Real vs. fake. Which is better? It’s a highly-contested topic each holiday season, and it’s one that the American Christmas Tree Association (the organization representing the artificial tree industry) and the National Christmas Tree Association (the organization representing the real tree industry) take seriously. Both groups make their cases for selecting either a real or faux tree, and we used them to inform our comparison.
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.”
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.
One disclaimer about both The Best Choice and National Tree Company trees: like many artificial trees in their price range, they are made with PVC rather than PE. As we mentioned earlier, some people are dubious about the potential health risks of being around PVC. While finding a tree with less PVC and more PE (a safer alternative) is possible, it will typically cost you more.
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.
The Emerald Innovations stand in particular had our hopes up because it lets you adjust the angle of the tree by pressing a foot pedal and turning the tree on a large ball joint. But the initial setup proved more of a hassle than any other method: A separate sleeve fits over the tree’s trunk while it’s lying down, and you secure it with screw-down clamps. Then you fit the sleeve and tree together into the base. The frustrating setup, along with the lack of stability, outweighed the otherwise cool design.
You’ll want to make sure you have the right Christmas tree base. Keep in mind, the taller the tree, the larger the base. Also, the Christmas tree stand will add height to your tree, so plan to leave enough room between the tree and the ceiling to fit a Christmas tree topper. Surround the base of your tree with a Christmas tree skirt to create the perfect backdrop for presents. If you choose a real tree, the skirt can collect any fallen needles. For the final touch of holiday flair, shop The Home Depot’s huge assortment of Christmas decorations, including Christmas lights, ornaments and garland. And for after the holidays, be sure you have tree bags, organizers and plenty of storage options to get everything packed away neatly for next year.