Why a real Christmas tree beats an artificial one - and how to make it last

Do you choose a real tree or an artificial one? Don't be put off by the mess '“ here's how to keep a real tree at its best or even better, buy a potted one.

Sunday, 16th December 2018, 10:29 am
Updated Sunday, 16th December 2018, 10:33 am
Christmas trees.

Do you choose a real tree or an artificial one? Don’t be put off by the mess – here’s how to keep a real tree at its best or even better, buy a potted one.

A live tree’s reputation of dropping needles comes from two main sources: the only trees you used to get were Picea abies (Norway spruce).

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This was made much worse by trees not being watered.

Think of a Christmas tree as a huge vase of flowers – you wouldn’t leave that without water, would you?

If you decide on a live cut tree (without roots), the bestselling “non-drop” tree is the Nordmann fir.

The blue spruce has an attractive colour, and holds its needles well.

Lots of real trees hold their needles well.

The Douglas fir can cost more than others, while the balsam fir holds its needles even as its branches dry out.

The lodgepile pine is a more upright tree for narrower spaces.

When picking a tree, make sure it seems healthy and relatively free of brown needles.

Cut an inch or so off the bottom of the trunk to ensure the tree will absorb water in its stand.

This should be done less than an hour before putting the tree in the stand.

Check regularly to make sure the tree has enough water.

Do not put the tree near a window, fireplace, radiator, stove or other source of heat as this will increase the chance of the tree rapidly drying out.

Your other option is a live tree with a rootball.

Obviously, because of the weight, you’re going to get a much smaller tree (and they’re expensive), but the advantage is you can plant it outside in the garden when you’re finished.

However, if a live rootball tree is inside for longer than 10 days, it will be less likely to survive once planted.

Before bringing it inside, put it in the garage or in the porch for a few days, so it is not as shocked by the temperature difference.

You’ll want to do the same when bringing it back outside.

Environmentally-wise, most trees come from Christmas tree farms, not natural forests, and are replaced.


For more information, plus cook what you grow, recipes, environmental news and more, log on to the website at www.mandycanudigit.com – which is also now smartphone friendly.

You can also follow Mandy on social media platforms – on Twitter @MandyCanUDigIt or you can like her on her Facebook page at Mandycanudigit


Tidy up leaves from around borders. They can be added to the compost heap, or placed in separate bins to make leafmould. Some leaves, such as plane and sycamore, are slow to break down, and can delay you using your compost if you mix them into the general heap. Leafmould makes an excellent soil improver, and can also be used as a seed-sowing medium.

Watch out for downy mildew and black spot on winter pansies.

Check chrysanthemums regularly for signs of white rust.

This is also a good time to transplant trees and shrubs growing in unsuitable positions. However, if they are more than a couple of years old, you are unlikely to be able to remove an intact enough rootball to ensure the plant’s survival in its new position, and you may be best advised to leave well alone.

Check tree stakes and ties are secure and will withstand the winter weather; ensure that ties are not strangling trunks or branches - they may need loosening.

Holly leaf blight is still uncommon, but can be spread in wet weather.

Many pests can overwinter in nooks and crannies in the glasshouse structure (especially in wooden houses), and in the bark of woody houseplants and vines. Mealybugs and scale insect nymphs are commonly found and should be picked off. Grape vines often have their old bark stripped off before winter, to reduce the number of hiding places for pests like these.

When bringing plants into the house or greenhouse, check them carefully for any pests and diseases they may have picked up in the garden. Unhappy looking plants can always be tipped out of the pot to examine their rootballs for signs of over or under watering, or for soil pests like vine weevil larvae.

Put up insulating material such as bubble wrap on the inside of the greenhouse, if not already done.

Avoid walking on lawns on frosty mornings. It can damage the grass and often leads to brown footprint-shaped marks.