The tree is the jewel in the crown of festive decorations and looking into the types of Christmas tree available will help give you the perfect display. Not only do real trees offer the authentic scent of pine needles, but they can be a good environmental choice too.
When choosing the right type of Christmas tree it's important to consider what you most want from your tree. If it's that magical pine smell then you will want a tree with aromatic properties. Or perhaps it's all about the shape, slim varieties are good for tight spots and short, squatter ones can be really packed out with decorations.
Cut trees are typically the popular option for many people at Christmas, but don't forget that there are also pot-grown varieties which can be planted out in the garden in the New Year. With the right care it can continue its life as a tree and provide vital shelter and food for local wildlife. Plus, next year you can decorate it with pretty fairy lights to make it a stunning focal point for your outdoor Christmas decor ideas.
12 types of Christmas tree to suit spaces big and small
Whether you want a tall Christmas tree to suit a large room or need something shorter and slimmer for smaller spaces, there are plenty of types of Christmas tree to suit.
In the same way that fantastic foliage is a key element of your Christmas wreath ideas, it's an equally important consideration for your Christmas tree, too. Needle retention is something we all want, but you'll find that some varieties hold onto their needles for longer than others. But also consider the length and sharpness of the needles – if they are too prickly they may not be ideal for young children, but on the other hand they are great for deterring pets!
If you're hoping to replant your pot grown tree after Christmas it is important to check whether the variety you're after is right for the conditions in your garden.
With that in mind, we've rounded up our favorite types of Christmas tree so you can choose the right variety for your home and garden.
1. Black Hills Spruce
This is a denser, more compact cultivar of the White Spruce (picea glauca). It's native to the Black Hills of South Dakota where it gets its name. It has a lovely rich green color and a classic symmetrical shape which is plenty dense enough to give you full needle coverage.
It's great for small spaces as its pines are short and soft, so less danger of pricking yourself when you brush past! Its sturdy branches will hold up well to hanging lights and ornaments.
If replanting a pot-grown variety in the garden after the festive period has ended then position it in full sun or partial shade in acidic, well drained soil. It's ideal for colder regions as it is well adapted to cold weather. So plant in US Hardiness Zones 2-6.
2. Colorado Blue Spruce
You might have guessed by its name that these types of Christmas tree have needles which range from a dark blueish gray to soft slivery blue. The downside is that it's perhaps more prickly than other tree varieties so you might want to wear gloves when you're decorating it. Though it may not be the most child friendly, you might actually like the prickly nature for deterring pets from disrupting your displays.
A big bonus of this variety is that it holds its needles better than the Norway spruce. So you'll find yourself with a longer lasting, impressive display. It also has a lovely aroma and a distinctive pyramid shape which is highly desirable for a classic display. If buying it in a pot to replant in the new year it will tolerate most soil types but prefers full sun. It is a great wind resister and will grow in Hardiness Zones 2-7.
According to Peter Seabrook, an expert for Amateur Gardening, 'Container grown seedling “Blue Spruce” are often on sale among Christmas trees at garden centers and the early birds can pick plants with the best silver colored needles.'
Once planted out in the garden, he says: 'this is a fine tree year round as well as doubling up to be lit for Christmas.' Adding some fun Christmas light ideas for outdoor trees is certainly a brilliant way to transform your spruce tree into a pretty outdoor feature for the festive season.
3. Douglas fir
This is perhaps the most popular type of Christmas tree in the US. According to Amateur Gardening expert Ruth Hayes: 'this tree has a lovely lemony scent and soft, dark green or blue-green needles.' In part of the US and Canada, the Douglas fir can reach dizzying heights of 300ft (100m), but in stores and online you can buy them as small as 4ft.
The reason for its popularity is perhaps the outstanding density of its needles, giving it a satisfyingly full shape. They're relatively soft too! The downside is that due to high volume of needles per tree you can expect the amount dropping pines to be reflective of this.
Due to its rocky mountain native habitat you can expect pot grown varieties to thrive in well drained soil with plenty of room to grow, if planting outdoors. It grows at a decent rate so you can expect height increases of around 2ft per year in favorable conditions. Not suitable for areas outside US Hardiness Zones 4-6.
4. Eastern White Pine
What's perhaps most noteworthy about this species are its needles, which are longer and more slender than the Fraser fir, and softer and more flexible than the Colorado Blue Spruce. And they're certainly different enough from the other more common variety the Douglas fir to be a talking point amongst family and friends.
The gentle and unique branches of the White Pine will also make lovely foliage for DIY Christmas decorations. So if your tree needs cutting down to shape then save these sprigs to make a wreath or a mantlepiece display.
This type will also be a savior for allergy sufferers as it has little to no scent. Therefore you won't be spending the festive season sniffling away! But for those of you who don't have that problem and crave that natural aroma then this may not be the best type for you.
It's tolerant of lots of soil conditions in US Hardiness Zones 3 - 8. It's a fast grower however so be aware if you have a small garden, as you may see growth of over 2 feet a year.
5. Fraser fir
If you're looking for types of Christmas tree with an interesting color, then the Fraser Fir has a gorgeous blueish tint to the green color. The pine scent, which can almost be described as citrusy, is rich and warm and it certainly will fill a room.
This is a slightly narrower variety than the Norway spruce and Nordmann fir and so it’s great for a smaller space. But it still holds its own when it comes to foliage as it's nicely dense and forms an attractive conical shape. The branches are strong and more than capable of holding plenty of ornaments and twig decorations. And last but by no means least, it tends to have excellent needle retention.
In the garden it will like a sunny spot in well drained soil (it dislikes clay). It will survive in US Hardiness zones 4-7 (at a push).
6. Nordmann fir
This is one of the most popular types of Christmas tree in the UK and across Europe. 'With its classic Christmas tree shape, glossy green foliage and fresh pine scent, it’s easy to see why this is by the far the most popular variety for the perfect festive centerpiece,' says Marcus Eyles, Horticultural Director at Dobbies Garden Centres.
Its dense, soft needles are slow to drop, which is great for maintaining a sleek look throughout the season. Its dark green glossy foliage is beautiful in its own right so you can get away with fewer decorations, making it ideal for homes with a minimalist style.
For a potted Nordmann fir to survive in the garden (US Hardiness Zones 4-6) it will need to be planted in the correct soil type. It must be moist and well draining as it won't like clay or dry conditions. Leave plenty of space around it for it to grow.
7. Noble fir
The Noble fir is the largest native fir tree in the US. And it makes for a very reliable Christmas display. It has sturdy branches which will take heavier hanging decorations. It's a pleasant blue-gray color with hints of subtle silver. Shape-wise you're looking at a classic cone which you often see copied in artificial tree varieties.
Some retailers claim that you can expect no needle dropping from the Noble! A desirable feature indeed. Coupled with its sturdy branches and pleasant fragrance it's hard to find much fault with this type.
Also known as the White fir it will survive in Hardiness Zones 5-6 if it gets around 4 hours of sunlight per day. If planted out in the soil it will grow at a medium rate of around 12 inches per year.
8. Norway Spruce
Popular in the UK as well as the US, the Norway spruce is a commonly found variety. A traditional tree with slim branches and a rich festive scent, this can be regarded as the quintessential Christmas tree, with a shape that’s instantly recognisable.
Its rich scent is a big plus but, on the downside, its needles are prone to dropping, which may be a factor to consider when buying this tree. It has plenty of needles so it shouldn't look bare but it may mean more regular sweeping up than with other types.
If considering planting this tree outside then bear in mind that it will grow about 1-2 feet a year until it reaches 30-40 feet. It likes plenty of sun throughout the day. It will tolerate most soil types, even clay. Suitable for Hardiness Zones 3-7.
9. Scots Pine (Scotch Pine)
Beautifully scented with excellent needle retention makes the Scots pine an excellent choice for a Christmas tree. There's little to worry about as even when the pines become dry due to lack of watering, they tend to stay in place and not drop.
The short needles are bright green, with a lovely aroma. Its long lasting display makes this a good choice if you're someone who likes to get your tree up at the earliest possible moment, or if you've previously struggled with how to keep a Christmas tree alive for the duration of the festive season.
It has an excellent survival rate when replanted in the garden. Therefore it will work as a beautiful evergreen in Hardiness Zones 3-7. It prefers full sun and can be quite tolerant of dry conditions. Its pine seeds will be valuable food for local wildlife such as birds.
10. White fir
Rather than being fully white, the White fir foliage has a subtle silvery tint which feels lovely and festive. It's needles are fairly short and soft and will remain on the branches fairly well. It has a nice full, bushy shape and a pleasant citrusy scent.
Like all the types of Christmas tree in this list, the White fir will give great year round structure to your garden design ideas. So if you live in US Hardiness Zones 4-6 the this variety should survive, given the right planting conditions. It likes full sun to partial shade and a moist, well drained soil type.
11. Balsam fir
The short flat needles of the Balsam have rounded tips so decorating with the kids will be a fun activity rather than a painful one. Not to mention they will last for a nice amount of time giving you a festive display which will see you through the season.
For those that favor a traditional aesthetic, this tree has the classic dark green, rich foliage which will look super grand with the seasonal deep reds and elegant gold decorations of Christmas time.
The Balsam fir will survive best outdoors when planted in the colder climates that it's accustomed to. It will still need some sun however, around 4 hours of direct sunlight per day is ideal. Suitable for US Hardiness Zones 3-5.
12. Grand fir
A zesty yellowish-green tree which will really zing indoors. The zingy colour is echoed in its scent, which is one of pine with a hint of citrus that will fill up a room. The Grand fir needles are soft and dense giving the tree a full and friendly look.
When it comes to stiffness of branches, however, the Grand fir isn't the best. They'll handle lighter ornaments, but with anything heavier (metal for example) they may sag under the weight and make your display appear droopy.
The eventual height of the grand fir could be around 200ft high in the wild so be sure you have plenty of space for this tree to grow if you're planting it out in the garden. Best in US Hardiness Zones 5-6.
Where to buy real Christmas trees
If you've decided that a real Christmas tree is the right way for you to go then think about ordering yours in time for the big day. When ordering online ensure that the delivery date isn't too early in the season so that your tree won't have peaked by the time the big day comes around. You can use our quicklinks below to find your perfect option in both the US and UK.
Where to buy real Christmas trees in the US:
- Shop real Christmas trees at Walmart
- Shop real Christmas trees at Burpee
- Shop real Christmas trees at The Home Depot
Where to buy real Christmas trees in the UK:
- Shop real Christmas trees at You Garden
- Shop real Christmas trees at B&Q
- Shop real Christmas trees at Homebase
- Shop real Christmas trees at Crocus
- Shop real Christmas trees at Suttons
- Shop real Christmas trees at Waitrose Garden
- Shop real Christmas trees at Thompson & Morgan
- Shop real Christmas trees at John Lewis
How do I pick the best real tree?
Whatever variety you choose there are tips which can help you pick out the best performers. Ideally, select a tree that hasn’t already been netted so you can see its size and shape and check how healthy it is. Amateur Gardening expert Ruth Hayes suggests: 'To make sure you are buying a fresh tree that will see you through the season, lift it a few inches off the ground and gently drop it onto its trunk. A fresh tree will lose hardly any needles when it hits the ground.'
When you get your tree home, stand the trunk in water for as long as possible to hydrate it and really make that foliage shine. It's a good idea to position it in a stand with a water reservoir or if it's in a pot keep watering it regularly. Look for a Christmas tree base with water well (available on Amazon). Finally it's very important that you keep it away from heat sources.
What type of Christmas tree is most popular?
What makes a real tree popular is undoubtedly its appearance, scent and needle retention. But depending on where you are in the world you might have a different answer to this question.
In the US, for example, the Douglas fir would probably be considered to be one of the most popular varieties. But the Noble fir, which is more recently becoming popular across the US, is a similar shape to the Douglas fir but with better needle retention. The Scotch/Scots pine is also very common and has long lived foliage too.
In the UK and the rest of Europe, the favorite variety tends to be the Nordmann fir as its dense, lush, soft needles are slow to drop, which is great for maintaining a sleek look throughout the season.
Are real Christmas trees eco friendly?
If you're used to making making eco-friendly choices for a sustainable garden, it makes sense that you'll want to ensure buying a real Christmas tree has some eco benefits too.
'Christmas trees take up to 12 years to grow to around 6 feet, and during this time they are removing carbon dioxide from the air and helping to sustain the ground they are on,' explains Samantha Jones, gardening expert at MyJobQuote.
But not all cut trees will be the most environmentally sourced, so consider the provenance of your cut tree. 'Not only will buying a locally grown tree reduce its carbon footprint, as it won’t need to be shipped far or even overseas, but buying locally will mean it is harvested later than if it needed time to be packed and travel,' Samantha adds. 'Visit local sellers and make sure you ask where they were grown. Many garden centers tend to stock trees purchased from a wholesaler, meaning it may have come from further afield.'
If you don't want to opt for a cut tree, why not learn how to grow your own Christmas tree, or perhaps opt for a pot-grown tree instead? This way, you'll be able to use it again for years to come. 'Once Christmas is over, just move your tree outside into the garden, you can either plant it out or keep it in its pot,' says Peter McDermott, head gardener at You Garden. 'Water well in the summer and once December comes back around, you already have your tree. It's almost like having a re-usable artificial tree, but even better!'
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