This long-needle pine imitation doesn't look very full, and you can see its center pole through its branches. It does have LED lights that rotate through eight functions, which lends some value.
Sturdier stand than most
8-function light system with foot control and remote control
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, as the song goes. With this comes a dilemma that plays out in many households across the country: real or fake. Artificial Christmas trees have come a long way since the days of Charlie Brown-tree lookalikes, which has persuaded many households to take the plunge to shop rather than visiting tree farms to chop one down.
Outliers and the avant-garde may head straight for the pink aluminum tree that spins around and changes color or, perhaps, rose gold or peppermint stripe, but if you’re new to artificial trees it’s more likely you have your eye on a more traditional, evergreen style.
To help you in your search for the tree of your dreams, we tested popular traditional evergreens, evaluating them for ease of set-up and disassembly, stability and aesthetics, including how closely it resembles realistic trees, and how easy it is to light and decorate.
After hoisting and packing away seven artificial Christmas trees, fluffing branches, hanging ornaments, adjusting tree lights, and arranging presents at their feet, one tree stood out head and shoulders above the rest: Balsam Hill Fraser Fir(available at Balsam Hill). But the more economically minded can take heart, too, as other trees had solid reasons to recommend them.
Balsam Hill Fraser Fir with Candlelight Clear LED, 7.5'
For no reason other than it came in the biggest, heaviest box, we saved this Balsam fir to test last. It was the only tree I needed help bringing into the house (total weight is 103 pounds), but after that I was head-over-heels in love with it. Despite needing help while it was boxed up, after opening, I could easily carry on by myself, wheeling the tree out of the upright shipping carton, removing its two parts from their heavy-duty canvas duffle bag-like cases, using its ingenious flip feature to easily rotate the base tree portion upright and attach the lighter-weight top portion.
The Balsam Hill Fraser fir branch tips are lifelike in color and shape, and they require very little fluffing (especially compared to the other trees), just a little tweaking into place so that they spread out evenly. Polyethylene (PE) needles mimic the structure, texture, and color variations of natural evergreens.
Two pairs of protective gloves come with the tree, but I didn’t need them. This tree is very easy to assemble.
It has a pleasingly plump figure and comes already set in an impressively sturdy stand (much better made than the other six I tested) that has attached wheels I could easily lock in place. Once I had the two pieces assembled, I just had to plug it in (at about 12 feet, the cord is super long) to light up the 800 clear LED lights. It is such a dazzling spectacle both in daylight and at night that, frankly, it doesn’t need ornaments and certainly not more lights, although if you want to add a string or two there are sockets on the tree to simplify the process.
With the other trees, I had grown to dread the packing up stage, but my worries were unfounded this time. I was looking forward to having the canvas storage bags, but even better was that the tree needed minimal compressing to fit into them. All in all, it was a pleasurable, stress-free decorating experience. If I had a young family and many Christmas trees in my future, I would invest in this Balsam Hill, the most realistic fir artificial Christmas tree we tested, without hesitation.
Recreates the dimension and detail of real tree branches
Any way you slice it, a grand is a lot to pay for an artificial Christmas tree, and if your budget can’t accommodate that kind of hit, you can still get a good-looking one for less.
PE trees, like the most highly rated on our list, cost more than PVC (polyvinyl chloride), because they are more realistic looking (especially up close), more durable, and last longer. This said, once decorated and lit, all the trees we tested look fairly magical.
Best Choice Products Pre-Lit Spruce offers great value for the price. My initial disappointment in how it looked straight out of the box, coupled with the papery feel of its PVC needles, changed to happy surprise by the time I had fluffed all the branches. It struck a nice balance between full branches and a restrained silhouette that fits nicely into the corner of a room.
Set up is straightforward, and while connecting the lights between the tree’s three sections is required, the process went smoothly and the entire tree lit up at once. Decorated and illuminated, this tree could pass as real.
Big bang for your buck
Slim silhouette that still has a “big tree” feel
Slight odor straight out of the box that dissipated over 48 hours
National Tree Company Downswept Douglas Green Fir, 7.5'
This is a realistic, mostly PE tree, and, with a maximum width of almost 5 feet across, it is generously proportioned.
Set up and break down are easy, but the fact that it weighs 50 pounds should be considered. I had a little trouble separating the top two sections during disassembly. (After the fact, I noted that this optional tip was given in the instructions: Lubricating middle section pole ends prior to assembly will make sections easier to separate when disassembling to store).
In appearance, the Downswept Douglas Green Fir is quite lovely. It boasts National Tree Company’s “Feel Real” technology that produces branch tips that are molded from actual branches and give the tree its lush look.
There is also ample decorating space, thanks to nearly 2,000 crush-resistant branch tips.
National Tree Company Dunhill Fir Pre-Lit Dual Color LED, 7.5'
Considering that this is an all-PVC tree, it ranks high on the realism scale, especially when it’s decorated and its 700 LED lights are lit. It looks great unlit, too, as the shade of green is genuine and the “brown twigs” are visible. Compared to the Best Choice Products all-PVC tree, National Tree Company’s close-up resemblance to real tree details is higher.
There are no cords to connect between tree sections; its lights come on instantly when the main plug is inserted into the wall socket. If lights are your thing, the light system lets you change from warm white to multi-color with 10 different functions, although you need to press the button each time to toggle through the options.
Realistic looking in daylight and lit-up
10 different light setting
5-year warranty on tree and 3-year warranty on lights
Home Accents LED Pre-Lit Wesley Long Needle Pine, 7.5'
The first difference I noticed with this tree is its stand. It’s the only one we tested that doesn’t require inserting a bolt to keep it from folding in on itself. Using a bolt isn’t difficult, but the chances of losing it over the years are pretty high.
This all PVC tree has a cluster of long pine cone needles on the branch tips, which is cool, but you don’t notice it unless you’re up close. What I noticed more is that the 1,342-branch tree looks less full than the others, and it’s harder to hide its center pole with the fluffed branches.
Also, the top third of the tree is denser than the lower two thirds, making it look off-balance.
You can easily illuminate the tree’s 550 lights with a single plug, but be sure you read the assembly instructions first. I didn’t and overlooked that I needed to align the arrows on each pole section, so the first time around only the bottom third lit up.
The LED lights have eight functions, so if this variety is important to you, this reasonably priced tree is a good deal. Otherwise, I would stick with the Best Choice Products tree.
Sturdier stand than most
8-function light system with foot control and remote control
Over the span of a week, I set up seven artificial Christmas trees, all were evergreens and all were 7.5 feet tall with the exception of one that was just 7 feet. Two did not come with Christmas lights, while the others were pre-lit Christmas trees, either with clear or colored lights.
This was a one-woman project, from lugging the items in their shipping containers from my front porch, assembling them in a corner of the living room, hanging ornaments (and lights, if necessary), affixing a tree-topper, and placing 20 boxes of various sizes at the base of the tree, which had been encircled with a tree skirt.
I left each tree in place for two days, then disassembled and repacked it in its original shipping carton.
I evaluated each tree for ease of assembly and repacking, stability, appearance, and special features, if any.
What You Should Know About Artificial Christmas Trees
Just like anything else you purchase online—clothing, furniture, appliances, other Christmas decorations—there’s a limit to what you can learn about it without seeing it in person. Keep in mind that when it comes to a fake tree, its retailer is going to share only the most flattering image with potential online buyers.
And, let’s face it, once a tree is laden with ornaments and brightly lit, it will likely take a good picture. So here are some things to consider before purchasing:
Once you know how tall a tree your room can accommodate, assess how wide your tree can be. Add 3 to 6 inches to the tree’s height, including a tree topper, so that it won’t appear crammed into the space.
Generally speaking, the width of the tree at its widest part will be given by the manufacturer, so you can make sure it will fit in your space.
When deciding on a size, don’t forget to consider that the bigger the tree, the harder it will be to move, store, and manage. Also, take into account how much room you need for presents underneath.
If the way a tree looks unadorned is important to you, you’ll want to pay close attention to how real its branches look. Artificial Christmas tree needles are usually made from either PVC or PE, and in some cases a combination of the two. The feel of papery PVC reminds me of the fake grass used in Easter baskets. Unlike PVC Christmas trees, which are made using cut-out PVC material, PE trees are injection-molded and completely three-dimensional, using branches from real trees, resulting in an instant realistic-looking Christmas tree.
Therefore, the 3-D needles are much more life-like than the average flat PVC needles. Trees made from PE may be better sculpted to give them a more authentic look. If realism is what you’re after, a PE tree may be a better choice.
Of the seven trees, the number of “attached tips” was cited in each tree’s description. In general, the higher the number of tips, the higher the quality of the tree and the fuller a look the tree will have. If you can see through the tree’s branches to its center pole, you should probably avoid it.
All of these trees we tested have hinged branches, not hooked.
A longtime editor-in-chief and writer at New England lifestyle magazines, Rohlf splits her time between Boston and Cape Cod. Her most recent freelance articles have appeared in Ocean Home, North Shore Home, Modern Luxury Interiors, New England Living, and Traditional Building magazines.
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