If you’re planning to get a Christmas tree this year, you’re not alone. In 2020, an estimated 94 million households in the United States—or 75 percent of all households—put up a tree. And no wonder: As winter gets colder and days get shorter, a tree adds cheer, light, and, in the case of real trees, a cozy scent. But when it comes to getting a Christmas tree, there’s a lot to consider: Real or artificial? Potted or cut? Tree lot or farm? And don’t forget to factor in cost and the size of your space.
Whether this is your first time getting a tree or your fortieth, here’s everything you need to know to pick the perfect Christmas tree for your home.
Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees
You’ll find passionate proponents for both real and artificial Christmas trees, but if you’re on the fence, consider the following factors.
Without much research on the subject, it’s hard to nail down which option—real or artificial—is better for the environment. Here’s what we do know:
Most artificial trees are produced in China and won’t decompose in landfills, according to Canopy, a nonprofit seeking to grow urban tree canopy in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, when you use an artificial tree year after year, the environmental impact of its production and transportation may diminish.
Real trees have an environmental burden, too—you probably have to drive to get one and a pre-cut tree might even be shipped from a different state. On the other hand, manufacturing an artificial tree releases carbon emissions and requires fossil fuels to create the plastic, points out the Nature Conservancy.
The bottom line, according to many experts: There might not be much of a difference, environmentally speaking, between buying a cut or artificial tree.
In 2020, a real Christmas tree cost $81 on average. In 2019, a fake tree cost $104 on average, but this year’s supply chain shortages are causing prices to rise by up to 25 percent for some companies.
While a cut tree may be lower in cost, its joys are fleeting—you’ll only have it for a few weeks, whereas most people keep their artificial trees for 10 years, according to a survey from the American Christmas Tree Association, an organization representing the artificial tree industry. The longer you keep your tree, the lower the cost over time and the less environmental impact from the centerpiece of your holiday decor.
Storage or Disposal
If you purchase an artificial tree, you’ll need to make sure you have a spot to stash it during the non-Christmas season. Even collapsed, artificial Christmas trees take up space.
With a real Christmas tree, you’ll need to work out the best way to dispose of it. Environmentally friendly options include composting (cut your tree into smaller pieces first) or mulching. Your local Home Depot may be able to mulch your tree, or check if your city or county has mulching or composting programs available. Many local waste management companies offer curbside pick-up, but note that it’s typically for a specific and narrow window of time. Otherwise, there may be a local drop-off site nearby.
Other Factors to Consider
- Cleanup: An artificial tree won’t shed as many needles, and you don’t have to worry about it drying out prematurely. With a real tree, you may find yourself discovering needles months after the holiday season.
- Allergies: Some people get the sniffles or a rash around the holidays, a phenomenon known as Christmas tree syndrome. Most likely, you’re not allergic to the tree itself but to its sap or mold.
- Pets: You’ll want to anchor your tree carefully, so that a wagging tail or curious paw won’t cause it to tip over. The needles and water in the stand can both be dangerous to pets if consumed, per the Humane Society—the water may contain pesticides, while the needles can cause intestinal problems. If you think you won’t be able to keep your pet away from the tree, an artificial one may be a safer option.
- Aesthetics and scent: Some people grew up with a real tree and value the sensory experience it provides, not to mention the adventure of choosing a tree and having it vary from year to year. Others, however, may prefer the flocked look that’s available with an artificial tree, or the time-saving perks of a pre-lit option.