How to Choose the Best Artificial Christmas Tree
A Good Tree Isn't Hard to Find
Believe it or not, real Christmas trees are fast becoming a thing of the past — only 18% of Americans use them anymore. Most people prefer artificial trees because they’re usually easier to set up, more cost-effective, and environmentally friendly. But not all trees are created equal, and thanks to online retailers, your options can be overwhelming. Whether you’re looking for a family room centerpiece or a corner accent, we’re here to help.
What to Look For
High tip count
If you want an artificial tree that looks like the real thing, pay attention to tip count — the number of faux needles on the entire tree. Higher-end trees can range from 3,000 to 5,000 tips for a 7-foot tree, but plenty of 2,000-tip trees look great. Slim and “pencil” trees will always have a lower tip count because of their shorter branches, usually between 500 and 1,000.
A strong top branch
You don’t want your tree-topper hanging on for dear life or dangling at a 45-degree angle. Some trees with reinforced top branches will say so in the product description. If they don’t, ask the manufacturer before you buy or open the customer reviews and search for mentions of “top branch.”
No foliage gaps
Ideally, you shouldn’t be able to see the center pole of your tree through the branches, because a big gap in the foliage can ruin the illusion of a “real” tree. Higher tip counts can help with that, but most trees still require some fluffing when they’re first taken out of storage, to make the branches look full and thick. Of course, some high-end trees have a realistic trunk that’s meant to be seen, like Balsam Hill’s Alpine Balsam Fir.
A tree that’s easy to set up (and store)
Artificial Christmas trees are definitely easier to set up (especially pre-lit ones), but they still require a little TLC. Almost every artificial tree will break down into multiple pieces for storage — the fewer pieces, the less time they take to set up. For instance, Balsam Hill makes some nifty two-piece “flip trees” you can install in 30 seconds, but their storage bags are nearly the same size as the trees themselves. Your best bet is to think about how much storage space you’ve got on-hand, check the dimensions of your tree’s storage bag(s) or box, and look for a tree you can set up in five minutes or less.
Stay away from hooked branches, since they have to be individually hung every time you set up the tree. Look for hinged branches instead, which are permanently attached to the center pole.
Things to Consider
How much display space you have
We can’t stress enough how important it is to physically measure your space instead of eyeballing it. A single inch makes a huge difference when your Christmas tree hits the ceiling, and most artificial models are available in a large range of heights, from 5 to 12 feet. Of course, height isn’t your only size concern: measure the width of your space as well, and find a tree that fits with a little room to spare. If you’re really pressed for space, consider a potted tree.
What shape you want
Artificial trees come in all shapes, from the broad shoulders of a Fraser fir to a “pencil tree” like Balsam Hill’s Sonoma Slim. If you don’t have much horizontal space to work with, there are even flatback trees that stand flush against your wall. For a traditional living room centerpiece, a fuller, wider tree will make the most dramatic impression. For a smaller room, hallway, or foyer, consider slimmer profiles.
Prelit or unlit
This is probably the biggest decision you’ll make before buying an artificial tree. Prelit trees can run $100 to $300 higher than their unlit counterparts, but you won’t have to hang and space the lights every year. If you can afford it, save yourself the hassle and go with a prelit tree.
Incandescent or LED bulbs
Your eyes may not be able to tell the difference, but your electric bill will. Incandescent bulbs are based on the same technology Thomas Edison patented in 1880 — a wire filament that’s heated until it glows. Since it takes a lot of energy to keep those wires glowing, incandescent bulbs result in higher electric bills and shorter life spans (around 1,200 hours per bulb). We recommend light-emitting diodes (LEDs) because they’re much more energy-efficient than their incandescent ancestors, and last anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 hours.
An artificial Christmas tree usually costs slightly more than a real tree up front, but you’ll save money in the long run. Most people use artificial trees for at least 10 years, according to Google Consumer Surveys, so that’s nine years you won’t have to spend a dime on a real tree. Prices for full-size artificial trees can range from $75 to more than $5,000, so you should be able to find something that fits your budget — just make sure you don’t pay for features you don’t want or need.
Great Artificial Christmas Trees for 2018
Best Choice Products 7.5ft Pre-Lit Spruce Hinged Artificial Christmas Tree
This budget-friendly starter tree includes 550 LED lights, 1,346 branch tips, and breaks down into three easily storable pieces.
Balsam Hill Classic Blue Spruce Prelit Artificial Christmas Tree
A realistic centerpiece with 850 hand-strung LED lights and 2,366 branch tips, plus cotton gloves, extra parts, and a foot pedal.
National Tree 7.5 Foot Dunhill Fir Tree with 750 Dual Color LED Lights with 9 Functions
For a little more functionality, this 2,514-tip tree changes from clear to multicolored lights with the touch of a foot pedal.
Balsam Hill Saratoga Spruce Prelit Artificial Christmas Tree, 7 Feet, LED Multi-Colored Lights
A handsome 3,035-tip tree with True Needle™ tips for increased realism and multi-colored LED lights.
Corner & Hallway Trees
Balsam Hill Sonoma Slim Pencil Tree
A pencil tree with incredibly realistic needles. Balsam Hill lets you pick the features you want, but we recommend a prelit model with LED lights.
National Tree 7.5 Foot Kingswood Fir Pencil Tree with 350 Multicolor Lights, Hinged
An affordable slim tree with one drawback — the lights are incandescent, not LED.