Let’s get the obvious out of the way: There’s probably no scent stick or can of room spray that will fully capture the spirit of a real Christmas tree. It’s a smell that immediately evokes images of gingerbread houses and peppermint candy canes. But that doesn’t mean having one is without its problems — from fallen needles and having to water it to figuring out the proper disposal procedures (or even dealing with allergies). That’s where the right artificial Christmas tree comes in.
With an artificial tree, you still get all the holly-jolly joyfulness of a real one without the needle-dropping expiration date. You might even save yourself some bucks for years to come (as long as you have somewhere to store it in the offseason). But if it’s your first time going faux and you’re wondering where to start, the Strategist is here to help. We asked set decorators, professional organizers, interior designers, and all-around Christmas enthusiasts about theirs. Read on for their recommendations, from the traditional evergreen that’s so realistic it’ll make you do a double take to a bright pink one with flocked branches.
Best overall artificial Christmas tree
In the Christmas-décor-scape, Balsam Hill reigns supreme. Browsing the site is like stepping onto the set of a holiday movie with its poinsettia-packed garlands and tiny wooden villages. The brand was the most mentioned by far among the experts we spoke to, and a number of interior designers, set decorators, and Christmas enthusiasts sang its praises. Part of the cult around Balsam Hill comes down to how realistic its artificial trees look. “Some trees just look like plastic,” says Erin Swift, founder of holiday-decorating firm Holiday Workroom, who adds that if you’re going faux, “the answer is simple: Balsam Hill. Always Balsam Hill.”
Right up front, you should know that Balsam Hill trees are expensive — like, four-figures expensive. (A three-year warranty for all of its trees helps rationalize the price tag.) “Buy during Black Friday” was advice I heard quite often. You can sometimes also find the company’s trees at Nordstrom and on Amazon, where they are still sold and shipped by Balsam Hill. But a tree’s final price will always depend on the height (from 5.5 feet up to 12 feet) and the number and type of lights you choose (here’s the company’s helpful bulb guide); we’re showing the starting price for each of the Balsam Hill trees recommended to us. The cost includes a protective storage bag so you don’t have to shove your investment back into a cardboard box after Christmas, as well as gloves to wear while you’re fluffing the branches and, if you chose a pre-lit tree, a few spare bulbs and fuses as well.
Balsam Hill’s namesake tree earned rave reviews from Swift, Naeemah Ford Goldson of Restore Order Professional Organizing, and interior designer Betsy Burnham. Goldson’s previous fake trees had gaps between needles and branches, which she would do her best to hide with ornaments and other trimmings. But this tree is lush enough that her decorations can be as minimalist or maximalist as she wants. For Burnham, the tree’s fluffy fullness ultimately made her an artificial-tree convert. She explains that Balsam Hill uses what the company describes as “true needle foliage” for an appearance that’s reminiscent of real evergreens. (It’s worth noting, too, that Balsam Hill sells sampler kits of its various tree species, in case you’d like to see the branches and needles up close and compare and contrast different styles before committing. Each kit comes with a promo code that will let you deduct its cost from your eventual purchase of a full-size tree.)
And as far as lights go, Burnham is a self-proclaimed perfectionist when it comes to placement. The classic clear lights on the Balsam Fir are “wound around the branches all the way toward the trunk.” She decorates her tree with a combination of baubles — like “the tin boats my son used to love as a little kid, the carved family of porcupines my daughter always hung together, the fish and skis we got in Sun Valley, and the mini Eiffel Tower that’s always too heavy to sit right but we use it anyway.”
[Editor’s note: At Balsam Hill, all the options available for each style of tree appear on one page, while at Amazon, you’ll have to search specifically for the height and lights you want.]
Best traditional artificial Christmas trees
The Vermont White Spruce is Balsam Hill’s most popular (and well-reviewed) Christmas tree, according to the company, reminiscent of real white spruces in New England. The company sent us one of its branch sampler kits for review, and compared to the Balsam Fir above, the Vermont White Spruce is an ever-so-slightly darker and more olive shade of green with pointier needle tips. “One look at it IRL and you’d be sold,” says Joanna Douglas, executive director of branded content at Vox Media. She says guests compliment the tree for its realism — which was important to her as someone who was formerly anti-faux. She praises the branches’ bendability, so she can play around arranging them to look freshly plucked from a forest. There’s a contrast between the traditional-looking tree and the decidedly non-traditional ornamentation that Douglas likes. She decided on the unlit version, stringing up her own colored bulbs along with heirloom and highly kitschy ornaments — like photos of her cats depicted as angels. The best part, though, is that said cats, who were quite naughty in nibbling on the needles and sipping on trunk water when Douglas had real trees in the past, are now “completely disinterested” in messing with it.
Balsam Hill’s Classic blue spruce was featured on the set of Hallmark’s One Royal Holiday. Fittingly, the movie’s set decorator, Christi Whiteley, calls it “majestic.” Another fan is Lauren Ragan, director of ad operations at Vox Media. The real-looking needles on this tree take a while to arrange the first few times — each branch has needles arranged in a sort of fan shape, and they need to be pushed out and down — “but after some time, it gets easier and easier, my husband tells me,” Ragan says. After pulling the trigger on the “onetime investment” four Christmases ago, she hasn’t looked back. Ragan goes for a “nice dressing” of different-colored ornaments on the tree, a compromise with her husband. Her in-laws, who are big on Christmas, have theirs “doused in ornaments,” a tradition her husband has embraced.
[Editor’s note: At Balsam Hill, all the options available for each style of tree appear on one page, while at Amazon, you’ll often have to search specifically for the height and lights you want.]
Up until she bought this Dunhill Fir (designed by decades-old National Tree Company, another big name in the artificial tree business), Stefania Orrù, a supervising producer at Eater, owned fakes that were best described as “Charlie Brown–y.” Her hunt for her first full-size tree included lots of review reading and Googling — and it was a YouTube video that persuaded her to get this tree. “It was a steal,” considering how costly an artificial tree can be and especially with current inflation levels, Orrù says. (She bought hers for $190 — but it’s on sale for even less right now.) The tree is convincing enough and painless to set up with a base and sections of trunk that fit together and hinged branches pre-attached. This tree comes unlit — an important factor to consider when buying a cheaper fake, as adding lights yourself will require buying them separately and spending extra time to put them on. But Orrù appreciates the flexibility of being able to swap styles of lights this way. She went with a “disco junk food” theme last year — featuring ornaments in the shape of a hot dog, pizza, and stick of butter. She notes that the branches are “pretty pliable in terms of positioning.”
If you aren’t blessed with high ceilings, this 7.5-foot tree might be a better fit. It’s from Puleo International, a fourth-generation, family-owned manufacturer that calls itself “the oldest family name for Christmas trees in America.” Strategist senior editor Jen Trolio recently got a firsthand look at the tree, a pre-lit Aspen fir, when the company sent her one for review and describes it as a budget-friendly option for those who want a more sparse, organic look. Even after fluffing the branches, the trunk is more visible than it is in the product photos online, so if you want a really full tree, this “alpine” style likely isn’t for you. But if want to add garland or show off lots of ornaments, it has plenty of space for doing so. Just be mindful of your ceiling measurements and don’t cut it too close, as the top piece needs a little extra clearance to slot down into the rest of the trunk. (If you are extra cramped for space, you could consider this mini two-foot tree, also from Puleo, that I recently tried out. It comes outfitted with batteries and a timer and is currently sitting on my fireplace mantel.)
[Editor’s note: This tree is currently sold out, but a similar-looking Aspen fir is still available.]
If you want a realistic tree that nonetheless looks a bit frosty — and isn’t flocked — Trolio recommends the Balsam Hill Sanibel Spruce. “It’s one of my absolute favorites of the handful of Balsam Hill trees I’ve acutally seen in person,” she says. Plus it “very much matches the product photo on the site,” which definitely isn’t always the case when it comes to artificial trees. The tips of the needles on this tree are a bit lighter in color, and the branch tips are especially lifelike. “One of the more obvious giveaways that makes a tree look fake is how the needles look,” explains professional organizer Britnee Tanner. The Sanibel Spruce resembles the evergreen in her yard instead of the “loose, sparse, and floppy” look of other fakes. Trolio agrees: “There are a good number of tips per branch” with longer ends that allow for “excellent ornament distribution.” (An important note: It comes pre-fluffed with memory-wired arms that fan into place, according to the company, though Trolio notes that you should still plan to do a good bit of finishing on your own.) Even after a few Christmases, Tanner still considers it to be her best investment for the holidays.
This is the narrow version of Balsam Hill’s famed Fraser Fir (46 inches wide versus 60 inches wide for a 7.5-foot-tall tree). Selina van den Brink, a freelance set decorator, used this tree for the Oscar-winning film Green Book. She needed something that would last for the entire weekslong shoot and “wouldn’t drop needles while being decorated,” settling on Balsam Hill’s Fraser fir after doing a quick poll of fellow set decorators. “It just has all the characteristics of a real tree,” she says. “It’s not too perfect — with an organic quality to the manufactured branches.” It was featured in a traditional tree-decorating scene, then with star Viggo Mortensen coming home for Christmas “just in time to celebrate with his family,” so “the tree was a very big deal,” van den Brink says.
It’s a Christmas horror story: When Ann Lightfoot, founder of Done & Done Home, discovered a number (“Hundreds? Thousands? Millions?”) of roaches hiding in a real tree she had brought home, she went to “artificial trees forever after.” This Grand Fir from furniture-maker Frontgate is the only one she has ever owned. “I’ve never had to buy another,” Lightfoot explains, exalting the tree’s quality. (A nice bonus: Like Balsam Hill’s trees, it comes with a three-year warranty.) It’s lightweight for easy lifting, and its branches are spaced out enough to display different-size trinkets without Lightfoot having to worry about them falling off. (The tips of each are fortified with heavy-gauge steel.) And you can get quite a show with this tree, which comes with a remote control and has eight settings for the white lights, including ones for twinkling and flashing, which Lightfoot says are especially enchanting and entertaining for kids.
[Editor’s note: This tree is currently sold out, but a “snowy” flocked version is still in stock and on sale.]
Best nontraditional artificial Christmas trees
Michaels’ Vermont Pines came up twice in our research for this list. We’ve previously featured the 7.5-foot Vermont Pine, which made an appearance in our guide to movie-set-decorator-approved decorations. The tree has a decidedly “winter wonderland” look and is similar to one recommended to us by prop production designer Tom Lisowski. Lisowski usually depends on live Fraser firs from Christmas-tree farms when working on interior sets but uses flocked faux styles — which are made to seem as if they’re covered in snow — for outdoor scenes to create an “amazing Christmas feel.” Meredith Goforth, founder of home-organizing firm House of Prim, turned us on to the (slightly cheaper) 6.5-foot version that she puts in her kids’ playroom. She likes that it’s “obviously faux” with the flocking acting as a canvas for different color palettes — in one instance, she dressed it up with felt animals and snowflakes. (If you want a lighter flocked effect, brush Elmer’s glue on an unflocked tree and sprinkle some flour on top, according to set decorator Samantha Twist.)
Another name to know in faux tree-scape is King of Christmas — the brand has been around for a decade and has a range of both traditional and non-traditional options, many of which have similar features to Balsam Hill’s trees but cheaper starting prices. King of Christmas’s more non-traditional selections include the Prince Flocked Pencil and the Rushmore Fir, as well as this flocked Barbie-pink Duchess that Trolio tested recently. (If pink isn’t your vibe, it also comes in blue.) Not only does the bright color and snowy flocking make a statement, but the tree comes with a remote control for changing the settings on the 500 dimmable white lights. There are a handful of various “twinkle” displays, including one that Trolio describes as “very ‘dance party flashy.’” The flocking on the branches adds a lot of texture to the tree, so the branches look very fluffy and full — “Think of thickening mascara on eyelashes,” Trolio says. Neat freaks, asthmatics, and parents of young children may want to beware, however: Trolio notes that upon opening this tree, it had a slightly musty smell due to the flocking and cautions that the flocking will unavoidably shed a bit during assembly — “It wasn’t terrible, but there was a decent dusting,” she says, advising that it’s not a bad idea to wear a mask until most of the branch-jostling is complete. Thankfully, it was easy to clean up any fallen flocking with a vacuum — and if you have your heart set on a flocked tree, this one is a stunner. Similar to Balsam Hill, King of Christmas sends gloves with its trees for assembly and arrangement and includes a storage bag and two-year warranty as well.
[Editor’s note: The pink version of the tree is currently sold out, but it’s still available in blue.]
Once a traditionalist, freelance writer Ivy Pochoda “left the fake spruce and tinsel trees behind” for what she describes as a “profane pink number” back in 2021. Even though the tree seemed frivolous at first, it’s well made — sturdy and plush and “filled the living room with shiny pink delight,” she says. Fluffed to its fullest, it “swallows lights and ornaments” — Pochoda decorates the tree with string lights, silver garland, and vintage ornaments from Christopher Radko and Kurt Adler alongside boxed wine and disco-mirror-ball ornaments. She’s since become known as the “person with the pink tree” in her neighborhood: “People paused as they passed my window. They went out of their way to take a look.”
“If you don’t mind a little glitter on your presents, it’s a fun tree,” says set designer Karin Olsen. Olsen has displayed this tree — from Target’s in-house holiday line, the delightfully named Wondershop — for two Christmases in a row. She swears that the “more you fluff, the fuller” the flocked, glittered branches will seem. The 250 bulbs on the pre-lit tree accent the shimmer. After styling so many Christmas shoots, Olsen likes her faux trees to be pre-lit, as “who wants to fight putting lights on a fake tree only for it to end up looking like you were arm wrestling a cat?” Though it does shed some glitter during setup and takedown — have your vacuum at the ready — the dropped sparkles won’t leave the tree looking patchy. “The thing with glitter is that it never really goes away,” Olsen says, promising that her tree still looks great. And she suggests getting a storage bag so you don’t have to shove it back into the original box.
[Editor’s note: This tree is currently out of stock online, but you can check if it’s available at a store near you.]
Though it’s branded as Champagne colored, this tree is more silver in person, according to Trolio, who describes it as an “elegant matte pewter” shade. The lights brighten it up, though, and the pine branches are quite full once they’re arranged just so. “I’ve looked at a lot of artificial Christmas trees, and the color on this one, plus the fact that it’s an artificial pine instead of a fir or spruce, is wholly unique,” Trolio says. She recommends it for anyone going for a more Art Deco or “icy winter wonderland” look, though you could add more lights if you want more warmth. Just note that “it’ll be more of a project than slapping on any string from the hardware store,” since you’ll want to avoid contrasting dark wires in favor of clear ones like these. No matter the approach you take to decorating it, the tree is a standout even without ornaments. It walks a fun line between realism and kitsch with its lifelike foliage and rare color that set it apart from shinier “tinsel” trees on the market.
Trolio is about to put up this tree for the third Christmas in a row — it was the first Balsam Hill tree she bought for herself (after previously inheriting a hand-me-down in a different style). Though in the end “a fake is still a fake,” Trolio says she chose the “sparse-on-purpose, pre-lit” design specifically for displaying certain ornaments. “I have become a way too over-the-top-Christmas-ornament person. I own hundreds and can’t stop buying them,” she admits.
This Alpine Balsam Fir has a place in the corner of her dining room as a “theme tree” holding her collections of pickle and pretzel ornaments. Since the branches aren’t especially full, the wires for the lights are a bit more visible, so Trolio advises that you be extra thoughtful about what kinds of ornaments you’re hanging — and mindful about getting the right “drop.” (On the same note, she recommends using a tree skirt instead of a tree collar, as the branches don’t go very low on the trunk and a skirt does a better job of hiding the flat metal base.) As for assembly, the tree “goes together super-easily, and the light connectors are built into the sections of the trunk so you don’t have to plug them together separately,” she explains.
This miniature tinseled tree isn’t intended to be a dupe of a real Christmas tree, which is exactly why Trolio likes it. “It’s a shiny purple tree, after all,” she says of the “pink” one she owns, advising that the shade is much darker and more magenta in person. The tree comes in a rainbow of other hues as well, including white and turquoise. Trolio usually displays her three-foot tinsel tree in her daughters’ room — now 5 and 8 years old, they love having their own decorations — but thinks the style would be ideal for anyone with “a more kitschy aesthetic.” You can also get it in pre-lit four-foot and seven-foot versions.
Best artificial Christmas trees for small spaces
The original Alberta Spruce recommended to us by Brittany Nims, former associate director of e-commerce partnerships and business development at Vox Media, has been replaced in Target’s Wondershop line with this conveniently pre-lit edition that comes wired with 250 bulbs — you can choose between multicolored or clear. In Nims’s old Brooklyn apartment, the tree stood between her partner’s desk and the entertainment center in their living room, and Nims packed on the sparkle when she decorated it, adding mini disco balls, a glittery star topper, and a sequined, faux-fur-trimmed skirt. “There’s something about a glowing Christmas tree that’s just so cheerful,” she says.
[Editor’s note: This Alberta Spruce is currently sold out, but we’ll update this post when it comes back in stock.]
The Fifth Avenue Flatback has the look of a full tree with half the silhouette. That was the main reason I asked Balsam Hill to try one out, as the only space I have for a tree is between a staircase and the couch. The Flatback stands flush against the wall — if you look at it straight on, you almost forget it’s a Flatback, though it requires some fiddling with the back branches to get convincing fullness on the sides. There’s added realness from its mossy, not-too-verdant shade of green. For my first-ever artificial Christmas tree, the Flatback went together quite quickly and easily — from assembling the tree itself to unfurling and arranging the tips, looping ornaments on the ends, and topping it off with a ribboned crescent moon. (Because it’s pre-lit, I didn’t have to string lights.) Because it’s just half a tree, you’ll want to measure for a tree skirt accordingly. I tucked in the ends of a standard-size 48-inch one I’ve had for years, hiding them behind the tree out of sheer laziness, but I am planning on getting something better-fitting for next Christmas.
Interior designer Liz Lipkin has been eyeing these pre-lit, already-potted trees of late. Lipkin likes their “cartoonish” look, as “they’re not trying to fool anyone into thinking that they’re real.” She imagines grouping them together, like having a row of the smallest size, or pairing the tall with two medium-size ones. These are modeled after trees seen on the slopes of the Alps — though there’s no faux snow topping them. (You can always try to DIY the effect.) Lipkin suggests clipping a few fake birds onto the branches or stringing through a cranberry garland.
[Editor’s note: Crate & Barrel makes these trees in three-, five-, and seven-foot heights, but only the smallest is currently in stock. A similarly potted and pre-lit (but floppier and more expensive) hemlock style is available in four-, six-, and nine-foot heights.]
“Since it doesn’t scream ‘holiday’ so much as ‘wintertime,’ I tend to keep mine out through winter to bring some cheer to my dark apartment in January and February,” says Erin Marino, editorial director at the Sill, of this tabletop tree. You can choose from three different heights — two, two and a half, or three feet — and each comes with a faux snowy finish and lights that peek through the branches. “During the day, they aren’t very bright — you barely notice them,” Marino explains. “But when it’s dark, they are pretty magical.” Each tree requires three AA batteries — once those were in, the long-lasting LED bulbs didn’t burn out, even as she had the lights on every night for a few months straight. (For another nontraditional tree, you could also copy Marino’s habit of adding bulbs to a pretend cactus, inspired by a Sill photo shoot where it was wrapped up with strings of lights.)
[Editor’s note: This tree is currently out of stock, but you can sign up for restock notifications on the product page.]
Another artificial tree I had the chance to test this season was this tabletop style from King of Christmas. Though it sits at just three feet tall, the tree is on the heavy side so it stands nice and sturdy. Its heft and stability are thanks to its porcelain base, which resembles a tree stump. I like how this detail gives the tree a natural look — like it came right out of the woods. Mine has LED lights strung throughout (though you can also get it unlit), and they have a good tinge, neither too bright or dark. They remind me of little stars. You could add ornaments to the ends of the branches, which are strong enough to hold minis, though full-size ones might be a gamble. I actually think the tree looks better bare.
Because of her “demon cats,” Marshmallow and Marzipan, Abby Aronofsky, executive director of corporate marketing at Vox Media, decided on this flocked tree. She decorated with them in mind, hanging her collection of ornaments so the least breakable ones were at the bottom and her sentimental favorites at the top. “The cats got into it but no catastrophes,” she says. It’s potted, “proudly fake looking,” and pre-lit, so she didn’t end up “battling with tangled light strings.” Since she lives in a small New York City condo, the tree lived in her dining room–slash–kitchen for the holidays and went right back into the box it came in until next Christmas.
If you’re a nontraditionalist who’s short on space, this wall-hanging style is made from a combination of faux pine and eucalyptus in six separate bouquets that hang together in the shape of a tree. “It’s a little more obviously faux and plasticky than higher-end options,” says Trolio, who was sent one to try out. “But that works with its aesthetic, which is more ‘essence of Christmas tree’ than ‘artificial replacement for the real thing.’” It’s durable — the greenery “held up well to being extremely manhandled” when strung with fairy lights, and the clear filament that connects the sections of branches seems strong, according to Trolio. In addition to it being a space saver, she thinks it would be especially well suited for those with toddlers and pets who mess around with ornaments on lower branches.
[Editor’s note: Grandin Road’s wall-hanging tree is currently sold out, but you can find similar styles at Amazon.]
Most splurge-worthy artificial Christmas trees
Most artificial trees break down into multiple parts that you store in a box or a bag. The Flip Trees from Balsam Hill are designed to “flip” open on a rolling stand for even easier assembly. (See a video of how it works here.) It’s a feature that prop stylist Andrea Greco considers a “game changer.” (It also helps her rationalize the trees’ higher price tags.) As she explains, the base of the tree “stores upside down to keep it streamlined and turns in place on the stand” — she adds that once it’s upended, you’re ready to add the tree’s top portion and fluff out the branches. It’s one that Greco has depended on for different sets — including a photo op where she covered the tree in hundreds of handmade gardenias dusted with glitter and garlands of paper leaves.
Greco has had this Red Spruce, which features the same “flip” function as the Fraser Fir above, for more than a decade. It’s a narrower tree compared to the fuller shape popular with many Christmas enthusiasts. Greco likes the idea of decorating it with a New York City theme, complete with Chrysler Building and Statue of Liberty ornaments, vintage subway tokens, and a topper featuring either a giant pigeon, rat, or bedbug.
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