Live Christmas Tree vs. Artificial: Which One Is Better?

Updated: Mar. 30, 2024

Learn the pros and cons of real vs. fake Christmas trees to determine what's right for you. Plus, we've included some safety tips.

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It’s a debate for many families during the holiday season — should the Christmas tree be real or artificial? Here’s a look at the pros and cons of buying a real Christmas tree vs. an artificial Christmas tree.

Real Christmas Trees

Real Christmas trees have been a popular choice for years. You don’t have to store them once the season is over, and they bring a comforting, natural scent into your home.

Types of real Christmas trees

There are almost a dozen varieties of real Christmas trees, with slightly different scents, needle shapes and colors. Popular kinds include:

Noble firs

noble fir christmas tree branches close updestillat/Getty Images

Noble firs feature blueish-green needles and grow in a pyramid shape. The needles are usually 1-1/2-in. long.

Balsam firs

balsam-fir-shutterstock_168450836 christmas tree speciesBW Folsom/Shutterstock

Balsam firs are a Christmas favorite year after year because of their signature scent. They’re also pyramid-shaped, but with dark green needles.

Fraser firs

Christmas Fraser Fir Tree Branch close upIrisImages/Getty Images

Fraser firs are similar to Balsam firs in shape (pyramid) and needle color (dark green). But they’re more compact, making them a popular choice in small spaces.

Douglas firs

Close-up beautiful Douglas fir branchesMarina Denisenko/Getty Images

There are a few subspecies of Douglas fir, each with their own color. The needles are soft and stay on the tree longer than other varieties.

Colorado blue spruces

Colorado blue spruce branches close upLex20/Getty Images

Colorado blue spruces offer a unique silvery-blue color and a pyramid shape. Be careful: Their needles are pricklier than other varieties.

White spruces

white-spruce-shutterstock_151576451 christmas treeTaiftin/Shutterstock

White spruces are beautiful and tall, with light-colored needles.

Scotch pines

scotch-pine-shutterstock_158701946 christmas treeRuud Morijn Photographer/Shutterstock

Scotch pines retain their needles for a long time, making them a popular choice. They’re oval- or pyramid-shaped, with blue-green needles that fade to yellow-green as the season goes on.

Eastern white pines

eastern-white-pine-shutterstock_314761958Peter Turner Photography/Shutterstock

Eastern white pines are another popular choice. They have blue-green needles with an oval or pyramid shape.

Eastern red cedars

eastern-red-cedar-shutterstock_407650192 ER_09/Shutterstock

Eastern red cedars are usually pyramid-shaped and medium green.

Leyland cypresses

Leyland Cypress Treekeepphotos/Getty Images

Leyland cypresses are more slender than other species. Their soft needles are generally dark green or blueish green.

Advantages of real Christmas trees

  1. Real trees fill your home with that fresh fragrance of evergreen, a scent that can conjure up happy childhood memories.
  2. Nearly all real Christmas trees sold in the United States are grown by American farmers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  3. Growing trees help clean the air we breathe and provide much-needed shelter for wildlife. When trees are cut down, more are planted in their place.

Disadvantages of real Christmas trees

  1. Real trees are getting expensive. The average price in 2021 was $78, according to the American Christmas Tree Association.
  2. People with certain allergies will spend the holidays sneezing and wheezing if there’s a real tree in the house.
  3. Real trees need to be watered and often drop needles. Christmas trees can also harbor bugs and become a fire hazard if allowed to dry out.

Where to buy a real Christmas tree

Local tree farms typically sell them, while other organizations like the Boy Scouts and Lions Club often sell trees in a lot during the holidays.

Real Christmas tree set-up

Most Christmas tree lots will sell simple bases for your tree, but you can also buy one elsewhere or make your own. Either way, be sure to set up the tree securely and add water to the base before you start decorating. It’s easiest to do lights first, then garlands, and finally ornaments and your tree topper.

Artificial Christmas Trees

For those unwilling to shell out money annually or with allergy issues, artificial Christmas trees are a great solution. You’ll need to find a place to store them, but they will save you money in the long run. Many kinds even come with lights already attached.

Types of artificial Christmas trees

Advantages of artificial Christmas trees

  1. Convenience. Just set them up and they look just right, year after year. When the holidays are over, pack them back up for the next year.
  2. Annual cost savings. Artificial trees last for years with no maintenance required.
  3. Mess-free — no dropping needles, no watering, no bugs. Plus, you can get them in plenty of colors—including red!

Disadvantages of artificial Christmas trees

  1. Artificial trees can’t be recycled. Made from PVC, a petroleum-based non-biodegradable plastic, they’re destined for landfills.
  2. Most are made overseas.
  3. They can be a fire hazard, too. There are several reports of pre-lit artificial trees catching fire, with the blaze starting in the firebox at the base.

Where to buy artificial Christmas trees

You can find these at hardware stores and online vendors like Amazon. Fake trees typically range from $60 to $350, depending on features.

How to set up an artificial Christmas tree

Artificial Christmas trees come with assembly instructions. With most, you simply hook in the branches. Many come with lights already built in. Once you’ve assembled the tree, you plug it in and put on your ornaments!

Christmas Tree Storage

Once the holiday is over, what’s the best way to store an artificial Christmas tree? That can be a pain because it takes up so much space.

Here’s an idea: Buy two eight-inch-diameter concrete form tubes, wrap each layer of the tree in twine and shove half of the tree layers down each tube. Mark the layer numbers on each tube and slide the tubes up in your garage rafters for a perfect storage solution!

Artificial Christmas trees are assembled in color-coded layers. After a few years, if the colors rub off or you lose the instructions, and putting the tree together may be confusing. If that happens, try this simple trick:

When you disassemble the tree at the end of the season, do it one level at a time. Once all the branches from one level are off, duct-tape them together and number each layer with a marker. Next year, the tree will go together in a snap!

Bonus fake Christmas tree storage tip: When dismantling our artificial Christmas tree, we always used the ribbons they came with to tie up the boughs of each section.

Last year, the ribbons finally wore out and we couldn’t find a strong enough replacement. Instead, we came up with a terrific substitute — self-adhesive bandage wrap. Strong and reusable, the wrap doesn’t cost much and won’t damage the tree.

Christmas Tree Safety

Whether you have a real or an artificial tree, safety is a priority. Dry needles on a live tree can pose a fire hazard, while faulty wiring is a potentially lethal nightmare.

If you have a real tree, make sure you regularly check the water level. And never use electric lights on metal trees.

No matter what kind of tree you have, opt for LEDs where possible. They don’t produce heat so they’re a much safer option. Always unplug the tree at the end of the night and be sure to keep it a safe distance from open flames.

How Long Do Real Christmas Trees Last?

It depends on the tree’s species, its freshness at the time of purchase and how well it is cared for. On average, a well-maintained real Christmas tree can last indoors for about four to six weeks. Regular watering, keeping it away from heat sources, and using tree preservatives can help prolong its freshness. After this period, the tree will start to dry out, shed needles, and become a fire hazard, so it’s important to dispose of it properly to ensure safety.

Whether you plan to display a real or artificial Christmas tree this holiday season, you’re going to need a stand to hold it in place. Follow our step-by-step guide for how to build a Christmas tree stand.