Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees: How to Choose the Right One for Your Home

Learn which kind of Christmas tree best suits your home.

Each holiday season memories are made around the Christmas tree. When it comes to what kind of tree you should decorate and display in your home, people tend to have strong feelings one way or the other. Should you get a live tree or an artificial tree? It really just comes down to personal preference.

Christmas tree next to white sofa with gifts
Jay Wilde

If you are grappling with indecision about real trees vs. artificial Christmas trees, know that it's okay to review the pros and cons of both before making a commitment. Some may choose live trees because they're more eco-friendly, but cost, maintenance factors, and personal preference typically reign supreme. If you’re still torn, here’s what you need to know to make the best choice this holiday season. 

Pros and Cons of Artificial Christmas Trees

Artificial Christmas trees are typically made with pieces of steel that mimic the shape of a tree trunk and branches. Plastic leaves (usually green or white) are affixed to the metal frame to make the tree look realistic. Some already come with the lights and a topper pre-attached, whereas others leave the decorating to the owner. While most people think that artificial trees are more expensive than real ones, Chris Butler, CEO of National Tree Company, told us customers can expect lower-than-usual prices this year.

“Due to unusually high inventory, consumers can expect significant discounts—50% off or more—from major retailers for a top-of-the-line artificial tree," he says. Because artificial tree prices can range from $25 to $1000+, he says it's best to set a budget before starting your search.

And while you likely will spend more upfront on an artificial tree than a live one, keep in mind that it's a one-time cost, rather than an annual price. The longer you keep and reuse your artificial tree, the less expensive it becomes.

Pros of an Artificial Christmas Tree

  • They can be reused for years: Artificial trees can last up to 20 years with proper care and storage.
  • They save on time: Displaying an artificial tree eliminates the need to go out shopping for a tree every year. Your family will thank you for not dragging them out into the cold temperatures, and you won't have to worry about how to haul the tree home or how to dispose of it at the end of the season.
  • They're mostly maintenance-free: Once you've dragged the tree up from the basement, there's no extra maintenance required. Unlike a live tree, there's no need to add water or trim the branches.
  • They have better safety features: These days, artificial trees come with fire-resistant materials. This means you can hang string lights without fear.
  • You can skip the bugs: Don't worry about bringing unwanted creatures into your home this season! Unlike live trees which come directly from the great outdoors, artificial trees typically don't attract pests or bugs. 
  • They're allergy-free: Artificial trees are great for people sensitive to outdoor allergens. Even if no one in your home is allergic to them, putting up a faux tree is an easy way to be considerate of holiday guests.

Cons of an Artificial Christmas Tree

  • They're not great for the environment: While you might think that faux trees are better for the planet since it saves a real tree from being chopped down, that's actually not the case. Artificial trees are made of plastic, which is not easily recyclable or biodegradable. Plus, you have to factor in the added carbon footprint of manufacturing the trees and shipping them to stores and homes all over the world.
  • They're hard to repair: Over time, the hinges, branches, and lights may break or bend. It’s hard to replace just one part of the tree, so in those instances, you might end up buying a whole new one.

Pros and Cons of Real Christmas Trees

Many families love the tradition of shopping for, choosing, and chopping down the season’s best Christmas tree. But it can be difficult to transport your tree home, and live trees do require quite a bit of maintenance. Not to mention getting rid of the tree at the end of the holiday season can be a lot of hassle. 

Dennis Sons, co-owner of Tennessee Wholesale Nursery, a third-generation nursery that has been in business for 68 years, says a real cut tree is only a fraction of the cost of a nice artificial one. "But keep in mind the cut live tree is disposable whereas the artificial one will last for years,” he warns.

However, he also says a fresh-cut tree can last four to six weeks in your home if it's regularly watered at the base. That means you can shop for it Thanksgiving weekend and still have a fresh-smelling evergreen on Christmas morning. And when you're ready to take it down, there are easy ways to keep it alive long past the holiday. “With a root ball you can use inside and replant, it lasts for as long as the tree lives,” he suggests.

Pros of a Live Christmas Tree

  • They smell good: The scent of a live Christmas tree is unmistakable. That fragrance is one of the main reasons why people prefer real Christmas trees.
  • Each one is unique: With a live evergreen, you won’t walk into a friend’s house and find that you have the same tree. It can also be a fun challenge to decorate a different tree each season.
  • It's a sentimental tradition: Picking out a real Christmas tree is a long-standing tradition for many families. This is something the whole family can enjoy.
  • They're better for the environment: Contrary to popular belief, displaying a real tree is actually more environmentally friendly than reusing an artificial one for a few years. Natural forests are not destroyed, and local tree farms tend to plant several trees for each one that is chopped down. Live trees take about 10 years to reach full size, during which they're removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and actually cleaning the air. Real trees are also easy to mulch or compost after the season has ended. Plus, they don't have to be shipped.
  • It supports the community: Buying a real Christmas tree supports local growers and your local economy.

Cons of a Live Christmas Tree

  • They're a lot of work: It's no secret that properly maintaining a real Christmas tree takes effort. They require regular watering to keep the branches hydrated, and you'll need to consistently sweep any fallen needles throughout the season.
  • They're not as sturdy: Unlike faux trees which are often made with a metal frame, real trees can be a lot less sturdy. You'll need to be more careful hanging heavy ornaments or layering on heavy garlands to keep the branches from drooping or snapping.
  • They're a fire hazard: Because real evergreens begin to dry out the second they're chopped down, a live Christmas tree is a major fire hazard. Never use real candles near a live tree, and be cautious of faulty string lights.
  • They can carry allergens and bugs: For people with allergies, real Christmas trees can trigger severe reactions. And since they typically go straight from the tree farm into your living room, there's sure to be an extra bug or two brought along.

Real vs. Faux Christmas Trees: Which Is More Eco-Friendly?

“If you're thinking about your environmental impact of your Christmas tree, it's really down to your circumstances on whether you should get a real or fake Christmas tree,” says Omar Agor-Wood, founder of zero-waste shop Pick Ethical. “The carbon footprint of a discarded fake tree is about ten times that of a real tree: so, if you have the money and space to store an artificial tree for years to come that could be your best option.” By contrast, if a real tree is discarded in a landfill, it will release methane—a greenhouse gas. So if you decide to get a real tree, have a plan for how you’ll get rid of it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much are real Christmas trees?

    Depending on the size of the tree, a real Christmas tree could cost anywhere from $50 to $400. Delivery charges also vary depending on the size of the tree. And if you need to haul it away and compost it later, there are additional charges for those services.

  • How long does a real Christmas tree last?

    When properly cared for, a real Christmas tree that is fresh-cut and healthy can last for four to five weeks. Indoors, firs typically last about 5 weeks, whereas spruces and pines generally last around 4 weeks. To preserve the tree for longer, Agor-Wood advises adding 1/4 cup artificial sweeter to the water when installing a real tree. 

  • How can I keep a real Christmas tree alive?

    To keep a real Christmas tree alive for longer, ensure that it has plenty of clean water. Also, display it in a room set to a low temperature to slow down the drying process.

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