The 7 Best Places to Buy a Christmas Tree in 2021
Home improvement stores are one of the best places to buy both real and artificial Christmas trees. Come the holiday season, your local Lowe’s will have a wide selection of trees, and what’s even better is that they provide a number of free prep services to help you get the tree home.
When buying a real Christmas tree at Lowe’s, you’ll be able to choose from a wide range of sizes, starting with small 3-foot options to huge 12-foot trees. They also typically stock several types of Christmas trees, including Balsam Fir, Fraser Fir, and Douglas Fir varieties. This allows you to get the look and feel you desire from your tree.
The prices of Christmas trees at Lowe’s start at around $30 and go up, depending on the size you want. When you buy a tree in-store, this big retailer will typically wrap the tree in netting for you, making transport easier, as well as cut the stem to allow the tree to more readily take up water. Plus, they’ll likely get new shipments of trees in on a regular basis, ensuring you get an amazing tree, even if you wait until later in the season to shop.
Additionally, Lowe’s carries a wide variety of artificial Christmas trees in a number of shapes and sizes. No matter whether you’re going real or faux, this retailer is one of the best places to shop for your Christmas centerpiece.
We Spent Days Testing Out Artificial Christmas Trees—See Our Top Picks
We’ve monitored availability and adjusted links on our picks, which are subject to seasonal scarcity. We stand behind the recommendations.
We’ve monitored availability and adjusted links on our picks, which are subject to seasonal scarcity. We stand behind the recommendations.
In response to reader request, we’ve added more information about potential troubleshooting issues, links to parts or accessories you may find helpful, and additional advice on how to use our recommendations safely.
December 11, 2020
We’ve set up enough artificial Christmas trees to know that with care, decoration, and attention to detail, any of them can look beautiful. But the 7.5-foot National Tree Company Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir is a realistic, competitively priced, versatile, and especially attractive option that we recommend first among the dozen-plus trees we’ve tried since 2016.
Compared with both pricier and cheaper trees, the National Tree Company Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir (PEDD1-D12-75) hits a good balance of cost, realism, and ease of setup. Offering nearly 2,000 lifelike polyethylene branch tips surrounding a core clad with 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 most 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 (59 inches, to be exact), 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.)
Balsam Hill’s 7.5-foot Vermont White Spruce Flip Tree Color + Clear LED has a higher number and a greater proportion of realistic branches than National Tree’s Downswept Douglas Fir, making it appear more lifelike, especially from across a room. And it has more than twice the number of lights (1,620 versus 750), creating an opulent display that our testers universally preferred. The Vermont White Spruce’s lights connect automatically, like the Downswept Douglas Fir’s, via plugs within its trunk. And we particularly appreciate that its base has wheels, a unique feature in our test group—the tree weighs more than 90 pounds due to its high number of realistic branches, and the wheels make moving it into place and into storage much easier. Like the less expensive trees we tested, it still requires you to put in some time arranging and perfecting to make it look its best, but it can achieve a level of fullness and realism that’s truly stunning.
Balsam Hill’s 7.5-foot Nordmann Fir Color + Clear LED tree comes from the company’s “most realistic” line, a category that has increased in popularity over the past few years. Of its 2,826 branch tips, 70% are molded directly from real Nordmann fir cuttings, with needles colored a deep green on top and silvery-white underneath. Although this Balsam Hill tree is still unlikely to fool anyone peering at it up close, it’s a great option for anyone interested in buying their first artificial tree but worried they’ll miss the individuality of a cut or live tree. The branches’ endless malleability makes it easy to adjust and customize.
The Home Accents Holiday 7.5-foot Unlit Dunhill Fir was a pleasant surprise in our test. Despite its complete lack of realistic branches—it’s 100% fake-looking PVC—once we had it properly arranged and strung with lights and decorations, few people found that it looked especially fake at all (from across the room). In fact, one Wirecutter staffer thought it was the most luxe-looking of the eight trees we tested. If you’re willing to buy and hang the lights yourself, it’s a great option for not a lot of money: The tree is usually about $160, and after stringing it with an inexpensive 500-bulb set of incandescent lights and two packages of cheap but pretty baubles, we had an attractive tree for $225 total—a great deal if you can get at least a few years out of it.
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.
National Tree’s 7.5-foot 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 change from white to multicolor to a mix of the two. Its pencil shape looks like no living pine we know of, but when lit and decorated, it’s pretty in its own right.
Everything we recommend
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 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 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.
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.
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; our top pick, for example, is usually $400 or so, while a live tree on average costs $78. (That’s as of 2018, according to the latest data from the National Christmas Tree Association, which represents the live-tree industry.) At that average, a $400 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 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 New York Times article found that while around 160 home fires a year involve Christmas trees, the National Fire Protection Association reports “a disproportionate share of Christmas tree fires involved natural trees.” In 2019, a local CBS news station based in Washington D.C. attempted to light an artificial tree on fire with a lighter, but didn’t succeed until they poured around a gallon of gasoline over it. A healthy and well watered tree caught on fire immediately but eventually went out (though it’s important to note that their test tree had no ornaments or lights on it, and stood against a concrete wall), while a dry, unwatered tree burned furiously. The NFPA also found that Christmas tree lights were the cause of close to half of all Chritsmas tree fires (PDF). Be sure to check any tree lights for exposed wires, and never hang ornaments directly from the wires, as the weight and/or sharp points on a hanger can compromise and expose the 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.
A pain to store: Storage is the most important reason to skip the 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 can never go 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 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
Here’s the honest truth: 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.
Most people also want artificial trees to appear convincingly lifelike, so we focused on realism. And although first-time tree buyers will probably be surprised at a good tree’s price, we knew we’d be in the mainstream range as long as we landed in between $250 and $500, judging by the information we got from House of Holiday’s Larry Gurino and our own research.
Cost and realism go hand in hand on artificial trees. Using molds often taken from actual branches, artificial-tree manufacturers today shape polyethylene, or PE, to produce highly realistic branch tips. These realistic tips generally make the tree look fuller, with fewer gaps, and add a sense of realism when viewed up close (within 6 feet). 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 only 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 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.
Also, 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, which represents artificial-tree companies.
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. This design means that they all unfurl into place quickly when you set up the tree. 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 the tree on and off manually every day. The best way to do this currently, as is the case with most basic home goods: 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
For the 2019 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 Queens, 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.
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. Most 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. But a few trees in our test group 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 updates writers Haley Sprankle and Jordan Bowman—compressed to 23 seconds. Haley joked, “I feel like this process could break a couple up.”
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 pre-programmed 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 team colors for sports events. Sadly, the tree itself was a disappointment; compared to our picks from National Tree, there is a higher proportion of cheap-looking PVC branches, and the finer polyethylene branches tend to break off during routine, delicate handling. We do love its Twinkly Smart lights though, enough so that we’ve added them to our Best Christmas lights guide. The Home Decorators tree’s most valuable asset is the 600 Twinkly bulbs pre-strung on it, which retail on their own for several hundred dollars. You’re better off buying them separately and adding to a tree of your choice.
Did you purchase a Christmas tree from Home Depot last year?
The Home Depot has just announced the recall of around 100,000 Home Accents Holiday Artificial Christmas Trees due to a potential burn hazard. Sold exclusively at The Home Depot from June to December 2019, the mode-switching foot pedal controllers on these trees can overheat and possibly cause a burn.
Customers are advised to stop using these controllers immediately and request a free replacement pedal from Willis Electric, the manufacturer.
To request your replacement controller, fill out the form here. Shipments will start in September, and delivery is expected to take 1-2 weeks once shipped, so you should have your tree updated and ready for the upcoming holiday season.
Is your tree included in the recall?
- Model #W14N0127 with SKU #1004391988 or #1004147107 – 7.5 ft. Pre-Lit Braxton Color Changing 8-Function Artificial Christmas Tree w/ 700 Micro Dot LED Lights
- Model #W14N0157 with SKU #1004363928 or #1004213736 – 7.5 ft. Pre-Lit LED Starlin Slim Color Changing 8-Function Artificial Christmas Tree w/ 800 Micro Dot Lights
- Model #W14N0126 with SKU #1004363929 or #1004213737- 7.5 ft. Pre-Lit LED White Uptown Color Changing Artificial Christmas Tree w/ 700 Micro Dot Lights
- Model #W14N0149 – 9 ft. 900L Micro Dot LED Braxton Color Changing w/ 8-Function Tree
- Model #W14N0148 – 9 ft. Pre-Lit LED Uptown Color Changing 8-Function Artificial Christmas Tree w/ 900 Micro Dot Lights
If you have questions, you can contact Willis Electric at 866-210-5958 or www.williscorporation.com.
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