6 things to think about when choosing the right Christmas tree for your home
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As Christmas trees arrive in garden centres, expert David Mitchell offers advice to those who only have a small space for a real tree
Struggling to squeeze in a Christmas tree that’s too tall and wide for the space in your home, leaving you reaching for the secateurs in an effort to cut it down to size?
Bigger the better might seem like a good approach when it comes to choosing a Christmas tree, but squashed-in probably isn’t the look you’re really hoping for, so it’s far better to give a little thought to what size and style of tree is going to be best.
Here, David Mitchell, Christmas tree expert and buying manager for horticulture at Wyevale Garden Centres (wyevalegardencentres.co.uk), talks us through 7 things to consider when choosing your tree...
1. How tall should you go?
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The first thing you need to consider is ceiling height, says David Mitchell, Christmas tree expert and buying manager for horticulture at Wyevale Garden Centres.
“A lot of people have no idea how tall their ceiling is, and when you imagine a tree in a certain space, it’s easy to get over-ambitious as to what you can fit in there,” he says. “You also have to remember that the stand is going to add perhaps another six inches to the overall height of the tree, and quite often you find that you are having to cut the top off, or something that compromises the shape of the tree. So measure the tree and make allowances for the stand.”
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2. How wide can it really be?
“A lot of the trees are coming through very wide. The Nordmann, by its very nature, is a wide variety with a wide skirt around the base. We’ve been doing pruning work in the fields to help keep it within certain limits,” says David.
“A lot of people want something that’s big, bushy and deluxe, but as a general trend, we do want them slimmer and we try to accommodate that.”
3. What style of tree is it?
If your space is very restricted and you want an extremely slim tree, Wyevale offers a Swedish style Nordmann, which costs slightly less than a traditional Nordmann - but there won’t be as many of them and they sell out first.
“Back in 2014, we recognised there was very much a trend for artificial trees at that time that were very stripped out and minimalist, following a Scandinavian approach, where you could see the light coming through between the branches.
“We decided to do a version of that with our living trees, so we were selecting trees which had that layered effect, and prune in the field to get that shape and layered effect.”
Alternatively, the Fraser fir has a much more narrow profile, which has a more columnal figure and upright habit, with branches sweeping upwards rather than downwards.
4. What sort of scent are you after?
For many people, the fragrances of the festive season are part of the appeal, so think about whether you want your tree to be scented.
“You also have to consider whether you want something highly scented, which might steer you towards a Fraser fir. You can get artificial scents to put in the tree, but there’s nothing like the real thing,” notes David.
5. Avoid clipping catastrophes
If you are going to attempt to trim back your own tree, there are rules about pruning.
“Ultimately, you have to cut where is necessary to make it fit the space, but there’s a tidy way of doing it,” says David. “If you cut any given branch half way down its length fairly unceremoniously, then it’s going to look as if it’s been cut off.
“If you cut it in between the nodes, taking off individual ‘fingers’ of the tree, or find a natural break, that’s always going to look better than if you cut it half way down. I wouldn’t just take shears to it and cut it off. Look for a natural join. There’s no risk of damaging the tree but because it’s such a centrepiece, it’s worth spending a bit of time on it and pruning with a bit of finesse.”
If the only spot for your tree is by a radiator, you have to accept that it’s going to dry out. This means it will need more water, if it’s in a trough, and you’re likely to see some areas going brown and a fair bit of needle-drop.
6. Consider some alternatives
If you simply don’t have room for a proper tree, there are other alternatives, such as long dogwood-style twigs or other branches which you could put in a vase and decorate with baubles to give the room a festive air.
Many garden centres also sell artificial thin trees which are almost like a standard, just with branches on the upper third of the tree.
“There are a lot of artificial trees which have that stark white Betula jacquemontii (silver birch) look,” says David. “It gives that stripped out, minimalistic effect. A real one in a pot would be OK indoors for a couple of weeks in December. You can decorate it and dress it up.
“I’m very much coming over to the notion of having a Christmas tree outside as well, because some of the Christmas lights are very well suited to indoor or outdoor use, and they can be solar powered, so you can have a set of lights and you don’t have to worry about power or batteries.”