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Friday, December 7, 2012

Going artificial

Our Christmas tree is artificial and I'll tell you what went into our thought process when choosing to go artificial. And up front, I'd like to say, I have absolutely nothing against a fresh tree. We've used those many years as well. This is a post on the merits of an artificial tree, in case you've been feeling the "pressure" to go real, but you still like your artificial one.

Prior to buying this tree, we had been cutting down trees from our property. That was really great fun and I hope our kids always remember going out into the cold and helping to choose the "perfect" tree (which by the way doesn't exist on our property, every tree we picked had huge bald spots, were thin and spindly, and looked more like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree).

So, if we had these free trees, why buy an artificial one?

Well, we were running out of appropriate-sized trees from our own property. But also, ease of having one ready to go was a swaying factor. It's not as if either my husband or I are lumberjacks here. Chopping down a tree is hard work!

So, why not buy fresh cut trees every year? They're beautiful and they smell lovely.


Artificial trees are part plastic, and part metal. The manufacture of plastic is not exactly highly desirable. However, consider this. If every year we went out and bought a fresh tree, we'd be using fossil fuels to travel to make that purchase. Getting a Christmas tree is usually a family outing of it's own right. We don't just pick up a tree on the way home from work. 

And it's not just fossil fuel in our car, but the fuel in the trucks used to haul all those cut trees into town. This expended fuel multiplied by all the years of life we'll get out of an artificial tree, and the "green" equation of artificial vs. real begins to balance, in my mind.

You can get 20-30 years or more out of a quality artificial tree. If you choose a classic style/color, buy quality, and take good care of it, your artificial tree should last for many, many holiday seasons. We bought ours in 2000, and it is still looking great.

We're thrifty folks, here. We likely won't discard any part of this tree for decades. I'll do something crafty, like make wreaths or garlands from the branches, in another 15 years or so, whenever our tree begins to look too shabby to put up. But like I said, it's 12 years old already and not showing any signs of wear. In part, that is due to choosing a high quality tree, as well as following good care instructions.

Choosing for quality

When looking for quality, first, check the hinges on the branches. Are they machined well? 

Do the needle test, the same way you check a fresh cut tree. Gently grasp a branch with your thumb and forefinger and pull down the branch. If the needles remain on the tree in the store, they have a greater chance of remaining on the tree in your home. 

What kind of stand does the tree come set in? Does it look like quality construction to you? And keep in mind, a manufacturer's level of quality in tree construction is standard throughout their line. The expensive tree of a cheaply made line is likely priced high because of size and fullness, not quality of craftsmanship.

A high quality tree will cost more, that's true. But it is one of those "you get what you pay for" purchases. We paid about $200 for our tree, 12 years ago. So far, averaged out over 12 years, that's just $16 per year. If we continue to use it for just 8 more years, this tree will have cost us $10 per year. That's pretty crazy cheap, if you ask me. 

And we opted for an un-lit tree. We wire our own tree and so far, it's no problem. We felt a pre-lit tree may not be all it's cracked up to be. If part of the lights fail to work, then we'd be back to putting our own lights on anyways. And the price difference between an un-lit and pre-lit was far more than the cost of buying strings of lights.

What about the fragrance that we are missing?

I cut a bunch of branches to bring indoors every Advent season. The house smells lovely from those branches alone.

So, what do you need to do to care for an artificial tree to prolong it's usefulness?

Be gentle when moving it in and out of storage. Don't let it bump down the stairs, etc.

According to the manufacturer of our tree, where we store it matters. Extreme temperature fluctuations, such as in an attic, garage or unheated portion of a basement will age the tree prematurely. Discoloration of the needles, as well as needle drop will occur years sooner in an uncontrolled climate. We've got ours in a closet under the main stairs.

Don't store in an area subject to vermin and insect infestations. And if possible, keep pets from chewing on the lower branches. This can be a challenge with some pets. I know, I've had several cats over the years and they like to chew on things.

Gently fold the branches back up before wrapping in a sheet or bagging the parts. If you still have the original box, use it. The manufacturer suggests lining the box with a sheet, allowing the ends of the sheet to overhang the sides of the box. When the tree/parts are in the box, fold the sheet over the tree and seal the box shut.

If you no longer have the box, wrap it in a sheet or black plastic garbage bags. Tie this wrap securely with rope or twine. Having your tree bagged or wrapped will prevent a loose branch from accidentally being pulled on when moving it, as well as minimize dust accumulation.

Every year, you should vacuum the branches when they are bare, using the upholstery brush attachment, unless your tree is very old or fragile. In that case, it's better to use a whisk broom to gently dust the branches.

Every 5-7 years, the bare branches should also be gently wiped off with a damp rag. Use mild shampoo (like baby shampoo) and water, with a soft rag, well wrung out. Do this when there are no lights on the tree. Or if a pre-lit tree, make sure it is unplugged.

When the tree is totally ka-put, it still has value. You can use the branches for making wreaths and garlands. Remove the branches from the hinges and wire to a form, for a wreath, or wire to a length of rope, for a garland. So an old and worn artificial tree doesn't necessarily have to end in the landfill in just a few years. A thrifty person could probably get 30 years out of an artificial tree. 

I also wanted to show you our tree's stand's stand. Yes, that was how I intended to type this. Our tree stand has a stand. But in case you're faced with a similar situation, where your tree is just a tad short for what you want, here's what we did.

When shopping for a tree, we had our choice of one that was just a hair too tall for our ceilings, or one that was a hair too short. Well, short of chopping off the top of the too tall one, it looked like the too short one was our only option. But we still wanted it elevated. That's when my husband got busy in the garage with some plywood and 2 X 4's.

Hubby used a jigsaw to cut a large circle from the plywood. To this circle he attached two 2 X 4's to elevate the platform. When the tree is all set up, the tree skirt completely covers the platform and we get the added height we wanted.

If you are happy with your fresh cut, or even live Christmas tree, no worries. I'm not in the least trying to persuade you to do what we've done. I'm only explaining our choice.


  1. Great post, Lili. This is our year of transition, as we divorced this Aug, and this is our first Christmas apart. I asked the kids what they wanted: a real or time to get a fake tree. Real hands down-not something I was willing to fight about this year, so this weekend will find me at the tree farm, and DS will deliver and set it up for me (he works there). Meanwhile,I am considering a fake one as I won't always have DS available, nor will he always work at the tree farm. Ease in set up is also a factor, due to my arthritis and currently a shoulder injury I am in PT for.

    Have to mention that I love the extra tree stand-a clever solution. Another reason not to invest in a non pre-lite tree this year is that we are in a rental,I don't know what my next home will be like, and what size tree would work for me.

    I also have artificial wreaths that I have refurbished annually, as needed. I will be cutting some greenery to bring the pine scent into the home, and to adorn the main entry door.

    1. Hi Carol,
      Good points in favor of a fresh cut tree for you, for now. Especially not knowing your future home. Ceilings may be high or they may be low, you just don't know.

      I love fresh trees. They smell so wonderful when you first set them up. But an artificial one is the way to go for us for now.

  2. We always had the same artificial tree when I was a kid and I loved it. I do see the appeal of real trees; they smell nice and if you don't have a lot of storage it can certainly be the better way to go.

    Right now, though, I just don't put up Christmas decorations. I always mean to but I get awfully busy. Also, taking them down is depressing. If I ever do get it together to put up a tree, I will have a tree takedown party instead of a tree trimming party.

    1. Hi Pamela,
      we actually do have a take-down party, sometime after the 1st of the year. By then, I'm eagerly awaiting spring and want to move all the winter stuff out. Of course, the weather outside doesn't know that I'm ready for spring! Hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

  3. I am sticking to a real one. Last year, we tried the artificial route, and the kids and I just weren't very pleased with it. No smell, and well, it's Fake.

    We normally go into town and get our tree from the search and rescue and the money helps their outfit. So I find that a worthy donation.

    As far as other's, I have seen some gorgeous fake tree's and I say more power to ya!

    Thanks for sharing this posting, I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season, and Merry Christmas!

    1. Hi Tracy,
      I do love the smell of the freshly cut trees! And remembering the days that we went out into our woods to cut one down, that was so much fun. I can definitely see why many folks choose the real.

      And I love the idea of buying your tree off a lot that supports something like search and rescue. You're giving a donation, plus you get a tree out of it!

      Hope your holidays are lovely!

  4. Great thoughts here, I don't have a tree this year, fake or real, but this is only the second year without a tree. I like it so far. I simply used a fallen branch as my tree and enjoy seeing the ornaments more clearly. While I agree that I want less plastic in my life, I won't use plastic dishes or cups there is just something that feels wrong drinking out of plastic, I think there is a place where plastic can be used. In a tree, if you care for it and use it over and over like you did it's not necessarily a product that will be wasted it makes sense. I always had trouble deciding which was the greener option, going through the process like you did.

    The only year we had a live tree I got one with the root intact. it was so heavy that my then young children and I couldn't move it and had to have a neighbor help, along with taking it back outside. I had to wait till almost Christmas to bring the tree indoors and quickly take it back out which left us feeling cheated. Don't know there is a perfect answer to this question that would work for everyone.

    1. Hi Lois,
      I love your fallen branch. It's lovely, and it suits you.

      I don't know if there is one perfect, fits everyone, answer for a Christmas tree. I suppose the "greenest" thing would be to either dumpster dive (or other method for rescuing a tree destined for the landfill) an artificial tree, or create a tree of your own from recycled materials (now those would be interesting to see).

      It's funny to think, but it's only been the last 100 years that many families have had full-sized Christmas trees in their homes. Before then, if you had a tree of your own, often times it was just a small table top tree, from your own property. Otherwise you enjoyed a "community" tree in your church or in the town square.

  5. My family has had an artificial christmas tree for many years; and I love it! It always looks beautiful, there`s no drizzling on the ground (lovely when you`ve got dogs!), and it`s easy. and much more budget-friendly! instead of using a lot of money every christmas on a dying tree, it`s better to buy one quality tree that can be used for years and years to come.

    1. Hi blondeonbudget,
      Our family had an artificial tree for many years, as well. Perhaps having had an artificial one as a child helps me to see that they can be lovely, too. If we had always had fresh cut trees, then maybe I might feel more swayed towards fresh.

      And I do like that they cost so much less than the fresh cut ones. One place near us has some really beautiful and very large trees every year for sale. They want upwards of $300 for some of their largest fresh cut trees!

  6. Ah, who knew 20 years ago that a Christmas tree would be such a moral dilemma??

    I grew up with real trees. I have no warm fuzzy memories of these except for the smell. The trunks were crooked and difficult to get to stand straight in the holders and they dropped needles all the time. Each year the trimming of the tree was an exercise in minor bickering--"the lights go on first! No, the tinsel!". In my single years I bought an apartment-style tree--7 feet all and narrow, to fit into a small space. We have been married for 11 years now and still use the same tree. I like the narrowness--my house isn't large and so this tree doesn't seem overwhelming. I assemble the tree and do the lights while everyone is at school/work (although when I had toddlers at home, they helped me sort branches) and then in the evening we play Christmas music and decorate it. Much more relaxed and fun. I have no strong feelings either way ... real or fake ... I just know what works for us. :)

    1. Hi Kris,
      A moral dilemma indeed! Sometimes I think we're all trying a little too hard to be diligently "green". You always have such a sensible viewpoint, and I appreciate that.

      Your Christmas tree trimming sounds very nice, and fun. Wish I could join you! We'll decorate ours tomorrow evening. We make a little party out of it. Fun times!

  7. Some years we have a "real" tree and some years we use our artificial one. There are no strong feelings one way or another in our family. The important part is seeing the same ornaments hanging on the tree and remembering where they came from.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I love opening the trunk of ornaments and finding some of the very old ones and reminiscing. We'll be adding 3 new ornaments from our trip this summer to the little Norwegian town. New memories made, and some old ones to reflect on.

  8. We have a tiny table-top artificial tree, which I bought just after we moved into our apartment last December. Before that I hadn't had a tree at all since moving out of home seven years ago.

    We always had a real tree when I was growing up, but after an unfortunate experience with a back injury and nest of dead birds we stopped cutting them down ourselves! My parents don't bother any more unless they're having the whole extended family over for Christmas. They have a small artificial one they use as well.

    I like the idea of using artificial trees to make wreaths when they get too old and ratty. Just another way to reduce waste :)

    1. Hi Economies,
      Oh, that experience with the birds and an injury would probably put anyone off from cutting down trees! Not exactly a happy Christmas memory. Maybe your parents will have a tree this year? With your trip to see them for the holidays. I hope you have a wonderful time visiting.

  9. I appreciated this post and the comments. Every year I struggle with this debate. I'd be happy with a Christmas twig but there'd be a mutiny from the rest of the family. So back and forth I go. I think we've decided to try and get a really good quality artificial tree in the sales and have a real tree this year. Thanks for your pointers.

    1. Hi Jessica,
      You should be able to find a really great tree at an affordable price, either just before Christmas, or the day after. I don't know if you go out shopping on Boxing Day, but here we have one particular store that specializes in Christmas decor this time of year. They have a huge sale the day after Christmas. And they sell just about everything in the store in the first half of the day.
      Hope you're enjoying the holiday season!


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