenty of ornaments and lights. Noble firs have a similar pyramid-shape to Douglas firs, but we think they have an even more classic Christmas tree appearance with an almost a layered look to the branches.

Bob Stefko Photography Inc.

For a Tidy Tree: Scotch Pine

Its conical shape, piney scent, and excellent needle retention make Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) a popular cut tree for the holidays. The soft green needles stay on the branches even if the tree gets dry, so you won't be left with lots of cleanup if you forget to water it for a day or two. They often have slightly crooked trunks, which can be a plus if you like a tree with a little personality.

Denny Schrock

For a Minimal Tree: Eastern White Pine

A fresh, green color and tiered branching structure make Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) worthy of yuletide consideration. Its long, thin needles result in a more texturized Christmas tree, and it's also a popular choice for wreaths. We especially love a white pine for a minimalist Christmas tree look—their flexible branches aren't the best for supporting heavy ornaments, but you can still deck them out with garlands and lights.

Peter Krumhardt

For Eye-Catching Texture: Eastern Red Cedar

Native to the eastern half of North America, Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) makes a lovely cut tree with plenty of homespun appeal and a pungent fragrance. It has a very distinctive appearance compared with the more traditional Christmas tree look because of its texturized needles held in feathery-looking bunches. If you bring one home, keep a close eye on the tree stand. These trees can dry out quickly so make sure you're giving it plenty of water.

Before you head out to shop for your tree this year, keep in mind the advantages of the different species you'll encounter. Consider which features are most important to you to help narrow down your selection, but know that whichever tree you bring home is sure to fill your home with beauty and scent throughout the holiday season.

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