Tips and Tricks for Buying the Perfect Artificial Christmas Tree

Artificial trees can be just as lovely as real trees, and a lot more convenient. Here's how to pick the right one for your space.

Updated July 16, 2021
Girl Decorates An Artificial Christmas Tree

There are few tips and tricks that can help you buy the perfect Christmas tree when you're left with only artificial options. Significantly more sustainable than live Christmas tress, artificial trees come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Due to the assortment of fake Christmas trees on the market, some things you'll want to consider are size, material, style, warranties, and storage. Thankfully, you've arrived at this one-stop-guide for all things artificial Christmas tree.

Deciding on the Right Size

Before you go down the online shopping rabbit hole, take a second to assess where you want to set-up your Christmas tree. Break out a tape measure and find the height and width of the space that you're envisioning setting your tree up in. Though most artificial trees aren't going to pose much of a problem in the ceiling department, you want to make sure to also check your ceiling heights. You might have more space than you expected to buy the towering tree of your dreams.

Tiny trees on pink background with snow

Standard Heights

According to Balsam Hill, artificial Christmas trees have standard heights, making them easy to purchase once you know the set dimensions. The company offers a helpful guideline for determining the perfect artificial Christmas tree height for your home.

  • Tabletop trees: Under 6' high (normally between the 1'-3' range) this is a good choice for a tabletop, especially if you live in a small space.
  • Apartment size: 6' to 6'5" range is ideal for an apartment or small condo.
  • Average home: 7' to 7'5" trees are the most popular heights sold for average homes.
  • Larger homes: 9' trees are often selected for homes with high ceilings.
  • Two-story ceiling heights: Homes with two-story open ceilings can accommodate 10' to 15' trees.

Tree Toppers and Tree Height

Just because you have an 8' ceiling doesn't mean you want to purchase an 8' tall artificial Christmas tree. Check out some of the reasons why purchasing a tree that's exactly the same height of your ceiling isn't a great idea:

  • If you have an existing topper, such as an angel or star, then measure its height and subtract from the ceiling height to get the maximum tree height you can use.
  • As a standard, allow at least 10" to 12" for a topper.
  • For visual aesthetics, leave at least an inch between the topper and ceiling.

Tree Width

Once you know how tall of a tree your space can accommodate, assess how wide your tree can be. The widths available include, full, slim, narrow and flatback (great for corners).

  • Add three to six inches to your measurement so the tree won't appear crammed into the space.
  • The more space you have around the tree or on each side, the easier it will be to decorate and place presents underneath.
  • Most companies provide the actual measurements of the tree's width. Be sure to check if it'll fit in your space.

Types and Materials of Fake Christmas Trees

Once you know what the height and width you need your artificial Christmas tree to be, you can start thinking about the type of tree you want your fake one to emulate and the style of tree you think would look best in your home.

Christmas tree branch

Tree Species

Every retailer has specific designs for the trees that they manufacture, so there will be some variation within each artificial tree line that you look at. In fact, some of these designs are even trademarked. However, the industry generally concedes on there being three ideal choices for tree species to replicate their trees after:

  • Fir: The lower branches are wide and turned down with soft flat needles.
  • Spruce: The branches grow upturned. The needles are short, stiff and square.
  • Pine: The branches turn upward. The needles grow in clusters radiating from one point. White pines have five needle clusters while red pines have two.

Materials to Consider: PE or PVC

The National Tree Company explains that PE (Polyethylene) trees are pretty realistic looking since they're molded from actual tree branches. The PE is also combined with PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) to create a hyperrealistic look. PE provides a thick, realistic appearance. PVC gives a flat look to the limbs and usually costs less than PE.

Popular Styles of artificial Christmas Trees

Another consideration is the style of tree you like best. Here are some of the many types of styles that artificial trees come in:

  • Green: A green tree is the most natural, organic looking design and looks the most realistic of all the types.
  • Flocked: The branches appear to be covered in snow, though the amount of snowfall varies.
  • Tinsel/aluminum: Popular in the space age-influenced culture of the 1960s, the tinsel tree has enjoyed a nostalgic comeback. The shiny needles reflect all types of light, especially the tree lights.
  • Feather: Some feather trees feature real feathers, such as goose, while others are made of synthetic feathers. These come in all colors and a few even feature glittered feathers. Most of these are tabletop heights, usually no more than 30" high.
  • Colored Trees: One of the most fun opportunities with artificial Christmas trees is being able to purchase ones in unusual colors like purple, pink, blue, or white.
Pink christmas tree
  • Pre-Decorated: To save time and money on ornaments, some people prefer to find pre-decorated Christmas trees; unfortunately, it does mean that you can switch up the way your tree looks every year if you enjoy doing that.

Tree Density

Christmas tree density refers to the what you might call the 'fullness' of a tree. Things that affect the visual density of an artificial Christmas tree include how tightly packed its branches are, the number of branches it has, the shape of its leaves, and so on. To actually assess the density of an artificial Christmas tree, you determine the tree's branch tips and tip count. Take a look at how to do these calculations from home.

Branch Tip

Branch tips, sometimes referred to as attached tips by the manufacturer, feature small ends which can indicate the quality of a tree. The higher the branch tip count, the higher the quality of tree as it'll appear much more realistic than trees with fewer branch tips since they directly correlate to the tree's fullness. However, some trees are designed to expose the trunk and so might have fewer branch tips than other trees in a similar price range.

Tip Count

The higher the tip count, the fuller the tree and the more ornaments it'll support. Commercial Christmas Decorations recommends specific tip counts for the best look based on tree height.

  • 6'5": Best tip counts are 800 to 900.
  • 7'5": Aim for 1200 to 1500 tip counts.
  • 9'5": Look for tip counts from 2000 to 3000.
  • 12': A good tip count is from 3500 to 5000.

Two Types of Branches

There are two types of branch construction in which modern Christmas trees are designed with: hinged and hooked. Consumer Reports advises that if you're looking to save money, hooked branches cost less. Keep in mind how storage can affect your choice as well. Hooked branches may be cheaper, but they do require more space to store, while hinged branches fold easily into a center pole and take up less space to store.

  • Hinged branches are permanently fixed to the center pole of the tree and unfold to full size. Most come in three removable sections.
  • Hooked branches must be hooked into the center pole and removed when taking down the tree.

How to Decide on Lighting

The final decision you need to make before striking out on a shopping trip is whether you want the lights already installed or if you plan to add your own lights after you have your tree setup. You can opt for white, colored lights, or a mixture of the two. For trees that come pre-lit, some of them have color change options (especially prominent in fiber optic trees), though most of them are either white or colored lights. Pay attention to how many lights are included with a pre-lit tree to be sure you are satisfied with the lighting and the amount of light it's going to produce. If you're buying lights, it's recommend that a Christmas tree should have 300 lights for every foot of height. If you're buying a larger fake Christmas tree, its best to find longer strands of Christmas lights so you don't have to work with extension cords or multiple outlets.

Christmas tree and decorative elements

LED vs. Incandescent

Most Christmas lights come as small LED bulbs, though you can still find strands of incandescent bulbs around. There are a couple of differences in LED and incandescent lights beyond LED lights burning cooler. For one, the advantage of incandescent lights is the strand will continue to light even when bulbs burn out, while some LED strands fail altogether when one link in the chain is broken. Similarly, LED bulbs don't really burn out in the way that incandescent bulbs do - they dim over their lifespan. On the whole, LED bulbs burn brighter and are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs are, hence their massive popularity.

Things to Consider Before You Buy

A few companies, like Balsam Hill, offer a sample kit you can purchase for a nominal fee, if you're not completely sold on one type of artificial Christmas tree. The kit contains end branches of each type of tree that the company sells. There are also a few other things to consider before making a purchase.

  • Warranties - Some companies offer warranties on the foliage, such as 5-year or 10-year warranties. Lights often come with separate warranties, such as a 3-year warranty for pre-lit trees.

  • Tree Stands - Artificial Christmas trees come with self-incorporated stands. Metal stands are sturdier than plastic ones. Some tree stands have a scratch-resistant finish which will keep the stand looking new longer. Before you buy, check if the stand has rubber feet to prevent slipping and to keep from scratching floors.

  • Best Time to Buy- There are a few times during the year when you can luck up on some good deals for Artificial Christmas trees. Sign up for email lists to receive notice of sales. Off season is a great time to buy for discounted prices, though some companies mark down inventory mid-December and January. You can also find great savings during Black Friday and some special purchase sales.

How to Buy the Perfect Artificial Christmas Tree

By taking time to understand what you can expect when purchasing an artificial Christmas tree, you can take advantage of these tips and tricks to find the best fit for your home. This knowledge ensures that you'll end up with a tree you and your family will enjoy for many Christmas seasons to come.

Tips and Tricks for Buying the Perfect Artificial Christmas Tree