Most folks would agree that putting up a fake Christmas tree is far easier than getting a live one into your house. Still, it’s not a walk in the park if you haven’t done it before.
That’s because not every artificial tree is the same—so you need to do your prep before you take a deep dive into all that tinsel.
For starters, you get what you pay for when it comes to a man-made spruce, with prices running the gamut from $40 to $700 or more, depending on the manufacturer.
According to Nearly Natural, a company that specializes in artificial flowers, plants, and trees, a fake fir should last at least 10 years, so consider upping your budget if you can.
Not only will you need to sift through tree species, but you should consider the materials they’re made from. Fortunately, you don’t need to be an arborist to do this—just be aware of the differences and choose the one that’s most appealing to you.
For some help with your adventure into the world of artificial Christmas trees, here are the top mistakes to avoid—straight from interior design pros who’ve relied on fakes to deck their own halls for many years.
1. Not learning about the types of trees before you buy
Are you hoping for the most realistic-looking tree? Shop for one made from polyethylene. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) trees tend to cost less, but their limbs are flatter and less lifelike than PE boughs.
As for tree types, a green fir is classic, of course, although some homeowners love a more wintry design, so this group should click on flocked trees, with branches that look as if they’ve been dusted with snow.
And tree species do matter when it comes to artificial choices, says Ana Cummings of the eponymous design firm. Her top realistic picks include Morgan firs and pines, like Grandview and Savannah.
You’ll also find tinsel-covered trees and aluminum ones in every color under the sun (pink! purple!), so indulge your inner Day-Glo self if you like.
2. Buying the wrong size
This seems obvious, but some folks play fast and loose with the tape measure. Assess your space, so you know the tree size you can accommodate, points out Julie Coraccio, the organizing brains behind Reawaken Your Brilliance. In addition to the height of your room, check the width of your space as well.
If you’re in doubt, pick a small tabletop version.
“And if you have to move furniture out of the way for the tree you’re buying, where are you going to temporarily house it?” she asks.
The bottom line: Plan carefully before you drag in that enormous box.
Also, strive for a stable footing for your faux fir, as a wobbly tree won’t play nicely with kids and dogs, warns Darla DeMorrow, author of “Organizing Your Home with SORT and SUCCEED.”
And if you’re mounting your tree on a riser or table, add those inches in.
“Trees up to 6 feet are considered tabletop, so do the math to make sure you don’t exceed your ceiling clearance,” DeMorrow adds.
3. Not counting the bulbs on a pre-lit tree
Getting an artificial tree that’s already strung with lights is the main reason folks love fake firs. Who wants to struggle with all those cords? But before you snap up this purchase, make sure there are enough bulbs on the branches to suit your taste.
The pros at Lowe’s recommend at least 100 lights for every foot and a half of tree, although some will add twice that number (check the box before you buy, and add extra strands if you like a big glow).
4. Not boning up on branch density
The more branch tips your tree has, the fuller and prettier it’ll look—and the more baubles you can pile on. As a general rule, for a 6-foot tree, aim for a tip count of 800 or more. For a 7-footer, you’ll want between 1,200 and 1,500 tips to trim.
Meanwhile, your tree’s limbs need some arranging once they come out of the box.
“The trick is to fluff out the tree, by positioning the wire branches at the right angle,” says DeMorrow.
If your pick is looking sad and sparse, know that it’ll improve once you trim it.
“If you need more filler, add trailing ribbon, bows, pinecones, and bird’s nests until you can’t see the middle of the tree,” she adds.
5. Not having enough hands on deck
Not every tree opens up like an umbrella in 30 seconds flat. Read the fine print before adding to your cart, so you know the type of project you’re in for and whether you’ll need to recruit help.
Also, make sure the gear you need is handy.
“If the tree is pre-lit, you’ll need the proper extension cords and a tree skirt to hide the wires,” says Cummings.
6. Not expecting some mess
Your fake tree won’t drop needles, of course, and you don’t have to water it—but this doesn’t mean it’s maintenance-free.
“Flocked trees that are covered in ‘snow’ will leave a mess on the floor,” says Cummings.
As for cleaning, some artificial Christmas trees will look great after dusting, while others spiff up with a damp rag run over the branches.
7. Not considering your storage
Plunking down some cash on a reusable tree might seem like the most practical solution, but finding a spot to store it for the other 11 months of the year is another thing entirely.
“If you intend to keep your tree intact from year to year, be sure you can get it through the necessary doorways without damaging the tree or your house,” says DeMorrow.
How can you possibly know? Research how the tree comes apart before buying.
“It seems like the box a tree comes in never really works again once it’s opened, so consider whether you’re going to origami it back in the original box, or come up with a new bin or tree slip, and store it upright in your attic or garage so you don’t have that reassembly frustration every year,” says Cummings.