There can be nothing better than the piney smell of a real Christmas tree wafting its way around your lounge.
How many of us have made a disheartening trip up the stepladder to the loft to bring down from its box a dishevelled, entangled mass of PVC and metal that was once a pristine shop-made tree?
So it is hardly surprising the market for real trees is booming in the UK, with the British Christmas Tree Growers Association estimating about seven million seasonal conifers are bought each year.
And while they may bring with them the irksome task of picking up what seems like a million needles, there are some very good reasons to keep it real with your choice of tree.
The Forestry Commission says real Christmas trees are more beneficial to the environment. Not only are they better looking than artificial trees, they are biodgradeable.
The bulk of plastic trees are imported, many from China, and have a large carbon footprint. A two-metre artificial tree releases 40kg of carbon dioxide – 10 times the emissions when real trees are burnt after being thrown into the skip.
But it is not just plastic trees that are getting dumped these days.
The traditionalists’ Christmas tree – the pyramid-shaped Norway spruce, with its trademark sweet-smelling needles – appears to be far from tree-mendous.
Simon Garrett grows thousands of Christmas trees every year at North Hills Farm at Graianrhyd near Ruthin and says his current bestseller is the Nordmann fir, which accounts for 95 per cent of his sales.
Nordmann’s dark green foliage and soft leaves display good needle retention, which can be appealing to houseproud individuals.
Simon – who adds a welcome touch of glitter to his festive trade by keeping a herd of reindeer – says the demand for trees has grown in recent years, particularly among new homeowners looking to make a statement at Christmas time.
“People who have bought their own home are going back to real trees as if to rubberstamp their Christmas. We have been selling trees for six years and we have definitely noticed how it has grown,” says Simon.
“All the trees have got better over the years. We do Nordmann fir mostly, they seem to be preferred because they are a non-needle dropping variety.
“People’s houses are warmer now so the old Norway spruce doesn’t stack it now unless it is left out on the drive. They were the typical tree to put in your hallway.
“It is a spruce so it smells like Christmas, but they are a real prickly tree. The Nordmann is smaller and is the biggest seller in the country, although things are always changing in the Christmas tree market.
“It can be very weather dependent. For example, if it is bad we won’t be as busy as people like to make a day of it and come out here and see the reindeer too.
“They’re a big draw – we got them many moons ago from Scandinavia and we take them out to various schools and different venues at Christmas”
Over the weekend customers were snapping up the first trees of the season at North Hills, but not without some top tips on care to ensure their conifers last the course.
“We always give people advice on how to treat the tree, such as not to put it near to a radiator and to turn the heating down and make sure it has plenty of water. If they do that then they usually last right through the Christmas period,” adds Simon.
“We’ve had a lot of enquiries and people are champing at the bit to choose their tree this year.”
Delamere Forest in Cheshire also takes its Christmas trees sales seriously. The Forestry Commission-run nature reserve is part of the real Christmas tree distribution network, whose members agree to sound ecological practices. For example, for every tree farmed in the vast woodland east of Chester, one gets planted as a replacement.
Real trees can range locally in price from £35 to £60.
Harry Brightwell, secretary of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, says: “We expect prices to be very similar to last year.
“Prices do vary across the country and the top-quality trees that customers tend to prefer are more expensive than poorer quality second-grade trees.”
As well as the Nordmann fir and Norway spruce, there are also varieties such as the Blue spruce and Fraser fir, with the latter being leaner in shape and possessing a striking balsam fragrance.
Those planning what tree to get might also consider a Lodgepole pine, a bushy tree with upward-pointing branches.
But while it is viewed as the best for needle retention, high ceilings are needed to accommodate it.
The BCTGA recommends it is best to buy in early December with the aim of a four-week lifespan. As many trees are cut in mid-November the sooner they can be put in water the better to keep them fresh.
That also ties in with start of Advent, although traditionalists may still want to stick to the “12 days before Christmas rule” and leave the magic until December 13.
l THE BCTGA says a good way to test freshness is to raise the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on its butt end when very few green needles should fall.
When the tree is brought home, it advises to cut half an inch off the butt in order to open up the pores and keep the tree outside in a cool shaded place, standing in water, until it is need indoors when it should be mounted in a water-holding stand. See www.bctga.co.uk
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