Getting a good deal on a Christmas tree

1 December 2008

Although you might be trying to remove any unnecessary costs from your Christmas list this year, few people will sacrifice their Christmas tree.

But, when buying your tree, how do you avoid picking one that will shed two-thirds of its needles overnight? And would a fake tree be cheaper and kinder to the environment? Moneywise helps you sift through the options.

1. Real trees vs artificial ones

Some people argue that plastic trees are better because they can be reused. However, fake trees are typically only used five or six times on average before being consigned to a landfill site. Also, the majority of artificial trees are made from metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is especially harmful to the environment when burnt.

But if you’re still unhappy shelling out £20-plus a year for a decent-sized real tree, then you can pick up an artificial one for anything from £10 up to £170, depending on the size and quality.

2. Sustainable real trees

Real trees aren’t always good for the environment either. As well as the cost of transporting them, row upon row of firs sprayed with pesticides results in much lower biodiversity levels than a natural forest. If you want to ensure that your tree’s more environmentally friendly, go to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association’s website and click on ‘retail sites’ to find your nearest seller of sustainable trees, or call 0131 664 1100.

You can also contact the Forest Stewardship Council (01686 413916) or the Forestry Commission (0845 3673787) for information on sustainable, organic and FSC-accredited sellers.

3. Choosing a tree that lasts

Check with the retailer whether their trees are delivered just once or at different times throughout the season, which would mean they are fresher. Obviously, you should choose a tree that doesn’t have a lot of brown needles, but a further test is to run your hand over a branch – the needles should be flexible and not fall off easily.

Another test is to lift the tree about 10cm off the ground and then drop it back down again – it’s perfectly normal for a few of the inner brown needles to drop off but the green needles shouldn’t.

Of course, the most environmentally-friendly and cheapest option of all is to buy a tree with roots that can be replanted each year.

4. Recycling your tree

Most local authorities now have a recycling depot you can take your tree to, and some even offer a kerbside pickup service. Also check with the shop you bought your tree from as many will take trees back to make into wood chipping or compost – all BCTGA retailers recycle their trees.

5. Costs

At £3.50-£4 a foot, the Norway Spruce is the cheapest and used to be the most popular tree, but the ease with which it sheds its needles means that the Nordmann Fir has usurped its position as Britain’s tree of choice.

Although the Nordmann is pricier at £5-£6 a foot, it lasts longer. The Fraser Fir costs £5.50-£6 a foot and isn’t as easy to find as the other two, but it’s the best option if you want a tree you can plant in the garden when the decorations come down.

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