The origins of Christmas trees in the UK dates back to the early 19th century, taking off in popularity from the 1840s. Originally the Norway spruce was the tree of choice, but now a range of different tree species are available, selected for their different qualities.
Choosing the right tree may be confusing with so many considerations: what makes one better than another; is it best to buy with roots; should it be grown in a pot; what should you do with it after Christmas; and is it better to buy an artificial tree instead?
Starting with the traditional choice, the spruces, including the Norway spruce, are prone to losing their needles quickly and they can be quite irritating. However, they have the characteristic appearance many prefer. The Blue spruce may be best as they hold their needles for longer.
A number of pine species are popular. Most will hold their needles well and are less troublesome when they do fall. These are often some of the cheapest trees to buy, but their more open habit may not be to everyone’s taste.
Perhaps the most popular in the UK are the firs. The combination of long needle holding ability, bushy habit, needle softness and fragrance provides great appeal. Although they can cost more than pines and some spruces, they make a handsome tree that can take a lot of decoration.
Some suppliers offer trees with their roots and either sold bare-rooted or potted up. Either way may help keep your tree looking fresh for longer, particularly if you keep it watered. However, the chances of it surviving much beyond Christmas are limited. Often the damage to the roots is too great for the tree to recover and even with a reasonable root system, the shock of spending several weeks inside a heated house is too much for them.
Trees sold grown in their pots stand a better chance of survival, so long as they are watered regularly and put outside again once the Christmas period is over. But what do you do with it then? You may be able to use it for several years, until it grows too large to get into your house again. Many get planted in gardens, but you must consider how big these trees can grow – give them plenty of space as some can grow well over 100ft/30m tall.
Most trees are sold without roots, inevitably dying and needing disposal. Whilst this might seem like a sad and possibly wasteful end, your local council may offer a recycling scheme, turning your old tree into compost or woodchip.
If you have the space, you could cut it up and stack it in a shady corner, leaving it as wildlife habitat. New trees will be planted to replace those sold, so environmentally this may be a better approach than having an artificial tree, often made from non-renewable materials.
Whilst some may prefer both the appearance and tidiness of an artificial tree, it is hard to beat the natural beauty and fragrance of a real tree, which may be better for the environment. Don’t forget, cleaning up fallen needles and either planting or carting away the old tree counts as exercise too.