It’s the year of the artificial Christmas tree, according to John Lewis. It says its in-store “forest” of fakes in London’s Oxford Street has been hugely successful, with shoppers abandoning real trees for ever more lifelike plastic ones.
This weekend is likely to be the peak sales period for the 8m trees chopped down every year for Christmas. It can be a palaver: the trip to a layby vendor, seeking out a not-too-wonky, not-too-straggly tree, nervously driving home with it tied to the top of the car, crawling into the loft to find that last year’s lights are broken, trying to get rid of the tree on a wet weekend in January – and still vacuuming up needles in May. If all that puts you off, then maybe artificial is the way to go.
Fake trees used to be little better than a wire with tinsel attached. But tree technology has leapt forward: even close up, the pricier artificial ones will fool most people into thinking they are real.
This year is a record for artificial trees – currently they are up 30% compared with last year,” says Dan Cooper, the head of Christmas buying at John Lewis. “Over the years, artificial trees have become increasingly realistic, to the extent that many models now have ‘tips’ moulded from real fir branches.”
Are the ersatz ones an environmental nightmare? Opposite, our environment correspondent, Sandra Laville, assesses the pros and cons of fake vs real. Meanwhile, we went shopping to find the best artificial tree from a look-and-feel perspective.Our verdict? You can find an almost totally authentic-looking fake tree, if you’re willing to fork out a hefty £250, but drop down to around £150 and there are still some very good fakes. The White Company’s £260 tree is top choice at the luxury end, closely followed by similarly-priced artificial trees at John Lewis. B&Q’s Thetford at £165 is a great alternative and comes with 400 LEDs to boot. In the £50 to £100 range sadly most trees are tacky and probably destined for landfill in a couple of years. But for £25, M&S has a 7ft fake that, while scoring low on the “bushiness” test, makes for a cheap and cheerful alternative.
Easily the biggest choice on the high street. When we visited, we found 39 different models of artificial tree on display, from £79 to £499. The price will reflect height, bushiness, and whether it’s pre-lit, with the expensive models boasting multiple needle shades to give a more authentic look.
The cheapest in-store, the Slender Spruce at £79, is short, almost pencil-thin, with crude-looking papery needles. The priciest, the £499 Cotswold Snowy, a pre-lit 7ft model, ticks lots of boxes but somehow lacks character.
Our personal favourite was the Kensington range. It’s Nordmann fir-style, with the main attraction that it looks uneven yet bushy, avoiding the perfect triangular look of many artificial trees that screams fake. But it’s a pricey option – the 7ft pre-lit Slimline Sage was priced at £249. Sadly, we’re not the only ones to like this tree: John Lewis’s website said it had sold out.
A close alternative is the Newington pre-lit 7ft tree at £199 – but it, too, had sold out online. A good tree still in stock (as we went to press) was the St Petersburg Blue, a 7ft tree at £249 which in real life is a lot less blue than the images on John Lewis’s site, with lots of colour variation in the needles and branches and a look of frostiness without ladles of fake snow. A nearby Serbian Blue at £179 looked rubbish in comparison.
It’s worth nothing that the trees tend to come with a metal tripod base. But if you want a natural willow base, that’s another £28 to £35 on the bill.
The White Company