However, this GE tree has fewer lights than the National Tree—600 versus 750—so it falls just short of our recommended 100 lights per foot of tree. And at 30 percent polyethylene, versus 37 percent on the National Tree pick, the GE tree has a lower proportion of ultra-realistic branch tips—and a higher proportion of fake-looking PVC “needles.” You’ll never notice a difference from across the room, or even halfway across it, but up close you may find the GE slightly more artificial-looking.
Virtually all contemporary artificial trees have branches permanently mounted on hinges on the center pole. This design means that they all unfurl into place quickly when you set up the tree; in the past, you often had to snap individual branches into sockets on the center pole one by one, a time-consuming and fussy process. For this guide, we sought trees with permanently mounted, hinged branches—not that there’s much choice on that anymore.
Pre-lit trees make up 90 percent of the artificial trees sold in the US, according to the American Christmas Tree Association; incandescent bulbs still dominate, but LEDs are rapidly making inroads. LED bulbs cost a bit more up front but should last longer than incandescents, in both lifespan and durability terms. However, modern incandescents are more reliable than those of the past, and one burned-out bulb no longer necessarily causes the whole string to go dark. On pre-lit trees, you want roughly 100 bulbs (or more) per foot of tree height; less than that looks a bit sparse. Finally, you shouldn’t pay extra for the fancy flashing patterns that are increasingly common, unless you know you’ll use them. As Larry Gurino of House of Holiday confided to us, “Most people don’t use them—they just want to see them [advertised] on the box.”
If you want a rotating stand for a live tree, you don’t have many choices. This one from Northlight will hold trees smaller trees between 4 and 7 feet tall, and up to 65 pounds. You don’t even have to worry about the lights unwrapping from the tree, since this stand rotates 150 degrees one way, then 150 degrees back the other way. Just build in a little slack in the cord to account for that. A three-way switch lets you choose among the three settings: rotation, rotation with Christmas songs, and songs only.
Unlit wreaths offer plenty of variety in style with the addition of decorative embellishments - no lights attached. Many unlit wreaths are tradtionally designed with neatly tucked branches, while others have billowy twigs that expand outwards from the center. Like pre-lit wreaths, unlit ones also come in styles that mimic fir, spruce, and pine branches so it's easy to select a texture you like.
A feature that’s available only with LEDs is the ability to toggle between all-white and multicolor light—but most artificial trees are still sold with only one color mode or the other. Our pick is one of the relatively few that come with color-switching lights (and we made sure that all our other picks in this guide have this ability, too). We think this versatility is a big selling point for a tree you’ll have around for several seasons, and possibly multiple settings and occasions. For example, you could use all-white for a more sophisticated look during a grown-up holiday party and use the multicolor mode when the mood is more festive. Or you could just do something different from year to year so that it doesn’t seem like the same tree every Christmas.
Typical plastic stands won’t hold up to several years of holiday cheer. This Steel Arm Plastic Live Tree Stand is easy to move and pack but built to last. With 2 sizes in one you can be sure to fit any tree size up to 9 feet tall. Impact grade plastic construction makes this stand strong and durable. For a lighter, easy to store stand the steel arm has it all.
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For this guide, we defaulted to the most popular choices in our quest to come up with a tree that would please the most people. Our interview with the sales manager at National Tree Company yielded a few key facts about trends in the industry. The 7½-foot size is the most popular, as US home ceilings are usually 8 feet high, but we’ve also added several smaller (6½-foot) trees to this guide for those with smaller homes or apartments. People hugely prefer pre-lit trees, as well; to cover everyone’s tastes, we decided to look for a tree that could switch between all-white and multicolor. People also want artificial trees to appear convincingly lifelike. And although first-time tree buyers will probably be surprised at a good tree’s price, we knew we’d be in the mainstream range as long as we came in between $250 and $400, judging by the information we got from House of Holiday’s Larry Gurino, National Tree, and our own research. An artificial tree can easily last 10 or 15 years, so the amortized cost is a lot easier to swallow—the average price for a live tree as of 2016 was $51, according to CBS News.