Cost: The cost of artificial Christmas trees varies dramatically. And, while it’s true that higher cost is usually synonymous with a higher branch tip count and better looking tree, there are some bargains out there that look pretty realistic for an affordable price. The trees on our list run the gambit in cost, starting at about $20 (for a tiny apartment-sized tree) to over $100 for one of our top contenders. Though all of our picks fall under $200, it’s not unheard of to drop nearly half a grand for a tree.
Color+Clear™ Lights Our exclusive Color + Clear™ remote-controlled lighting system is available in both incandescent and energy-saving LED. The handy remote lets you choose clear lights, multi-colored lights, or both. With more than 50% additional lights, your tree will still have plenty of beautiful lights even if only one light type is selected. If you choose both clear and colored lights, your tree will display more lights than any other artificial tree you will find.
Much of the situation is due to the way artificial trees are manufactured: Almost all of them come out of a handful of factories in Taiwan and China. So while the companies selling the trees specify the details of their designs, the companies making the trees use similar materials and even many of the same basic components. That means you will be able to find a great artificial tree, even if it’s not our pick.
In the past, Christmas trees were often harvested from wild forests, but now almost all are commercially grown on tree farms. Almost all Christmas trees in the United States are grown on Christmas tree farms where they are cut after about ten years of growth and new trees planted. According to the United States Department of Agriculture's agriculture census for 2007, 21,537 farms were producing conifers for the cut Christmas tree market in America, 5,717.09 square kilometres (1,412,724 acres) were planted in Christmas trees.
In a design common to modern artificial trees, the Downswept Douglas Fir’s branches are all permanently mounted on hinges on the center pole (older artificial trees required you to attach branches individually via sockets), and like most trees its height, it comes in three sections. As you set the tree up and the branches fold out, you need to fluff them: Just pull the individual tips apart into spreading clusters, adjust the arrangement of branches to close any gaps, and generally prettify the tree. House of Holiday’s Larry Gurino strongly recommends fluffing as you go—do the bottom section first, then put the middle section in place and fluff it, and finally top and fluff. This technique makes the job much easier than trying to fluff the whole thing at once. We followed his advice when setting up our Downswept Douglas Fir for our photo shoot, and we had the whole thing put together and looking great in less than 15 minutes.
^ Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann (1978). Das Weihnachtsfest. Eine Kultur- und Sozialgeschichte der Weihnachtszeit [Christmas: A cultural and social history of Christmastide] (in German). Bucher. p. 22. ISBN 3-7658-0273-5. Man kann als sicher annehmen daß die Luzienbräuche gemeinsam mit dem Weinachtsbaum in Laufe des 19. Jahrhunderts aus Deutschland über die gesellschaftliche Oberschicht der Herrenhöfe nach Schweden gekommen sind. (English: One can assume with certainty that traditions of lighting, together with the Christmas tree, crossed from Germany to Sweden in the 19th century via the princely upper classes.)
The re-boxed artificial tree of this size is heavy (over 50 pounds), difficult to fit on most shelves, and has a volume comparable to a tank-style water heater. But if you have ample storage space, you don’t have to keep a tree in its original box. Rather, Gurino said, keeping it covered and dry is the main thing. You can separate the sections and flatten the branches as compactly as you can, or keep it whole; just don’t store it somewhere it’ll be trampled or moved a lot. Do cover it with a light plastic painter’s tarp or an old sheet to keep the dust off, or buy a tree bag. And a climate-controlled space (converted basement, storage closet) is always preferable to an attic or garage.
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A good stand can hold the tree up and make it look straight, even if the tree itself is a bit crooked. To create stability, the stand needs a heavy base to lower the tree’s center of gravity and keep it balanced. For size, it should have an opening wide enough to accommodate a roughly 4- to 6-inch trunk diameter—that’s the ballpark thickness of your average Christmas tree, which has a height of 6 or 7 feet, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
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We breathed a sigh of relief when we opened the box for the Krinner Tree Genie Deluxe–no assembly required. Its design allows it to handle any tree up to 8 feet tall. However, what sets the Krinner stands apart—we also tested the Krinner Tree Genie XXL, which is made for trees up to 12 feet tall—are that they require only one person to set the trees up.
The Jack-Post 519-ST Oasis Tree Stand falls behind the competition because of how difficult it is to use. First, five bolts need to be screwed in and secured. We understand the more angles that you come in from the more likely the tree will become straight, but if you're going to use five bolts give them larger handles to prevent fatigue. However, we have to give the Jack-Post props for being stable. Its vague star shape dispersed most of the force when we struck it with our testing weight. It barely moved an inch.
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.
We also like the Cinco C-144E Express, which remains a reliable backup choice after several years of considering new models. It’s stable, and its ample 3-gallon reservoir has an overflow basin to catch drips. The downside is that the tree is secured by four cumbersome hand-twisted bolts, but they do have a quick-release—this speeds up the process considerably and sets this stand apart from the many other similar designs. It’s not as easy to use as the Krinner, and not as versatile, with a design that accepts only tree trunks larger than 3.5 inches in diameter (that’s a tree about 6½ feet or taller). Last, this stand is quite large; if you’re planning on getting a smaller tree, you can step down to the Cinco C-148E.
The quick-release is one feature that really set the Cinco apart from the rest of the lower-priced stands. You know the design: Four bolts tighten against the tree trunk to stabilize it, and the bolts can thread in to grip a tree with a diameter as little as a 3½ inches. Cinco’s improvement to this standard system is that each screw has a release lever so it can be quickly snugged up against the trunk and then tightened for only the final turns. You won’t need to lie on your belly and slowly spin the entire bolt toward the tree (four times in a row).
This lightweight plastic stand weighs less than 3 pounds and holds trunks up to 7 inches. You’ll need two people to install your tree—and occasionally you’ll have to pick the tree up a second time in order to slam it back down into the stand with enough force to get the spikes in the base to dig into the trunk—but you can’t beat the price. The reservoir holds two gallons, so you might even be able to skip a day of watering with this thing.
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