How to set up fake christmas tree

How to Assemble an Artificial Christmas Tree

Learn how to properly assemble, shape, light, and decorate your artificial Christmas tree for the holiday season.

What's Inside

  • How to Assemble a Christmas Tree
  • How to Shape a Christmas Tree
  • How to Light a Christmas Tree
  • How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

BH Noble Fir™

Christmas trees are the central focus of Yuletide celebrations. They represent life, hope, and family traditions. Whether you have an old or brand new tree, a towering spruce, or a petite pine, you will want to have the most inspiring and beautiful tree possible. Learn how to properly assemble your tree and turn it into the ultimate Christmas showpiece.

How to Assemble a Christmas Tree

1. Choose a Location

Unless a Christmas tree is fitted with a rolling stand, it's always advisable to assemble a tree at the exact spot where it will be displayed. Consider these factors when choosing a location.

Ideal Areas

For maximum visibility, place the Christmas tree in the room where the family gathers most often, such as the living room, dining room, or den. Find a spot where the tree can be seen from multiple vantage points and not just from one position.

Consider the possibility of rearranging furniture to accommodate the tree. It may also be practical to set the tree near electrical outlets to avoid unsightly extension cords.

Areas to Avoid

Avoid placing the tree near light controls as decorations may be accidentally knocked down when people reach for the light switch.

Never place the tree near heat sources, such as heating vents, exhausts, or the fireplace. Avoid setting it up near the staircase, behind a door, areas with busy foot traffic, or locations exposed to harsh elements.

Important Measurements

Before purchasing a new Christmas tree, measure the selected space to ensure the tree will fit properly. A tree that is too large looks cramped, and may block natural pathways and entryways. For detailed instructions on how to measure an area for a tree, please refer to our article on Christmas tree measurements.

2. Inspect the Pieces

For pre-lit trees, examine the tree sections to ensure that there is no cut or frayed wire insulation, exposed wiring, loose connections, or cracks in the light bases. If there are cracked or missing bulbs, replace them by following the tree manufacturer's instructions for that particular make and model.

3. Set Up the Stand

The stand is the foundation of a straight and stable Christmas tree. Here are some points to remember:

Types of Stands
Standard Stands

Most artificial Christmas tree stands are X-shaped and are usually constructed out of plastic or metal. If a stand becomes wobbly or damaged from normal use, check the tree's warranty to see if the stand can be replaced. Some plastic bases may be prone to bending or breaking, so avoid these as much as possible. Balsam Hill trees come with a one-piece steel stand, which is designed to remain sturdy and stable for many years.

Rolling Stands

Rolling stands, such as the Balsam Hill Tree Stand with Wheels, are equipped with wheels that allow the tree to be moved easily. The wheels can be locked in place to keep it from sliding.

Spinning Stands

A spinning tree stand has an electric motor that rotates the tree at varying speeds. Rotating stands show off the entire assortment of decorations as it spins.

Setting up the Stand

For pre-lit trees, examine the tree sections to ensure that there is no cut or frayed wire insulation, exposed wiring, loose connections, or cracks in the light bases. If there are cracked or missing bulbs, replace them by following the tree manufacturer's instructions for that particular make and model.

Instructions for Standard Stands

For one-piece tree stands, such as Balsam Hill's, pull apart the legs until they are X-shaped. Next, align the holes in the base and the flange, then screw the eye bolt through the flange. The flange is the circular piece of metal that goes between the eye bolt and the hole of the base. For two-piece stands, slide the pieces together and press the center hubs until theyclicks into place. For directions on mounting a tree on this type of stand, please refer to section 1.d.1. below.

Instructions for Rolling Stands and Spinning Stands

Before making a purchase, check whether the specialized stand can accommodate the diameter of the Christmas tree. Most stands of these types come fully assembled. If not, refer to the instruction manual for proper assembly and mounting.

4. Assemble the Sections

Most artificial Christmas trees have labels to aid you in the correct assembly sequence. Always follow the tree manufacturer's manual for proper assembly instructions. These are the general steps to take:

Assembly Directions

1. With the hinged branches folded up and tied with a ribbon, take the bottom section of the tree and place the pole into the tree stand.

2. Once the pole is fully inserted, tighten the eye bolt to secure and center it.

3. Untie the ribbon and let the branches fall into place.

4. If you have a pre-lit tree, plug in the lights to make sure all the bulbs are working and evenly spaced. See "How to Light a Christmas Tree" section for a detailed guide.

5. Fluff and shape the branches, making sure to lift and separate the inner branches to hide the trunk and make the tree look full. Check the branches from different angles to see if you missed any spots.See "How to Shape a Christmas Tree" for a detailed guide.

Pro Tip:
Put a light coat of lubricant on the end of the pole so that it slides easily into the base. Lubricating the poles of each section will make it easier to assemble and dismantle later on.

6. When you're satisfied with how the branches and lights look, repeat steps 1 to 5 for the next section.

7. Do the same for the remaining sections, stopping every now and then to check how the tree looks from a distance.

Assembling Other Tree Types
Easy Plug™ Trees

Easy Plug™ refers to pre-lit Balsam Hill trees with pre-installed light connections inside the trunk. The bulbs will automatically light up as the poles connect to each other.

1. Insert the bottom section into the stand.

2. Like the standard tree, it's recommended to fluff and shape the branches first before placing the next section. See "How to Shape a Christmas Tree" for a detailed guide.

3. Plug the light cord into a wall outlet and check the bulbs.See the "How to Light a Christmas Tree" section for a detailed guide.

4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 for the remaining sections, stopping every now and then to check the tree from a distance.

Pull-Up Trees

These trees are received in a collapsed form. To assemble, insert the center pole into the bottom section, pull up the foliage-covered frame to its full height, and then insert the top section. For pre-lit models, connect the light plugs into their corresponding sockets according to the supplied lighting diagram.

Hooked Construction

This type of tree has color-coded branches that need to be individually hooked to the center pole. Each branch can be shaped and fluffed before adding the next one. This process usually takes longer than setting up a tree with a hinged construction. This tree type is not available in pre-lit models.

How to Shape a Christmas Tree

Preparation and Tips

  • Wear gloves to protect your hands while fluffing the tree.
  • For pre-lit trees, it's best to shape the tree with its lights switched on to see if they're evenly distributed.
  • Shape the branches by layers and sections. This way, you'll easily see if there are any gaps and adjust them accordingly. Don't insert the next section until you've properly fluffed the one before it.
  • Refer to product photos online as a visual guide in shaping a particular style of tree. Some styles have "downswept" branches that are slightly angled downward, while other styles may have "upswept" tips that curve upward.


1. Begin with the bottom section and work on the lowest layer first. If the section has three layers, fold up the two layers and tie a ribbon around them.

2. To make sure that there are no gaps, start from the inner branches that are closest to the trunk.

3. Separate the individual tips from the main branch and spread them out and away from the center of the tree.When properly fluffed, these inner tips should resemble a peacock's fanned tail and will hide the trunk.

4. For most tree styles, the tips closest to the center pole should be angled upwards to give the tree a full appearance. The tips farthest from the center poles should be angled diagonally away from the branch.

5. Step back and survey the tree from a distance. Check for any gaps that need more shaping. For lighted trees, make sure that the lights are evenly distributed.

6. When you're done with the first layer of branches, untie the next one and repeat steps 1 to 4. Do the same for the last layer.

7. Insert the next section and repeat steps 1-5.

8. Repeat all the previous steps for all the remaining sections, stopping every now and then to check the tree from a distance.

Take note that the first time you assemble the tree requires the most shaping, so take your time and you'll be rewarded with a fantastic-looking tree.

How to Light a Christmas Tree

Pre-Lit Trees

With lighted trees, you only need to connect the plugs into their respective sockets. Plugs and sockets are usually identified with a color-coded or numbered sticker. Use the lighting diagram supplied with the tree for proper instructions. If a certain section of the tree does not light up, take these recommended steps:

1. Ensure that the section is fully plugged into its corresponding socket.

2. Locate the fuse compartment for the light string. Remove and check the fuses to ensure they have not blown. Replace blown fuses with the type recommended by the tree's manufacturer.

3. Gently nudge each bulb very slightly to identify if a bulb wire is slightly misaligned in the socket. Each bulb must be properly in its socket to ensure a good connection.

4. Check each bulb in the unlit section and replace any missing or broken bulbs.

5. Locate the master bulb and make sure it works. A broken master bulb can cause half or the whole light strand to go out. In older trees, the master bulb cannot be replaced, making it necessary to replace the entire strand. However, Balsam Hill's trees from 2013 and on feature replaceable master bulbs, identified with a gray base. Now, if a master bulb goes out, it can be simply replaced with a new masterbulb.

Innovative Pre-Lit Trees

Balsam Hill's line of Instant Evergreen™trees, including the Balsam Hill Centennial Fir Instant Evergreen, features a recent innovation called Easy Plug™. With this technology, all the lighting wires are built directly into the center pole or "tree trunk", which eliminates the need for multiple sockets. The only plug to be touched is the one to be plugged into the wall. When plugged in, the tree lights automatically connect as the tree sections are being assembled.

Another great feature of Balsam Hill's Instant Evergreen trees is its unique memory wire branches. The pre-shaped branches automatically fan out into place as the tree is set up, minimizing the time and effort spent in fluffing the tree.

Unlit Trees

For unlit trees, follow these steps:

1. Untangle the lights carefully and lay them out on a flat surface. Plug them in to test that they are working. Ensure that the tree is bare of any ornaments before stringing the lights.

2. Coil the first set of Christmas lights loosely around your hands. Avoid dragging the cords across the floor.

3. Begin at the bottom of the tree. Using the part nearest the plug as a starting point, wrap the light strand around the trunk at the base of the tree and work up.

4. From the top of the tree, wrap the light strands around the branches near the trunk. Work down as you wind the lights around each branch evenly from the middle of the branch to the tip.

5. Every time you reach the tip, bring the lights back to the center of the tree, and then proceed to the next branch. Once you get to the end of the string lights, plug in another set.

6. If tie strings are used to attach the lights strands, cut off any excess plastic after the tie has been pulled tight to give the branches a cleaner look.

7. Once the entire tree is covered, plug in the lights and check the overall balance. Adjust accordingly if there are lights hidden or covered by any branches.

For more information about stringing Christmas tree lights, please refer to The Tangle-Free, How-To Guide for Hanging Christmas Lights.

Decide between an incandescent or LED light. Traditional incandescent lights are generally less expensive and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. In addition, many people enjoy its warm glow. LED lights are more expensive but are far more energy-efficient, leading to reduced electricity costs. LED lights are cooler to the touch. The latest models now mimic the candlelit radiance similar to incandescent bulbs.

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

Choose a Color Theme

Having a color theme helps give a Christmas tree a well-planned and harmonious look. For a touch of elegance, opt for ornaments with jewel tone colors, such as ruby red, emerald green, and sapphire blue.

For a traditional look, hang red and green decorations to evoke childhood memories and feelings of nostalgia. Heirloom or inherited ornaments are perfect for this theme.

A monochromatic theme makes a strong visual impact. Focus on one solid color in varying tones. Use ornaments with different textures and finishes, such as shiny glass, sparkly crystal, or matte.

Mix up gold, silver, and bronze ornaments for a modern, metallic look. Accent standard Christmas ornaments with a selection of metallic jewelry, figurines, or trinkets to achieve an interesting array of colors.

Add Ornaments

Instead of dangling ornaments randomly throughout the tree, use them to give the tree a balanced and graceful look. It's recommended to start decorating from the top of the tree and working towards the bottom. This prevents accidentally dislodging ornaments from the top and breaking those at the bottom. You can place towels or a blanket under the tree when handling delicate or fragile items.

As a general rule, use large ornaments at the bottom of the tree, medium-sized ones in the middle, and smaller ornaments at the top to emphasize the tree's natural triangular shape.

To add dimension to the tree and cover any gaps, place large baubles deep into the tree to act as a backdrop or filler. Shiny or iridescent balls help achieve depth and fullness. Don't hesitate to reshape branches to make room for the balls. Proceed to hang smaller, textured or intricate ornaments on the tips.

When using garlands, start wrapping the tree from the top and spiral downwards. Create a wavy pattern for more visual interest.

How to Decorate with a Tree Topper

Determine the Ideal Tree Topper Shape and Size

Remember to use a topper that complements the profile of the Christmas tree. For a tree with a full, conical silhouette, use a bold and brilliant topper, such as a star or an angel. For narrow or slim trees, use an elongated topper to enhance its slender form.

Use the tree's height to determine the ideal proportion of the topper. Use the size chart below as a guide:

Whatever the height of the tree, it is advisable to allow at least 5 inches gap between the tip of the topper and the ceiling.

Place the Tree Topper

It is important to mount a tree topper securely to prevent it from falling off and possibly ruining some ornaments or causing injury. For a topper with a conical base, bend one of the top branches and insert it into the cone. Crumple surrounding branches to give the topper additional support.

If a topper has a spring or spiral base, insert the tree's sturdy top branch into the topper's coil. Use green floral tape to secure the topper and conceal the spring.

Ribbon tree toppers are light and easy to attach as it has a wire that wraps easily around the top branch. Pipe cleaners can be used to reinforce support for the ribbon topper.

For heavy tree toppers, we recommend using fasteners, such as the Balsam Hill Tree Topper Extension Kit, to give it more stability. For more information on how to choose the perfect tree topper, please read this article.

Follow these expert artificial Christmas tree assembly tips for an inspiring and unforgettable holiday. For more inspiration on how you can decorate your tree, see our article on Christmas tree themes.

The 5 Best Artificial Christmas Trees of 2022

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  1. Gifts
  2. Holiday Decorating
Photo: Michael Murtaugh

We’ve set up enough artificial Christmas trees to know that with care, decoration, and attention to detail, a lot of them can look beautiful, but the 7. 5-foot National Tree Company Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir stands out as a realistic, competitively priced, versatile, and attractive option that we recommend first among the dozen-plus trees we’ve tried since 2016. However, “competitively priced” has taken on new meaning in fall 2021, as prices for artificial trees have risen considerably. If you can wait another year, you may save some money. Artificial Christmas trees also have a higher environmental cost than live trees, a factor on the minds of a lot of people who have invested in both types and weighed the relative advantages.

Our pick

National Tree Company 7.5-foot Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir (PEDD1-D12-75)

Realistic, full, generously sized, and versatile, this LED-lit tree can switch between all-white and multicolor modes, and its power connects as you put the sections together.

Compared with both pricier and cheaper trees, the National Tree Company Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir (PEDD1-D12-75) strikes a good balance of cost, realism, and ease of setup. Offering nearly 2,000 lifelike polyethylene branch tips surrounding a core clad with very fake PVC “pine needles,” it has a construction similar to that of other high-quality artificial trees—but at 37% polyethylene, a higher-than-average proportion of those lifelike branches, it creates a more convincing illusion of a living tree. Its 750 built-in LED bulbs fill its branches nicely, and the lights can switch from all-white to multicolor to a mix of the two, giving it uncommon versatility. And whereas some trees require you to hunt down the light strings’ plugs among the foliage and manually connect them, this tree’s trunk-mounted PowerConnect system automatically does the job for you when you stack its three sections together. At 7.5 feet high and almost 5 feet across, the tree is generously proportioned; it’ll fill the corner of almost any living room. Finally, it’s widely available, easy to set up, and competitively priced. (For smaller homes, we recommend the 6.5-foot version.)


Also great

Right out of the box, without any of the fluffing of branches that all artificial trees require, Puleo’s 7. 5-foot Royal Majestic Douglas Fir Downswept Tree (RMDD-75QC8) looked so lifelike that a staff writer walking by commented, “It looks like a real tree.” Puleo augments its realistic polyethylene branch tips with subtle color variations such as lighter-green ends simulating new growth, creating one of the most convincing illusions we’ve seen on any artificial tree. Its lights connect automatically via wiring in the sections of trunk, making setup easy. Unlike on all our other picks, though, the lights on this tree are traditional incandescents, not LEDs, and moreover, they come only in clear. But if you prefer the warmer glow of incandescents, that’s a feature, not a bug. And unlike with some incandescent Christmas lights, the rest of the bulbs keep working even if one bulb burns out.

Upgrade pick

Compared with National Tree’s Downswept Douglas Fir, Balsam Hill’s 7.5-foot Fraser Fir Flip Tree Color + Clear LED has a higher number and a greater proportion of realistic branches, which makes it appear more lifelike especially from across a room. It also has more lights (1,320 versus 750), creating an opulent display that our testers universally preferred. The lights, like the Downswept Douglas Fir’s, connect automatically via plugs within the trunk, and they too can switch between clear, color, or a mix of the two. We particularly appreciate that this tree’s base has wheels, a unique feature among our test group, as they make moving it into place and into storage much easier. The “flip” function simply tilts the lower section of the tree upright during setup—so you don’t have to lift it into place yourself—another welcome feature since the tree weighs 78 pounds in total. Like the less expensive trees we tested, it still requires you to put in some time arranging and perfecting it to make it look its best, but it can achieve a level of fullness and realism that’s truly stunning.

Also great

The National Tree Company 7.5-foot Winchester White Pine (WCHW7-300-75) is our pick for fans of kitsch or people who just want something fun and funky. It’s proudly unrealistic, sporting an all-white trunk, branches, and PVC needles lit by 500 white incandescent bulbs. But to our surprise, in our tests even those who prefer a traditional live tree loved the way it looked. It glows like a glass lantern, and it’s especially beautiful in a dark room or in a corner that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight in the daytime.

Also great

National Tree Company’s 7.5-foot Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir Pencil Slim (PEDD4-392D-75) is a great choice for small spaces such as a foyer or apartment, or as an accent tree (in a pair flanking a fireplace or doorway, for example). At just 32 inches wide, it’s barely half the width of the Downswept Douglas Fir on which it’s based. It has the same type of (but fewer) realistic branches, and its 300 LED bulbs can shine in white, multicolor, or a mix of the two. Due to its pencil shape, it looks like no living pine we know of, but when lit and decorated, it’s pretty in its own right.

Everything we recommend

Our pick

National Tree Company 7.5-foot Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir (PEDD1-D12-75)

Realistic, full, generously sized, and versatile, this LED-lit tree can switch between all-white and multicolor modes, and its power connects as you put the sections together.

Also great
Upgrade pick
Also great
Also great

The research

  • Why you should trust us
  • Who should get this
  • How we picked
  • How we tested
  • Our pick: National Tree Company 7.5-foot Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir (PEDD1-D12-75)
  • Also great: Puleo 7.5-foot Royal Majestic Douglas Fir Downswept Tree (RMDD-75QC8)
  • Upgrade pick: Balsam Hill 7.5-foot Fraser Fir Flip Tree Color + Clear LED
  • Also great: National Tree Company 7.5-foot Winchester White Pine (WCHW7-300-75)
  • Also great: National Tree Company 7. 5-foot Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir Pencil Slim (PEDD4-392D-75)
  • The competition
  • On fake trees, real trees, and harming the environment
  • The facts on lead in PVC tree parts

Why you should trust us

Our crash course in artificial Christmas trees began in 2016 when Wirecutter senior staff writer Tim Heffernan visited a fake-tree manufacturer’s New Jersey headquarters. Since then we’ve shopped for trees online and in person at several big-box stores, tested several trees over the years, and spent hours examining trees at House of Holiday—New York City’s largest holiday shop—whose owner Larry Gurino “love[s] to geek out over artificial trees.” Wirecutter supervising editor Courtney Schley has interviewed the American Christmas Tree Association, which represents artificial-tree makers, to understand the industry itself, including the manufacturing processes, sales and design trends, and statistics. For the 2019 version of this guide, Wirecutter senior editor Harry Sawyers spoke with three major tree manufacturers to identify the latest offerings and track new developments in the fake-tree world. In 2021, Tim spoke with three manufacturers, two of them new to us.

Who should get this

The best way to think about who should get an artificial Christmas tree is to compare the benefits and drawbacks of fake versus live Christmas trees.

On the plus side, artificial trees are:

Durable: A good artificial Christmas tree can last a decade, whereas live trees last a single season.

Cost-effective over the long term: Up front, artificial trees are much more expensive than live ones; in 2020, a live tree on average cost $81, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, which represents the live-tree industry. But at that average, a $400 artificial tree pays for itself after five years, and the best of them can last years more than that.

Low maintenance and low stress: There’s no need to water a fake tree or to shimmy underneath the thing to secure it in its stand. You don’t have to get to the tree lot early enough every year to hunt for a “good” one (a tradition that plenty of people enjoy). Having the tree at home ready to go once Thanksgiving wraps up means one fewer errand and one less expense at a busy, budget-straining time of year.

Safer: A 2019 New York Times article noted that while around 160 home fires a year involved Christmas trees, the National Fire Protection Association reported that “a disproportionate share of Christmas tree fires involved natural trees.” Also in 2019, researchers for a local CBS news station based in Washington, DC, attempted to set an artificial tree on fire (video) with a lighter but didn’t succeed until they poured around a gallon of gasoline over it. In the same test, a healthy and well-watered live tree caught on fire immediately but eventually went out—though it’s important to note that their test tree had no ornaments or lights and stood against a concrete wall. In an NFPA video, in contrast, a dry, unwatered live tree burned furiously. The NFPA also found that Christmas tree lights were the cause of close to half of all Christmas tree fires (PDF). Be sure to check any tree lights for exposed wires, and never hang ornaments directly on the wires, as the weight or the sharp points on a hanger can compromise the wires’ protective coating.

Not messy: Fake trees don’t scratch up the roof of your car in transit or cover your hands in sap when you’re moving them or setting them up. They don’t shed, and they don’t leave a sad trail of needles as you drag their withered husks out of the house after New Year’s.

On the downside, fake trees are:

A pain to store: Storage is the most important reason to skip a fake tree—if you don’t have a garage or basement where you can fit a heavy box the size of a water heater in the off-season, forget it. On top of the bulk, an artificial tree often won’t fit back into the large box it came in, and if you keep yours in an uninsulated space, both heat and dampness can damage it and shorten its lifespan. It seems wise to protect your investment with the minor additional cost of a dedicated storage bag such as the Elf Stor Premium Christmas Tree Bag (a well-reviewed item we have not personally tested over the long term).

Not beautiful out of the box: Setup is hardly effortless with a fake tree, as we saw consistently during our firsthand tests. Once you get a live tree back home and secure in the stand, you just need to put its best face forward, and it looks realistic automatically … because it is in fact real.

Not 100% realistic: Even the highest-quality fake trees still don’t appear truly lifelike viewed up close. They can be quite similar to the real thing, but their plastic branches usually have a uniform appearance and a strange shine that tells the eye they’re unnatural. That said, from a distance, they can look very, very good.

Odorless: Fake trees lack the sweet piney aroma that many people associate with Christmas.

There’s also the question of whether fake trees or real trees are better for the environment. The conclusion we reached is that live trees are considerably better in that regard, but that buying a fake tree every 10 years is a drop in the environmental bucket compared with the ecological cost of other, everyday consumption (of gasoline, electricity, gadgetry, and so on).

How we picked

You can find plenty of great artificial trees these days, in dozens of “species”—assorted firs, spruces, redwoods, and pines—in multiple heights and girths, colors, and lighting styles. For this guide, we defaulted to the most popular choices, as determined by our research into sales trends, in a quest to come up with a tree type that would please the most people. Our interviews with National Tree Company and the American Christmas Tree Association yielded a few key facts about trends in the industry. The 7.5-foot size is the most popular, as US home ceilings are usually 8 feet high, so our picks reflect that.

After years of testing trees in every price bracket, in 2021 we decided to stop recommending “budget” trees. The problem isn’t their lack of realism—we found that even the fakest-looking trees are attractive once they’re lit and decorated. It’s about their long-term decline. Their cheaper construction shows when you’re setting them up and packing them into storage, as needles shed, branches break, and the overall look goes from passable to ragged over several years. Artificial trees have a significant environmental impact and can’t be recycled, too. So we decided to recommend only those models that you can reasonably expect to last for a decade or more, as they’ll spread their impact out over time. For anyone to stick with a fake tree that long, it has to be impressive to start and then remain that way through annual wear and tear.

This change meant setting our sights only on the most convincing, lifelike artificial trees, which usually carry a correspondingly high price tag. We were surprised to find how much a good fake tree cost when we began this research several years ago, and we’ve had an eye-opening shopping experience again in 2021, as tree prices have risen across the board (subscription required) due to the widespread supply-chain issues affecting deliveries from China, where almost all artificial trees are made.

Cost and realism go hand in hand on artificial trees. Using molds often taken from actual branches, artificial-tree manufacturers shape polyethylene, or PE, to produce highly realistic branch tips. But a higher percentage of polyethylene generally means a higher price, and as with real trees, bigger sizes come with bigger costs. Well into the 2000s, the only material that manufacturers used in artificial trees was polyvinyl chloride (PVC). On most trees now, PVC appears mostly as the obviously fake, tinsel-like filler branches near the tree’s trunk. Those branches aren’t prominently visible, but they do add visual density—helping to give the impression of an especially “full” tree. PVC is cheaper to produce than PE, and it’s also a lot lighter. In looking for trees that had a good mix of realistic PE tips and internal PVC filler, we were really seeking models that balanced realism, cost, and weight.

On the topic of PVC: What was once a genuine health concern—the use of lead as a PVC stabilizer—is no longer an issue in most artificial trees sold in the US, according to National Tree Company and the American Christmas Tree Association, the latter of which represents artificial-tree companies.

Polyethylene branch tips (in the model’s palm) are highly realistic and give the tree a natural look. Branch tips made of PVC (near the model’s fingers) lack polyethylene’s realism, especially at a close distance. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

Prelit trees make up 90% of the artificial trees sold in the US, according to the American Christmas Tree Association, with most of those studded with energy-saving and durable LED bulbs. We looked for prelit trees that had roughly 100 bulbs (or more) per foot of tree height; fewer than that can make the lighting appear sparse. To cover everyone’s tastes, we looked for trees that could switch between all-white and multicolor lighting. We didn’t prioritize flashing light patterns or other visual effects: As Larry Gurino of House of Holiday told us, “Most people don’t use them—they just want to see them [advertised] on the box.”

Virtually all contemporary artificial trees have branches permanently mounted on hinges on the center pole. Thanks to this design, they unfurl into place quickly when you set them up. We avoided the outdated designs in which you snap individual branches into sockets on the center pole one by one, a time-consuming and fussy process.

Last, we looked into smart trees that folks could control via their phones, whether they’re traveling or just want to eliminate the inconvenience of turning their tree on and off manually every day. But the best way to do this currently, as is the case with most basic home goods, is to use a reliable plug-in smart outlet and control the tree through that.

The best way to make a fake tree smart

How we tested

Photo: Sarah Kobos

For the 2019 version of this guide, we brought in eight trees of various styles and levels of realism and had a diverse group of Wirecutter folks—writers, programmers, business managers, our editor-in-chief—set them up in our office in Long Island City, New York. Guide author Tim Heffernan participated in the setup of each tree to get firsthand experience with all our contenders. And we invited everyone in the office to share their preferences and impressions of the trees over the course of two weeks.

Here’s what we learned:

  1. No fake tree looks convincingly lifelike up close (say, from a distance of 6 feet or less). Living trees have color variations and other “imperfections,” and that’s part of what tells the eye that they’re real.
  2. Even inexpensive trees can look very good from across the room, and more expensive trees—those with a high proportion of realistic branch tips—can look truly real.
  3. Fake trees arrive with their branches tightly compressed from being squeezed into the shipping box; they look less like living things than they do furry green war clubs. To make a tree (of any price or level of realism) look good, you have to “fluff it,” a tedious but necessary process in which you manually separate and arrange the branch tips to give the tree more volume and a more realistic shape. And the branches can scrape your hands, so consider wearing gloves.
  4. Once we lit and decorated them all, every tree in our test looked great. When setting up one of the inexpensive, all-PVC, decidedly non-realistic trees in our test, Wirecutter staff writer Anna Perling stated flatly, “I hate this tree.” But an hour later she admitted that it looked nice. What had changed? We’d fluffed it.
  5. Hooking up the strings of lights on prelit trees can be a pain. Many trees make you hunt down the plugs on each section and either hook them together or draw them down through the tree to a common power-strip-like master plug. So we prioritized trees that run their wiring through the “trunk” (the metal pipe the branches mount to) and automatically connect when you stack the sections atop one another during initial setup. That’s a much easier way of doing it, and our testers preferred it.

Fluffing and decorating our pick—a 40-minute job for Wirecutter’s Haley Sprankle and Jordan Bowman—compressed to 23 seconds. Haley joked, “I feel like this process could break a couple up.”

Our pick: National Tree Company 7.5-foot Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir (PEDD1-D12-75)

Photo: Michael Murtaugh
Our pick

National Tree Company 7.

5-foot Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir (PEDD1-D12-75)

Realistic, full, generously sized, and versatile, this LED-lit tree can switch between all-white and multicolor modes, and its power connects as you put the sections together.

National Tree Company’s 7.5-foot Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir with dual-color LEDs (PEDD1-D12-75) is our pick among artificial Christmas trees. We’ve seen much more expensive trees that look somewhat more realistic, as well as much cheaper trees that look reasonably lifelike, but the Downswept Douglas Fir strikes a sweet balance of price, realism, and ease of setup. After fluffing, it is especially full and lifelike, and its generous, 59-inch girth will fill most living rooms. The lights can switch between multicolor and a pretty champagne-gold white (plus multiple combinations of color and white and flashing or “sparkling”) to match a wide range of tastes. And in an unusual touch for a tree of its price, the light strings connect automatically when you stack the tree’s three sections together, thanks to cables and plugs that run through the “trunk. ” That’s much easier than the usual process of hunting down bare plugs among the foliage and manually hooking them together. Last, the tree is widely available: If you’d like to see it in person, Home Depot, Kohl’s, and many holiday stores typically carry it.

With 1,867 lifelike polyethylene branch tips, the Downswept Douglas Fir is thickly foliated and shows no gaps after fluffing. And at 37% polyethylene, it has a higher proportion of realistic foliage—and a lower proportion of fake-looking PVC—than many trees in its price range. Note, however, that the price of the Downswept Douglas Fir varies considerably among retailers, as we’ve seen it listed for as low as $375 and as high as $1,000; seasonal demand and availability pressures can cause huge swings. It may ease the sting to remember that you’re making at least a 10-year investment.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, even though this tree is artificial. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

The Downswept Douglas Fir, like the vast majority of contemporary prelit trees, features LED bulbs rather than traditional incandescents. They last longer, run cooler, and (in the Downswept Douglas Fir’s case) can toggle between multicolor, all-white, a mix of the two, and blinking and sparkling variations thereof. We think the ability to switch between color and all-white modes is a genuine strength of this tree. You could use all-white for a more sophisticated look during a grown-up holiday party, for example, and use the multicolor mode when the mood is more festive. Or you could do something different from year to year so that it doesn’t seem like the same tree every Christmas. And with 750 bulbs, the Downswept Douglas Fir meets our recommendation of 100 bulbs per foot of tree height. Fewer than that can look sparse, but the Downswept Douglas Fir’s lights are sufficient in number and evenly placed.

Thanks to the PowerConnect feature, you don’t need to reach into the thicket to find a power cord (while plastic pieces poke you in the face). Video: Michael Murtaugh

The Downswept Douglas Fir’s all-white settings give off a subtle straw-gold tone (versus pure white) that many of our staffers praised. And its multicolor settings, while brighter than those of traditional incandescents, are not harsh and cold as on some LED Christmas-tree lights. The choice isn’t just white or multicolor, either: You can also select a Mardi Gras–like mode with white, green, and pale purple lights. And when we set it to the “sparkling” mode on the white bulbs—in which some bulbs gently faded and then re-brightened—several people gasped in surprise and delight. There are some forgettable blinking settings (where the bulbs shut on and off as if someone were flipping a light switch), but all in all, the versatility of this color-change mode is an excellent feature worth seeking out, on this or any other National Tree species, because it really sets the tree apart from the pack of more basic alternatives. Even guide author Tim Heffernan, a committed fan of incandescent bulbs with no gimmicks, happily admitted that these are some wonderful effects.

Connecting the light strings is easy on this tree. On some artificial trees, you have to find plugs among the foliage—not easy, since the plugs and wires are green, like the foliage—and manually connect them. But the Downswept Douglas Fir features National Tree’s PowerConnect system: The wires connect automatically when you stack the tree’s three sections together, via sockets inside the “trunk” (see the GIF above). That’s a huge plus. National Tree does make a version of this tree without PowerConnect—it’s the National Tree PEDD1-312LD-75X, a model we cover in more detail in the Competition section. (Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t sell for a lower price.)

In a design common to modern artificial trees, the Downswept Douglas Fir’s branches are all permanently mounted on hinges on the center pole (older artificial trees required you to attach branches individually via sockets). And like most trees its height, it comes in three sections. As you stack the sections, the branches fold out under their own weight—though you then have to fluff them, a tedious task that can take an hour for one person working alone.

National Tree Company offers a warranty for its realistic prelit trees taller than 6. 5 feet, such as our pick, that covers manufacturer defects for five years from the date of purchase. The LEDs are covered for three years. You need proof and the date of purchase to file a claim, and you need to have treated the tree and lights with reasonable care to have your claim approved.

Accidents do happen, though, like the time a robot vacuum belonging to Ben Frumin, Wirecutter’s editor-in-chief, severed a section of his Downswept Douglas Fir’s electrical cord after gobbling up several inches of the cord near the light-controlling foot pedal. All it took was one call to customer service, a $15 charge, and 48 hours before Ben had a replacement cord in hand and the tree was merry and bright once more.

The lights are well designed, but should you experience any issues, the included troubleshooting tips (PDF) are easy to follow. An internal shunt in each bulb continues the flow of electricity if a single bulb goes out, so the rest of the strand won’t be affected—if you notice a single dark spot, simply swap the unlit bulb out with one of the included replacements. If a section of a light string malfunctions, the culprit is usually a single bulb that came loose, whether it has burned out or not. A light tester can help you find the problem bulb without the effort of removing and replacing each one. Should an entire string go dark, it likely means that a fuse in the plug has burned out, and all of the National Tree Company picks in our guide come with replacements for those, as well; again, follow the included instructions (PDF) for guidance. If all of these options fail, customer support is on hand to help, though we’ve found it extremely difficult to get through to a live agent as the holidays grow closer. The earlier you set up your tree, the better.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

As we have learned from experience, the major drawbacks to owning this tree, or any artificial tree of a similar size, are all about storage.

People often overlook the fact that they’ll need to store an artificial tree for 10 or 11 months out of the year, Larry Gurino of House of Holiday pointed out. And lack of storage space is the main reason, he added, that city and apartment dwellers favor live trees. (He also noted that when live trees get thrown out, they often become free mulch for public parks—in effect, they’re recycled.) So unless you have lots of storage room in your place, a live tree may make more sense.

And even if you have room to store an artificial tree, bear in mind that, as Gurino noted, it won’t easily go back into its original box: “Once you fluff it, it’ll never fit exactly.” But if you have ample storage space, you don’t have to keep a tree in its original box. Rather, Gurino said, keeping it covered and dry is the main thing. You can separate the sections and flatten the branches as compactly as possible, or you can keep it whole; just don’t store it somewhere it’ll be trampled or moved a lot. And a climate-controlled space (converted basement, storage closet) is always preferable to an uninsulated attic or garage.

Also great: Puleo 7.

5-foot Royal Majestic Douglas Fir Downswept Tree (RMDD-75QC8)

Photo: Sarah Kobos
Also great

If you’re looking for a terrifically realistic tree at a good price, the Puleo 7.5-foot Royal Majestic Douglas Fir Downswept Tree (RMDD-75QC8) is a great option. Its polyethylene branch tips exhibit subtle variations in color, becoming lighter green at their ends just as living branches are lighter at their ends, where new growth occurs. It’s a remarkably convincing technique—upon seeing the Royal Majestic for the first time, one Wirecutter writer simply said, “It looks like a real tree.” The tree has a generous 1,860 of the realistic tips, too, just shy of the Downswept Douglas Fir’s count of 1,867. The Royal Majestic has another feature that we value highly: As on the Downswept Douglas Fir and many of our other picks, its lights connect automatically when you put the tree’s three sections together, so you don’t have to hunt for plugs amid the greenery. However, the Royal Majestic is available only with clear lights, and they’re incandescent rather than LED, which makes this tree less versatile than our top pick. But the lights are at least of a more modern kind—if one bulb goes out, the rest of the string stays lit—eliminating one big drawback to old-style incandescents. If you prefer clear lights to colors, and if the warm glow of incandescents is a plus in your book, it’s a tree to consider strongly.

Besides being realistic, the Royal Majestic is notably easier to fluff than other trees we’ve tested. Its branches are made with memory wire—Puleo calls it Insta-Shape—and in theory they spring into place when you set up the tree for the first time. Other companies have a similar option; for example, the Balsam Hill Fraser Fir Flip Tree, our upgrade pick, has what the company calls Pre-Fluffed branches. But Puleo’s worked better in our testing. Guide author Tim Heffernan spent just 10 minutes or so fluffing the Royal Majestic, whereas the Balsam Hill took him almost an hour. (In fairness, the Balsam Hill also has 1,564 more branch tips to attend to, but if the ratio of tips to fluffing time were equal, it should have taken just 20 minutes.)

The pole-connecting lights (Puleo calls the design Sure-Lit) also make setup easier, just as on many of our picks—a point highlighted by the fact that the particular Royal Majestic we tested turned out to be a warehouse model from a prior year and had lights that needed to be manually connected. That led to an irritating half-hour game of hide-and-seek for Tim as he searched for the pine-green plugs among the equally pine-green foliage. Puleo’s vice president of marketing and sales, Chris Kelly, assured us that all the Royal Majestics arriving in stores this year have the Sure-Lit feature but are otherwise identical to the tree we got. But if you decide to buy one, look closely at the label or product description: Some older models may still be on the shelves.

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum, the German word for “polyethylene” is “polyäthylen. ” Photo: Sarah Kobos

The incandescent, clear-only bulbs are the Royal Majestic’s only major drawback. If you prefer colors, you’ll have to unstring the lights it comes with and string your own—there is no unlit version of the tree. On top of that, incandescents do not last nearly as long as LED bulbs do. The inevitable burnt-out bulbs won’t ruin the look of the tree because, unlike with older incandescents, they won’t make the rest of a string of lights crap out; Puleo supplies a generous number of replacement bulbs and fuses, too. (Though these are, annoyingly, tightly taped in small packets to the strings—you have to find them and then snip them off carefully so as not to nick the wires.) On the plus side, this tree has 800 lights, exceeding our 100-per-foot-of-height rule of thumb for a well-lit tree. And incandescents have a soft warmth that LEDs can’t match. If that sounds like what you want, you’ll be pleased with the Royal Majestic.

Upgrade pick: Balsam Hill 7.

5-foot Fraser Fir Flip Tree Color + Clear LED

Photo: Sarah Kobos
Upgrade pick

If you want one of the very best artificial trees available, we recommend the Balsam Hill 7.5-foot Fraser Fir Flip Tree Color + Clear LED. It represents a huge step up in price from our top pick, but you definitely get more tree for the money: 1,320 white and multicolor lights (versus our top pick’s 750) and 3,424 branch tips (almost double our top pick’s 1,867), as well as an easier time setting this tree up in comparison with most others. It’s a real investment, but it’s spectacular.

Any properly fluffed tree, from the cheapest to the most expensive, looks very good when decorated and lit—all the foliage fades into a dark tree-shaped silhouette, and your eyes land on the bright lights and glinting decorations.

The Fraser Fir offers Balsam Hill’s full set of premium features, including those high bulb and branch counts. To make setup easier, it’s what the company calls a “flip tree”: Instead of a design consisting of separate bottom and middle sections that you have to stack manually, this tree combines them into a single section that flips upside down on an axle for storage (allowing the branches to flop against the trunk) and upright for display (upon which the branches, as on all modern fake trees, fall into position under their own weight). It makes setup a bit quicker, but the chief advantage is that you don’t have to lift the lower two-thirds of the tree into place yourself—all told, the tree weighs 78 pounds, so doing so would take some strength. The flip mechanism also allows Balsam Hill to put the tree on built-in casters, which make moving it into place easier. (Balsam Hill offers a nearly identical—in terms of branch-tip and light bulb numbers—non-flip version that usually sells for several hundred dollars less, so if you have the necessary muscle, it’s a way to save a bit of money. It doesn’t have wheels, however.)  But although all of Balsam Hill’s Fraser Fir models have Pre-Fluffed (as the company calls it) memory-wire branch tips, we found that they didn’t work as advertised: Fluffing the flip tree we tested still took about an hour.

Rockin’ around the Christmas tree, it’s PVC and polyeth-yleeene. Photo: Sarah Kobos

Due to the high bulb count, the Fraser Fir appears opulently lit compared with our other picks. We think the dual-color LED version of the tree offers the best value over the long term: Not only do you get the long-lasting durability of LEDs, but you also have the versatility to switch colors on all of the tree’s lights if you want to change the look from white to multicolor or a mix of both. Balsam Hill trees come with two boxes of replacement bulbs in case of individual blackouts, and per the included troubleshooting tips, if an entire section of the tree doesn’t light up, you just gently turn the “trunk” back and forth a bit at each contact point to make sure the pole-to-pole connection is secure. We’ve yet to see a review from anyone who experienced unsolvable light issues, but should it happen to you, reach out to customer service. Balsam Hill covers the tree with a three-year warranty.

When we viewed our test models as plain green trees, in natural daylight and with the tree lights off, the artificial Fraser Fir looked quite convincingly like the real thing. It also looked particularly great when lit and decorated, thanks to its extremely full appearance and the huge number of bulbs. The caveat here is that you often can’t truly appreciate the realism: Any properly fluffed tree, from the cheapest to the most expensive, looks very good when decorated and lit—all the foliage fades into a dark tree-shaped silhouette, and your eyes land on the bright lights and glinting decorations.

Please come home for Christmas, remote control we hope we don’t lose sometime around the third year of owning this deluxe fake tree. Video: Sarah Kobos

One last point: You can operate the Fraser Fir’s lights via a small remote control, whereas in contrast most prelit trees, including the Downswept Douglas Fir, make you use a button on the power cord. But the Fraser Fir has such a button, too, which is good for peace of mind. The remote is handy because it means you don’t have to root around behind the tree when you want to change the lighting modes, but we could easily see it getting lost or simply malfunctioning over the decade or more that the tree should last. Take care to keep the remote stored in a safe place in the off-season.

Also great: National Tree Company 7.5-foot Winchester White Pine (WCHW7-300-75)

Photo: Michael Murtaugh
Also great

If realism isn’t your cup of tea, or if you simply prefer the Jet Age look of a different-color tree, we recommend the National Tree Company 7.5-foot Winchester White Pine with Clear Lights (WCHW7-300-75). Even our staffers who prefer live trees found it beautiful. Its all-white branches, trunk, and glitter-dusted all-PVC needles give it a pretty, crystalline look when the lights are off. And with the lights on, all those reflective surfaces make the tree glow from within. Whereas green foliage simply disappears into a dark silhouette once the lights are on, the Winchester White Pine transforms into a snowy lantern when lit. The effect is especially striking in a dark room or in a corner that doesn’t receive a lot of natural light in the daytime.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas—and I mean literally, I’m dreaming of a stark-white fake tree. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

Realism obviously isn’t a point of comparison between the Winchester White Pine and our other picks. But you still have to fluff the tree to get it to look its best, a process that deposits glitter on your hands, clothes, and floor. And we found that the Winchester White Pine lost more of its needles while we were fluffing than any other tree in our test. Not a huge amount—nothing like the shower of fallen needles you get when setting up a live tree—but you need to do a sweep or vacuum afterward.

We also found that the Winchester White Pine is more sensitive to light placement than our other picks. If any of its 500 incandescent bulbs are blocked by the foliage, they create a dark patch that stands out against the internal glow of the tree. So spend a bit of time tugging individual bulbs into a position where they shed their light broadly. Do that, and you’ll wind up with a weirdly wonderful tree.

Our long-term tester of this tree reports that in its second year the glitter and needle shedding persists, and that a portion of branches has developed some slight discoloration, possibly due to heat in her storage space, but overall “it’s still as magical.”

Also great: National Tree Company 7.5-foot Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir Pencil Slim (PEDD4-392D-75)

Photo: Michael Murtaugh
Also great

The National Tree Company 7.5-foot Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir Pencil Slim with Dual Color LED Lights (PEDD4-392D-75) is a great option for small spaces such as a home’s foyer or a compact apartment. It’s similar in construction to our top pick, the Downswept Douglas Fir, with a rich mix of realistic polyethylene branch tips and fake PVC filler branches. And it uses the same dual-color LED lights—only it has 350 bulbs, not 750, because there’s so much less tree to cover. At just 32 inches, it’s barely half as wide as the 59-inch Downswept Douglas Fir, so it doesn’t look like any pine you can find in nature; it’s more like a cypress. But that small girth means it can fit in spaces where a full-width tree can’t.

Santa, baby, hurry down the chimney, with a tree skinny enough to fit through the flue. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

Placed side by side against our other picks, the Pencil Slim looks bizarre, and among our staffers it was nobody’s first (or second or third) choice. But once we set it up on its own and decorated this tree, it still looked more than realistic enough. And as with our other picks, once the lights are turned on, the tree itself disappears into the background; all you see are the lights and the glimmer of the decorations. This unusual shape also proves a broader point that we kept running across in our research—whatever size, shape, height, or style of tree you need, you can usually find a pretty good model to fit the bill.

We’re highlighting this model in particular because, as with the branch-tip construction, its lights are the same as those on our pick, the popular and widely appealing Downswept Douglas Fir. The lights have the same multiple colors and patterns (nine in total), including all-color, all-white, and the “sparkling” mode—where some bulbs gently dim and re-brighten—that our staffers found so charming. Again, it has fewer of them (350 versus 750), but the Pencil Slim still looks fully lit, because those lights are spread among so much less foliage.

As always, you have to fluff the Pencil Slim tree to make it look good. But the process is much faster due to the tree’s narrow shape.

The competition

We were excited about a 7.5-foot version of the Home Decorators Collection Swiss Mountain Black Spruce Twinkly Rainbow Christmas Tree. It’s one of a number of new trees, from multiple manufacturers, that come with app-controlled LED lights that you can program directly or set to multiple preprogrammed patterns—pushing their abilities beyond the seven or eight presets that most white-plus-color trees come with. From what we’ve found through reporting, people are now using trees with this feature as non-Christmas decorations, setting them to Halloween colors when it’s time for trick-or-treaters, for example, or to team colors for sporting events. Sadly, the tree itself was a disappointment; compared with our picks from National Tree, it had a higher proportion of cheap-looking PVC branches, and the finer polyethylene branches tended to break off during routine, delicate handling. We do love its Twinkly smart lights, though, enough so that we’ve added them to our guide to the best Christmas lights. The Home Decorators tree’s most valuable asset is the 600 Twinkly bulbs prestrung on it, which retail on their own for several hundred dollars. You’re better off buying the lights separately and adding them to a tree of your choice.

The National Tree Company PEDD1-312LD-75X, a former pick in this guide, is a great tree, but we made a mistake about one feature in recommending it previously. This model lacks the company’s PowerConnect feature, in which the lights connect when you attach the central pole. Instead, this model requires you to manually connect standard plug connectors near where the segments of the tree come together. It’s workable, but the PowerConnect feature is even better, and our top pick has that. And unfortunately, this more basic version does not usually sell for a lower price than our pick.

A reader asked about Bethlehem Lights, a tree brand that’s primarily sold through QVC. Although the quality of this line appears statistically comparable to that of a National Tree model, the overall purchase is a weaker value in comparison. On top of a nearly equivalent price, QVC charges a hefty shipping fee. One now-discontinued option we considered had fewer lights, at 600, and they were incandescent (not LED), which put it at a disadvantage in durability and total lifespan.

Frontgate mostly competes with Balsam Hill in the premium category, as it focuses on super-realistic and super-expensive trees. Their specs—and prices—are impressive. In 2021, we tested one of the company’s Fraser firs and found its build quality and realism equal to that of the Balsam Hill Fraser fir that we recommend. You won’t go wrong with any of Frontgate’s offerings, but they are pretty limited, especially if you want something other than clear-only lights: Frontgate offers only a single indoor tree (and one outdoor tree) with a multicolor feature.

Home Accents Holiday, a Home Depot house brand, is generally oriented toward inexpensive, less-realistic trees. Its 7.5-foot Dunhill Fir Unlit model was our former budget pick, and it looked nice once strung with lights and decorations despite having no realistic needles. But we no longer recommend inexpensive trees of this sort, as they tend to wear out within a few years and need replacement—adding to your out-of-pocket costs as well as the environmental cost of producing fake trees.

There are many, many more competitors than what we describe here. If you can’t find one of our picks or a comparable tree from the makers listed here, you can still get an excellent tree—use the criteria we outline in How we picked, especially regarding branch-tip count, material, and lighting. Once trees are fluffed, lit, and decorated, they can all look great in their own way.

On fake trees, real trees, and harming the environment

Between artificial and live trees, which is greener? You might not be surprised to learn that within the industry there’s no consensus answer—the American Christmas Tree Association and the National Christmas Tree Association, which represent the artificial-tree and live-tree industries, respectively, both claim the “greener” title.

But the definitive 2007 study on the subject gave the edge firmly to live trees, finding that an artificial tree would have to be used for 20 years before its carbon impact fell below that of buying a live tree annually over the same timeframe. A more recent look at the topic reached similar conclusions.

Artificial trees are manufactured mostly in China, where environmental laws tend to be less stringent. In addition, the study did not take into account the environmental cost of producing the raw materials—steel and plastics—that the trees are made of, nor the cost of shipping them across the ocean, noted Travis Wagner, professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Southern Maine. Lastly, artificial trees cannot be recycled because it’s too difficult to separate the various materials, so they wind up in landfills when they reach the end of their working lives.

Live trees can be sustainably farmed and harvested, they absorb carbon while growing, and they provide some measure of wildlife habitat. Although live-tree farms do contribute to the consequences of fertilizer and pesticide use, they add value to land that might otherwise be valuable only to developers. At the end of their lives, live trees can be “recycled” in a number of ways, such as by being turned into mulch, used to stabilize sand dunes, or even submerged in lakes to create fish habitat.

It’s worth noting—as the 2007 study did—that simply driving a gas-powered car a few hundred miles produces more greenhouse gases than producing a typical artificial Christmas tree. So compared with the cumulative environmental cost of everyday activities and consumption, your fake tree isn’t much more than a blip. Still, taking care of it and extending its life is a way to minimize its environmental impact.

The facts on lead in PVC tree parts

Lead serves as a stabilizer in some forms of PVC. The one serious study (PDF) we’ve seen on artificial Christmas trees, published in 2004 in the Journal of Environmental Health, found that the lead levels and risk of lead exposure were generally very low, and well below federal guidelines at the time; a few models were outliers, however, and one slightly exceeded the federal limits. Lead exposure occurred in two ways: direct contact with the branches—as may occur when people are setting the trees up and decorating them—and contact with PVC dust beneath the tree, the result of physical decomposition of the “pine needles,” a particular concern for crawling infants. Significantly, new trees (new in 2004, that is) generally showed much lower levels of lead than trees manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s. The authors concluded that while the proportion of trees made with lead-stabilized PVC had “decreased only modestly” in the 20 years preceding 2004, “the amount of lead stabilizer used has apparently been reduced to a much larger extent,” suggesting a long-term trend toward low-lead or lead-free artificial trees.

We raised our concerns with the American Christmas Tree Association, which stated in response that leaded PVC is no longer used at all in its members’ products. We also asked National Tree Company about its products specifically, and representatives confirmed that the company uses entirely lead-free PVC. We have no reason to doubt those claims, but since no federal standards or tests for artificial-tree materials exist, we have no independent data to confirm or contradict them, either. In general, it seems wise to wash your hands after setting up and decorating your artificial tree, as well as to prevent kids and pets from playing underneath it or (obviously) chewing on the branches. But the risk of lead exposure from a contemporary artificial Christmas tree is likely to be minimal to nonexistent.

About your guide

Tim Heffernan

Tim Heffernan is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter and a former writer-editor for The Atlantic, Esquire, and others. He has anchored our unequaled coverage of air purifiers and water filters since 2015. In 2018, he established Wirecutter’s ongoing collaboration with The New York Times’s Smarter Living. When he’s not here, he’s on his bike.

Further reading

  • Christmas Decorating Supplies to Deck the Halls, Walls, Porch, and More

    by Harry Sawyers

    Between the tree, the lights, tools, and accessories, we’ve got your home-decoration needs covered this Christmas.

  • The Best Christmas Lights

    by Doug Mahoney and Thom Dunn

    Our recommendations for indoor, outdoor, LED, and incandescent Christmas lights.

  • How to Keep Pets Safe From Your Holiday Decor

    by Kaitlyn Wells

    ’Tis the season for sparkling lights, tinsel, and trees—these tips will help you ensure your holiday decor is pet-proof.

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How to make a Christmas tree with your own hands

You can make a large, lush and beautiful artificial Christmas tree yourself. Its shape may be different, which will depend on the technique for making a frame for a tree. We will show you four master classes, showing you step by step how to make a Christmas tree with your own hands.

Workshop No.

1: a Christmas tree made of artificial branches

You can make a Christmas tree from artificial spruce branches, the height and splendor of which you can adjust yourself. The manufacturing process itself, if you have a ready-made wire frame, is quite simple.


To make a Christmas tree from artificial branches you will need:

  • wire frame;
  • spruce branches;
  • garland;
  • wire cutters;
  • cable ties;
  • puffy bow or ribbon.

Step 1 . First, take care of the wire frame. An excellent basis for a Christmas tree will be tomato grills, which are sold in the form of a wire cone. If you need a tree that is taller or smaller than the original trellis, you can modify it a bit. For a smaller tree, you will need to remove some of the rings and wires, and to make the tree larger, align several trellises by inserting one into the other.

Step 2 . Fasten a cable tie on top of the pyramid formed from the lattices so that the rods form an acute angle.

Step 3 . To decorate the Christmas tree, wrap the wire mesh with artificial branches, if they, as in this master class, are made on a wire frame. If your branches are softer, secure them with cable ties by biting off the ends.

Step 4 . Completely shape the tree by laying faux spruce branches from bottom to top in tiers, leaving no gaps.

Step 5 . Decorate the Christmas tree with a garland, and hoist a magnificent bow of ribbons or fabric in a contrasting color at the very top of the tree.

Your Christmas tree is ready. Leaving the sharp ends of the wires at the bottom of the wire frame, you can install a Christmas tree in the yard. Without them, the tree will stand steadily on the floor in the house.

Master class No. 2: do-it-yourself Christmas tree made of white tinsel

Based on the same wire frame for vegetables, you can make an original snow-white Christmas tree that will resemble snow-covered trees in its appearance.


To make your own white tinsel Christmas tree, prepare:

  • wire frame for vegetables;
  • thick rubber bands;
  • fluffy white tinsel;
  • tape or white cable ties;
  • original decorations for the Christmas tree or garland.

Step 1 . Give the wire frame for vegetables the desired shape. To do this, connect the rods at the top with a tight clerical gum. It is advisable to take a light-colored gum so that it eventually merges with the Christmas tree.

Step 2 . Start wrapping the formed wire frame with lush tinsel. To do this, secure the end of the tinsel with a small piece of tape or cable tie at the top of the wire frame.

Step 3 . Make the coils as tight as possible. In places where tinsel and wire come into contact, you can additionally fasten the decor with pieces of adhesive tape or light-colored cable ties.
Carefully trim the last ones so that they do not stick out of your product. Don't forget to secure the tinsel at the bottom of the wire base.

Your tree is ready! Now you can decorate it, it will be interesting to look at such an unusual Christmas tree with a garland or original decorations in the same cold colors as the tree itself.

Master class No. 3: DIY Christmas tree made of pasta and tinsel

If you like unusual Christmas crafts, you can safely try to create a similar one. The process of making a Christmas tree can capture not only you, but also your children.


To make your own Christmas tree from pasta and tinsel, you will need to prepare:

  • feather pasta;
  • large sheet of paper or drawing paper;
  • stapler;
  • scissors;
  • hot glue sticks;
  • heat gun;
  • thick cardboard;
  • green tinsel;
  • Christmas balls;
  • star for decoration.

Step 1 . From paper, make a blank for creating a Christmas tree. To do this, roll a thick sheet of paper into a cone, and fix its edges with a stapler or glue. Trim the bottom of the cone so that it stands firmly on the table.

Step 2 . Place a thick sheet of cardboard on your work table. It will be needed to protect the surface from paint.

Step 3 . Using hot glue, attach the feather pasta to the cone base. Arrange them from top to bottom in the form of a snake, place the pasta tightly enough.

Step 4 . Cover the entire workpiece with a thin layer of golden paint from a spray can. Apply a second layer if necessary.

Step 5 . Once the paint is dry, secure the end of the tinsel to the top of the tree with hot glue. Start wrapping the base of the Christmas tree in a spiral with rain. At the bottom of the cone, also fix the tip of the tinsel with hot glue.

Step 6 . Decorate the Christmas tree with toys and garlands. You can leave it in this form, it is already ready.

If you want to turn it into a kind of topiary, glue a round blank into the base of the cardboard cone. Attach a wooden stick to it with hot glue. Install the stick itself in a flowerpot filled with plaster, gravel or plasticine. Be sure to decorate the top of the filler for the flowerpot. Your original pasta tree is ready.

Master class No. 4: DIY Christmas tree made of wire and tinsel

Making a Christmas tree from tinsel on a wire frame, demonstrated in this master class, is slightly different from what was shown earlier. In this case, the Christmas tree will resemble a natural one as much as possible, imitating her paws.


In order to make a Christmas tree out of wire and tinsel, you will need to prepare:

  • fluffy tinsel;
  • wooden dowel, piece of bamboo or thin PVC pipe;
  • spruce stand;
  • wire cutters;
  • scissors;
  • round nose pliers;
  • garland;
  • Christmas decorations.

Step 1 . On paper, sketch out your future Christmas tree. First, schematically depict it in the form of a cone. Draw a central axis inside the figure, and then set aside and by scaling and determine the length of the paws in all tiers: from the bottom to the top.

Step 2 . Around the wooden skewer, begin to fasten the wire, imitating the branches characteristic of a real spruce. Form, thus, completely the entire spruce.

Step 3 . Using hot glue or tape, attach the tinsel to the resulting Christmas tree frame. Wind the rain in tight coils around each piece of wire, and then around the wooden base.

Step 4 . Install the wooden dowel into the spruce stand.

Step 5 . Decorate the tree with Christmas balls and a garland.

Spruce is ready!


How to make an artificial Christmas tree with your own hands?

The price of live Christmas trees is increasing every year, and besides, one does not really want to support the destruction of forest beauties. That is why the popularity of artificial trees is increasing every year. The stores offer a wide range, but if you wish, you can build a New Year's beauty yourself. To understand how to make an artificial Christmas tree with your own hands, consider a couple of workshops that everyone can handle. It is worth noting that there are more traditional options, similar to an ordinary Christmas tree, and more creative solutions.

How to make an artificial Christmas tree from ready-made branches?

Today in stores you can buy separate branches intended for decorating a room, but in skillful hands they will turn into a beautiful Christmas tree. Advantages - you can adjust the height and splendor, and the manufacturing process itself is very simple. To work, you need to prepare a wire frame, which you can make yourself, but the easiest way is to buy props for growing tomatoes, grapes, etc. If you wish, you can add the length of rods and rings. You also need to take cable ties, garlands, branches and decorations.

How to make a Christmas tree at home:

  1. Connect the top twigs together and secure with a cable tie to make a cone with a sharp angle.
  2. Wrap the finished frame with artificial branches, if they are too soft, then fasten them with cable ties, removing excess ends if necessary.
  3. It remains only to decorate the Christmas tree with garlands, attach toys and other decor.

By the way, if you leave the sharp ends of the frame, then the "beauty" can be installed on the street. For home use, they will have to be removed.

How to make a Christmas tree from improvised materials: paper and tinsel

Another option for making a Christmas tree, the production of which is quite simple, but the Christmas tree itself looks very attractive. For work, you should prepare a lush rain, cardboard, garlands and toys, double-sided tape or a glue gun.

How to make a decorative Christmas tree:

  1. Make a cone out of cardboard (the size is up to you). After that, using double-sided tape or a glue gun, start wrapping the cone with tinsel.
  2. Next, decorate the Christmas tree with garlands and toys. You can add a little more tinsel to the base of the Christmas tree for stability and splendor.

How to make a creative Christmas tree?

You can also make a small tree that can decorate any room or office table. There are a huge number of options that will allow you to show your imagination and sleight of hand:

  1. Christmas tree of cones . A very original version, in addition, you can change the length of the "beauty". You can attach the cones to the prepared cone or simply glue them one on top of the other, forming a Christmas tree.
  2. Paper tree . It is necessary to prepare cardboard from which to make a cone. You can choose completely different colors or combine several options at once. You can decorate the Christmas tree with buttons, rain, ribbons and other decorative elements.
  3. Wine cork tree . Many people like to collect wine corks, from which you can make a beautiful and original Christmas tree. Using corks and glue, form a cone, which can also be decorated with decor.

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