In the late 1800s, home-made white Christmas trees were made by wrapping strips of cotton batting around leafless branches creating the appearance of a snow-laden tree. In the 1940s and 1950s, popularized by Hollywood films in the late 1930s, flocking was very popular on the West Coast of the United States. There were home flocking kits that could be used with vacuum cleaners. In the 1980s some trees were sprayed with fluffy white flocking to simulate snow.
If our pick isn’t your cup of tea, the good news is, you generally get what you pay for in artificial trees, and you can rely on a few key specs when shopping. The price directly relates to the number of branch tips, the height, and the girth—an often-overlooked factor that Gurino emphasized in our interview—and all those details contribute to the tree’s general level of realism. Pretty much all trees come out of a handful of factories in China and Taiwan to be branded and sold here, with the same tree sometimes renamed. National Tree Company representatives told us on a visit to its New Jersey headquarters that the tree sold as the Bucks County Fir in Pennsylvania may be called something totally different in Connecticut. You may very well find another brand selling a different version of the Downswept Douglas Fir, disguised by some superficial finishing touches that could suit your style better. If one of the brands we recommend has something you like, and the specs and price seem in line with our reporting, you’ve probably found your perfect tree.
Puleo is Larry Gurino’s favored brand at House of Holiday; like National Tree, it’s a New Jersey–based, family-run business. Unfortunately, Puleo is not as widely available as some other brands, but its quality ranks among the best. Gurino has sold Puleo trees for 20 years, and they were some of the nicest-looking trees we came across in our search. If you find one you like, you can be confident in your purchase.
Water Basin: To keep your tree hydrated throughout the holiday season, look for Christmas tree stands that can hold the recommended amount of water your tree needs. Trees that are 6 feet tall require about a gallon of water a day, while taller trees need around 1.5 to 1.75 gallons a day. Be sure to water your tree every day. A dry Christmas tree is a major fire hazard. Plus, not watering your Christmas tree will cause it to shed its pine needles and lose its brilliance.
And even if you have room to store an artificial tree, bear in mind that, as Gurino noted, it won’t easily go back into its original box: “Once you fluff it, it’ll never fit exactly.” After we were done with our photo shoot, I spent about half an hour painstakingly collapsing each branch of our tree, one by one, as tight as I could against the central pole, to prep the tree for shipping. My best advice: Start from the top (the shortest branches) and end at the bottom (the longest branches). First pinch the branch tips together into a sort of bundle; then fold up the branch itself. Even after I did that, though, it made some obvious bulges in the original shipping box.
Wirecutter senior editor Erica Ogg’s parents, Steve and Debi Ogg, tested the Krinner for a year and they reported that it was “probably the best Christmas tree stand we’ve owned.” Steve was especially impressed with the easy setup, saying, “I’ve never been able to set up a Christmas tree by myself. I’ve always had to have someone else hold it up, while I’m down there [trying to screw in bolts].” With the Krinner, “I could hold it in and use the foot ratchet thing, didn’t need anyone else.”
We tested the Krinner on two trees: a 6-foot-8 tree, which we put up unassisted, and a bigger 8-foot-4 tree, which was easier with a second person. As long as you can heave the tree into the Krinner’s open jaws, you may be able to manage it on your own. This is a huge distinction between the Krinner and basically every other stand, which forces you to get down on your belly to tighten individual bolts. Even for a smaller tree, that’s nearly impossible to do without help.
Lead serves as a stabilizer in some forms of PVC. The one serious study (PDF) we’ve seen on artificial Christmas trees, published in 2004 in the Journal of Environmental Health, found that the lead levels and risk of lead exposure were generally very low, and well below federal guidelines at the time; a few models were outliers, however, and one slightly exceeded the federal limits. Lead exposure occurred in two ways: direct contact with the branches—as may occur when people are setting the trees up and decorating them—and contact with PVC dust beneath the tree, the result of physical decomposition of the “pine needles,” a particular concern for crawling infants. Significantly, new trees (new in 2004, that is) generally showed much lower levels of lead than trees manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s. The authors concluded that while the proportion of trees made with lead-stabilized PVC had “decreased only modestly” in the 20 years preceding 2004, “the amount of lead stabilizer used has been reduced to a much larger extent,” suggesting a long-term trend toward low-lead or lead-free artificial trees.
For one, several of this GE tree’s specs are favorable when compared with our top pick from National Tree. It’s the same height and width, but it has more branch tips for a fuller appearance (2,073 versus 1,867). Like our top pick, the GE lets you switch between white and multicolor lighting modes; additionally, the lights connect automatically through the central pole as you assemble the three sections of the tree, a handy (but not vital) feature. But we especially love the way GE’s LED Christmas lights look—in our test of Christmas lights, we found GE’s tones closest to the familiar warm glow of incandescent bulbs. That’s not to say anything against National Tree’s lights: We found them very pretty, especially the pale gold of the white-light setting. But if you seek something close to the incandescent look, the GE tree may be your ticket.
With all of that considered I think it is the best Christmas tree possible because it made my wife smile and put us both in the holiday spirit when nothing else was possible. I'm glad we didn't deal with the big real tree that we have to put up, drag out the ornaments, keep watered, make sure the animals don’t' mess with it, and then take it all down in a few weeks. That seems like a lot of work. I doubt this will be the primary tree many years but thanks to this I don't miss a tree and can really appreciate the simplicity and the holiday.
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A Balsam Hill artificial Christmas tree brings all the holiday cheer of a live tree to your home without the hassle or messes that come with them. With our hinged branches and lightweight, collapsible stands, setup is simple. Your Christmas tree will be ready to decorate in no time! We also offer both prelit and unlit options, so you can choose to whether you prefer the convenience of never having to set up lights or keep the option to change what type of lights you use from year to year.