This Saturday and Sunday is the Big Tree’kend, when a third of people in Britain will put up their tree, a ritual that for many marks the official start of Christmas.
While about two-thirds of the population will opt for an artificial tree, millions of “real” ones will be sold this month. However, consumers will face steeper prices as growers and retailers pass on higher costs.
The real thing
“The tree industry is not immune and we have seen price increases in certain parts of our businesses,” says Rory Young, the chair of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association. Young runs Scottish Christmas Trees, in Dumfries and Galloway, which expects to sell up to 40,000 trees to retailers this month. Owing to cost pressures, it has added between £2 and £5 to its prices, which the retailers may choose to pass on.
What you end up paying will depend on where you live and the local competition. Young says: “You can pay anything from £25 to £65 for a 6ft (1.8-metre) fir tree.”
Faced with the cost of living crisis, retailers have various strategies: while some have frozen prices, others have pushed through increases of up to 7%, he says.
The most popular choice for real tree fans is the Nordmann fir. The species is celebrated for its symmetrical, bushy branches and needles that are slower to drop. Fraser and Noble firs are also prized but the cheaper Norway spruce is less popular these days.
Andy Little, a plant buyer at the British Garden Centres chain which has 60 outlets, says: “Retail prices were held last year but have increased by an average of £5 for a Nordmann, and as much as £10 in some cases for the Fraser, with the ever-increasing costs for suppliers having an impact.
“We are expecting this weekend to be very popular for cut Christmas tree sales with the reliable Nordmann leading the way,” he says, adding that a 6ft-7ft tree is selling for under £35 while a 8ft-9ft is just under £85.
If you are heading to your local high street, the consumer group Which? says Aldi and Lidl are offering the cheapest Christmas trees in 2023, with a medium 5ft-6ft Nordmann costing £16.99 and a large tree £24.99 at both.
B&Q has a range of sizes starting at £20 for a 4ft-5ft Nordmann rising to £60 for an 8ft tree. In the DIY chain, a slightly shorter Norway spruce is £25. At Asda and Morrisons trees are £20, while at Tesco they are £30.
In previous years, shoppers have headed to Ikea for a bargain (last year trees were £25 and came with a £10 voucher to spend in store) but this year it has taken the “difficult decision” not to sell real trees in England and Northern Ireland.
Ikea said: “While we know the longstanding Christmas tree offer has made them among some of the most affordable on the market, we’ve seen a decline in demand over recent years.”
In Scotland, locally grown Nordmanns will be available at the furniture retailer’s Glasgow and Edinburgh branches, and a third-party has been given permission to sell trees from the car parks of a handful of other outlets.
If you want to ensure your tree still looks good in three weeks, Chris Bonnett, the founder of the online garden centre Gardening Express, says you should avoid placing it too close to a fireplace or radiator as this will cause the tree to dry out. If possible, also position it where it can get a few hours of natural light each day.
Bonnett suggests cutting a slice off the trunk before putting the tree in its stand or pot.
“Sap will have formed at the bottom of the trunk from the first trim,” he says. “Giving it another trim will remove this, allowing for much better water consumption.” Trees typically drink one to two litres of water a day, so keep an eye on water levels and top up when necessary.
Artificial trees have come a long way and now come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Argos says its 3ft rainbow tree (£5.33 on promotion) has been a hit and is now the fifth most-ordered on its site.
Abi Wilson, its head of buying for seasonal, says some customers are decorating more than one tree, and are choosing the rainbow version as their second.
“Our half trees and mini trees work really well for countertops or to squeeze by the front door,” she says. The 3ft varieties are the second most popular height as customers seek space-saving solutions without “having to scrimp on the festive cheer”.
But before you buy that rainbow tree it is worth considering longevity. The Carbon Trust says an artificial tree used over seven to 20 years (depending on the weight and materials used) is better for reducing emissions than buying a new, commercially grown tree every year. Will you still love that rainbow effect in Christmas 2033?
More people are buying trees with realistic designs, such as those mimicking the appearance of pine needles or a dusting of snow, says Ben Wightman, a product expert at Christmas Tree World, the UK’s biggest independent artificial tree retailer.
Realistic-looking trees often use advanced materials such as PVC and PE (polyethene) to mimic the appearance of natural branches and needles.
Artificial trees can cost anything from £5 to nearly £600 – John Lewis is selling the tall Cotswold that comes pre-lit with 900 micro LEDs for £579. If you are still undecided Good Housekeeping awarded joint best artificial tree to the White Company’s pre-lit grand spruce (£325) and Balsam Hill’s Canadian blue green spruce (currently £289 on promotion for a 6ft tree). In its guide, Ideal Home magazine said Habitat’s 6ft Imperial tree (£17) was its best budget buy. The overall winner was, despite the hefty price tag, the Cotswold.