Among all the festive holiday activities from baking cookies to shopping for presents, caroling and skiing, every year, the kids (and grown-ups) can’t wait to decorate the Christmas tree. But when is the best time to buy one? To answer the question, we turned to the yuletide fir experts (yep, they exist) to find out. It turns out that fresh trees are best bought right after Thanksgiving, and artificial trees should be purchased even sooner, which is why we've included a quick peek at our favorite artificial ones right below.
The Definitive Best Time to Buy a Christmas Tree This Year
Plus, tips for keeping your fir fresh
Meet the Experts
- Tim O’Connor is the executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association where he oversees the board of directors and membership. The NCTA is a national trade association representing over 700 member farms across 29 states, in addition to over 4,000 affiliate businesses in the growing, supplies and services sector.
- Jami Warner is the executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association, a non-profit providing information on the Christmas tree industry to the public. The organization has been cited by USA Today, Good Morning America and Time, among others.
When to Buy a Real Christmas Tree?
“We suggest that families shop early,” Warner says. Kept watered, your Christmas tree should last four to five weeks. O’Connor recommends buying a tree right after Thanksgiving, noting that it’s typically the best time to start looking for a fresh tree.
Last year, fresh-cut Christmas trees were in high demand, and coupled with supply chain challenges, that meant fewer trees were available. This year’s weather conditions have impacted the growing season, from droughts in Louisiana to late-spring freezing in the Mid-Atlantic.
“In general, high gas prices, rising inflation and transportation costs are expected to impact both live and artificial Christmas tree production,” Warner notes. Though these factors are real and may impact pricing (an average tree cost $70 in 2021 and jumped up to $100 in 2022), O’Connor doesn’t think this is any reason to panic about a dearth of tree availability, and notes that all the extreme price jumps happened last year. “[It’ll be] no different than it has been for the past five or six years where the supply is tight.”
In sum, plan to zip over to the farm right after you finish the turkey and gravy. As for the worst time to buy a tree? O’Connor says that it’s pre-Thanksgiving, as you run the risk that your tree won’t survive until Christmas morning. On the other end of the spectrum, there are downsides to waiting too close to the holiday.
“Some retail locations will sell out earlier in the season, but there will always be somewhere to get a tree right up to Christmas day,” O’Connor explains. “The risks are [you’ll have fewer choices] in the type of trees available late in the season. The inventory will consist of what others didn’t buy.” While these trees are often discounted, O’Connor says each shopper will need to weigh the importance of price vs. choice. “If they want the best choice, they should shop the weekend after Thanksgiving when most locations open for the season. If they value price more, waiting may offer better deals.”
How to Choose the Best Christmas Tree
According to the NCTA, when it comes to choosing the best Christmas tree, there are several factors to consider. Before you even walk out your door, measure the space where your tree will live so you know whether you should go for Charlie Brown or Whoville proportions. Then, take an inventory of your decorations. Depending on the type of Christmas tree, needles and branches will vary in stiffness, density and foliage. Make sure yours will be able to withstand the bevy of homemade and heirloom ornaments without having it all slide to the floor in a broken heap.
When you get to the actual tree farm or point of purchase, it’s a good idea to consult with a salesperson about the best tree for your climate and to inquire about the delivery period. Did the trees just arrive? Have they been in the shop awhile and will they last several more weeks? In terms of the actual tree, you’ll want to check for freshness. That means pliable branches and needles that don’t easily fall. Hallmarks of an old tree: discolored foliage that’s shedding quickly, wrinkled bark and an overall brittleness. Once you’ve found the perfect pine, have your retailer make a fresh cut about half an inch off the stump.
How to Keep a Christmas Tree Fresh
The whole point of a live tree is that it lives through the holiday season. To do that, ample watering is paramount. In general, you have a time frame of six to eight hours after you’ve cut the tree down to get it into water.
To fit a tree into the stand, cut about a half inch from the base of the trunk and do not whittle down the sides to make it fit. If needed, get a bigger tree stand, as the exterior layers of wood are the most effective in taking in water. “As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter,” the NCTA recommends on its website. Other care tips: keep your tree out of direct sunlight, use smaller lights to slow the drying out of the tree and don’t drill any holes in the base of the trunk—this doesn’t help with water uptake.
What Are the Different Types of Christmas Trees?
The good news is you have plenty of options. According to the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association, these are 10 traditional types of trees, with Bates College noting that the most common species of tree is the blue spruce. (Though no one is begrudging you a Charlie Brown rendition.)
- Balsam Fir: flat needles, balsam smell, sturdy branches, good needle retention, soft foliage, dark green
- Canaan Fir: long needles, can resemble Fraser Firs, considered a variation of the Balsam
- Concolor Fir: Balsam variation, longer needles, color variations, similar to Canaan
- Douglas Fir: blue-green foliage, long needles, sturdy branches, great needle retention
- Fraser Fir: soft and shorter needles, emerald green, silver-y undersides, “bottle brush” texture, sturdy branches, good needle retention
- Scotch Pine: sharp foliage, blue-green color, long needles (two to three inches), conical shape, great needle retention
- White Pine: soft and lacy foliage, blue-green color, long needles (three to four inches), good retention, pleasing fragrance
- Colorado Blue Spruce: stout, three-sided needles, shorter, color varies from dark green to indigo, sturdy branches, good retention
- Norway Spruce: dark green foliage, short needles, good needle retention but can be finicky, regarded as a beautiful ornamental tree
- White Spruce: blue-green foliage, short needles, beautiful shape and color, can be finicky
When Is the Best Time to Buy an Artificial Christmas Tree?
If you’re going the artificial Christmas tree route, Warner advises you start shopping as early as the décor is available to ensure you get exactly what you want. “This year, we’re seeing many consumers—especially those concerned about inflation—purchasing their décor well before the typical shopping seasons of November and December. In fact, according to our 2023 consumer survey, 74 percent of respondents who plan to display at least one tree in their home this season had already begun purchasing holiday décor before September.”
What to Consider When Shopping for an Artificial Christmas Tree
For those in the artificial tree camp, shoppers can score major savings right after Thanksgiving during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s also a good idea to keep tabs on popular brands like Balsam Hill, Puleo and National Tree Company, which may offer deals and additional savings through platforms like Amazon, Target, Walmart and Wayfair. If you’re on a budget, you can save some money by getting a Christmas tree right before the holiday, as retailers try to clear out stock that will soon be out of season.
How To Decorate a Christmas Tree
So the Frasier Fir you picked out in a dimly lit tree lot seemed great—until you put it up in your house and realized it has more gaping holes in it than the 70-footer that held court at Rockefeller Center during the thick of the pandemic. Here are some Christmas tree decorating ideas to get you started.
The Best Artificial Christmas Trees to Buy
What We Like
- classic blue spruce model
- sturdy branches
- easy assembly
- includes tree stand
What We Don’t Like
If you don’t want to wrestle with three miles of Christmas lights this year, a pre-lit tree is the way to go. Popular brand Balsam Hill makes this beautiful, 6.5-foot blue spruce model, available both lit and unlit. There are three lit options: clear incandescent, clear LED and twinkly LED. The needles are a mixture of light gray, blue-green and moss green with sturdy branches to hold all those ornaments. A tree stand is also included. Buyers have praised its sturdiness and easy setup. One even wrote that it converted them from the real tree to artificial tree camp.
For Small Spaces
What We Like
- pop-up assembly
- includes lights
What We Don’t Like
- no tree topper
Sing it with us now: You’re dreaming of a white Christmas...with minimal effort. At four feet tall, this flocked pine tree (with lights!) is ideal if you’re setting up your Christmas corner in a smaller space. It’s incredibly easy to assemble, pop-up style. That means you’ll be ready for the holidays faster than you can say, “Christmas cookies.” Add your own tree topper and it’s good to go.
The Budget Option
What We Like
- easy to assemble
- good volume
- sturdy branches
What We Don’t Like
- some reviewers noted the measurements ran short
Best Choice Products
“This Christmas tree is worth every dollar because it is very easy to put together and it is really full and fluffy,” writes Amazon reviewer Edna Taylor. With 6,000 five-star reviews, this classic Christmas pine tree is a fluffy blank canvas for all your decorating dreams. It’s sturdy and comes together in a three-step assembly.