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The debate of real vs. artificial Christmas trees is one of the great dividers of the holiday season. You’re usually in one of the two camps, but rarely in both. If you’re one of these rarities, your earnest use of an artificial tree is likely contingent upon how realistic it looks. For these reasons and more, we’ve decided to put today’s faux Christmas trees to the test to see how they hold up against the real thing…and each other. After all, for some, a Christmas tree is the home decor centerpiece of the season. What good is displaying your gorgeous throws or handmade stockings if your Christmas tree leaves too much to the imagination? As tested by us (and a few of our holiday-expert grandmothers), here are the best faux Christmas trees you can buy in 2021.

The Best Artificial Christmas Trees

What to Consider Before Buying an Artificial Christmas Tree

Why opt for faux versus the real thing? Yes, there’s something nice about passing a tree stand, smelling the pine, and making it a social affair with friends and family — but then there’s strapping the tree to the roof of your car, spilling a pine needle trail from your car to your living room, remembering to water the tree, keeping pets from munching on it (or worse, drinking its water), constantly sweeping away the fallout (forget those cute, fluffy tree skirts), and then…getting rid of it. A good artificial tree will last you years, give you the look you love, and can be paired with aroma accessories that make your home smell like the deep woods of a Fraser fir forest. You can also get artificial trees that are flocked, having that look of snow-covered branches, which isn’t possible with natural trees. Pre-lit trees also have a leg up on the real thing since they eliminate the confusion involved in deciding which string lights to use, which are safe, which have to be turned off when they’re not actively being enjoyed, and — of course — the hours it takes to wrap and position them around your real tree. If ease is the name of your holiday game, faux is the way to go.

That said, one artificial Christmas tree isn’t equal to another, and it’s not always because of the size or even the material of the needles. All artificial Christmas trees are modeled after the real thing, be it a balsam fir or an alpine spruce. So, what’s the difference? We’ve broken down the most popular types of real trees that their faux friends are modeled after.

Fir: Balsam, Fraser, Douglas, grand, and noble are among the types of fir trees. Fir is often the most popular Christmas tree, being very full, deeply green, and often quite large. This is your classic Christmas tree, so it suits everything from traditional to modern decor. They lean more toward a “perfect” look, which is worth keeping in mind when choosing the right tree for your space.

Pine: White, Scotch, and Virginia are the most well known pines used in December. The look varies among different types of pine trees — Virginia pine branches tend to point up while the white pine’s are typically parallel with the ground, though the smaller branches have minds of their own. There’s a lot of versatility when it comes to pine trees, so we recommend an image search to see if you have a particular preference.

Spruce: Blue, Norway, white, and alpine are among the major types of spruce trees. They’ve got some of the most character, almost never forming a perfect triangular outline. They are typically a vibrant green but can even be silver-blue with the appearance of being lightly dusted with snow. Spruce trees suit decor that leans more modern, eclectic, minimalist, Scandinavian, or otherwise has an air of wabi-sabi.

What are artificial Christmas trees made of anyway? In focusing on the needles themselves, the majority of holiday trees are made with PVC, a specific type of plastic that’s used in everything from sneaker soles to outdoor furniture. But because these trees need to be flame retardant and have other safety features, the PVC is usually treated with chemical coatings to preserve the look and protect them from the heat of string lights. Some trees come with the tips of the needles adorned with cashmere, which gives the tree an overall full, lush, and soft look. We recommend a tree with treated or mixed pine tips, such as flocked or cashmere, as these additions can camouflage the unrealistic shine that PVC needles tend to attract.

“You get what you pay for” unfortunately does apply when shopping for an artificial Christmas tree. For this reason, we spent more time determining the best among the budget bunch, but ultimately, artificial trees are of higher-quality material and construction — and usually come with better service — when they’re pricier. Expect full-sized trees from 5 to 10 feet in height to cost around $80 minimum and go up to over $1,000.

Because investing in an artificial Christmas tree is meant to set you up for years of holidays to come, it’s worth considering your current storage and living situation to determine if a bigger investment is worth it or if a budget tree is what’s called for. If you live in a home that’s fairly permanent to you, that you see spending holidays in for years, and that has sufficient storage for holiday decor, we suggest going for a higher-quality and likely more expensive tree. If you plan on moving in the next couple of years or lack the storage space, a more conservatively priced tree that will serve you for the near future and can be donated easily is probably your best bet. That said, if the holidays are when you thrive the most, you can still do this and purchase a more outstanding tree — Christmastime only comes once a year, after all.

What We Look for in Artificial Christmas Trees

The Best Artificial Christmas Trees

Balsam Hill has spent years perfecting the shape, fullness, angles, and needles of a multitude of different tree types to create the most realistic versions of each. We got to test the best-selling Fraser Fir, which did not disappoint. If you’re familiar with the differences between spruce, pine, and fir needles, you’d agree that this artificial Fraser fir appears as real as the real thing. Its needles are thick and cylindrical versus the thin, harshly rectangular needles you often see on low-quality artificial trees. It comes in three elegantly labeled pieces, the first of which goes into the included stand with the remaining two atop the first. The string lights are already in position and there’s no digging into the tree to find one unattached cord to plug into the next section’s. All in all, assembly of the 7.5′ tree was a one-person job — but the more, the merrier — and took all of 5 minutes. It comes with a storage bag and a smaller tool bag, in which you’ll find tools for securing the tree if necessary and several pairs of gloves so everyone can get involved in the fluffing stage of assembly. Its branches are sturdy enough for even the heaviest of our ornaments, but it also doesn’t need any at all in order to look cozy and natural (especially if your style is more minimalist).

Who It’s Best For: Those who want a robust Christmas tree; those who prefer thick needles; those who want something realistic; those who want something to last a long time.

*Honorable Mention: The Arhaus Faux Cashmere Pine, while rather different, is a close runner-up, as its cashmere tips give it a voluminous, fluffy look (and feel!) that effectively cozies up any room, even without a single ornament.

When testing contenders under or around $100, we found many to be pleasantly surprising, but sacrifices did have to be made with each. Some had branches that looked somewhat realistic up close but were quite sparse or oddly shaped from afar. Some were rather full but with paper-thin needles that shed. This one by (the aptly named) Best Choice Products is our pick among the budget bunch for its very full construction, which gives it an abundant and luxe look from a few feet away. It’s ripe for decorating and can hold its weight in ornaments, string lights (make sure they’re LED!), tinsel, popcorn, stars, whatever have you. For us, the best budget-friendly tree is one that acts as a rock-solid blank canvas that will last for years to come, even through years of different decoration styles.

Who It’s Best For: Those who want an unlit tree that can be decorated from scratch; maximalists who love their Christmas decor; those who want to spend well under $100 on a tree.

Good to Know: We’re only a few among the over 6,000 Amazon reviewers who also adore this tree.

As a real tree, the Monaco pine — and we promise it’s not simply the name that makes us think this — has a seriously luxe look. Somewhat irregular in the length of its upturned branches, it has a lightness about it, appearing as though it’s still planted in the forest. So, when we got to test the Arhaus Illuminated Monaco Pine, we knew it had a lot to stand up to. In the end, it may have been the hardest of the trees we tested for us to take our eyes off of. The illumination it’s named for comes from the over 8,000 teeny-tiny, nearly invisible warm lights that are artfully strung throughout the tree and add a spirited shimmer without the traditional visibility of LED lights. It comes with a high price tag, but we tested a few that run for just as much and we can definitely say that it’s for a reason.

Who It’s Best For: Those who want a luxe tree that stands alone; those who want something with different light functions; those who prefer non-visible bulbs.

Good to Know: We found a similar style at West Elm that we equally love.

Pre-lit trees can be hit or miss. Much like hunting for budget-friendly options, there’s often an element of the tree that gets sacrificed. That is, until we met this Pre-lit Jersey Pine by the National Tree Company. It’s scattered with 800 bulbs that are the just right hue of warm white. And even if one bulb goes out — plot twist — the rest actually stay lit. Its slimmer profile allow its elegant lighting to steal the show, but even up close it’s just as beautiful. Branches are a mix of slightly different styles of needles, giving it the unique but realistic texture that it’s named for, which pairs beautifully with its delicate, twinkling lights.

Who It’s Best For: Those who want a luxe tree that stands alone; those who want something with different light functions; those who prefer non-visible bulbs.

Good to Know: This tree comes with free shipping and is available to be shipped out in just 2-3 business days.

A touch of flocking makes a quality Christmas tree elegant and almost without the need for any further decoration. Not all flocked trees are created equal, however. Some are lightly dusted while others are more white than green. This Pre-lit Aspen Pine by Grandin Road manages to make it look as though it recently snowed in your living room…and some of the flakes even happen to glow. “I have always gotten a real tree. This is my first artificial tree, and I am officially converted,” says AT ad operations director Valerie. “I love it. It came in four sections that were easy to assemble.” Check. “I was able to do it solo in a matter of minutes. The shape and appearance of the tree is very realistic.” Double check. “The flocking is a little uneven, but I think that is part of what makes it look and feel realistic. Then entire tree glows when it is lit. I plan to decorate closer to the holiday but it is stunning undecorated as well. I could see leaving this up all winter.” Check, check, and check. We’re with you, Valerie.

Who It’s Best For: Those who love the modern feel of an aspen pine; those who are new to flocked trees; those who don’t want to have to decorate their tree that much.

Good to Know: As of November 2021, this tree is $100 off original price.

*Honorable mention: The very warm lights and artful flocking that adorn the Home Accents Holiday Flocked Mixed Pine give it an after-sunset glow that makes it feel as though you’re sitting in a forest after a fresh snowfall, just without the chill.

If you’re looking to turn your living room into a winter wonderland, this Fraser Hill Farm Pre-lit Flocked Snowy Pine is the total package. Its smart string lighting system means that even if one bulb goes out, the rest will stay lit — no more cozy evenings interrupted by a single bulb’s sad expiration, taking at least half of its team down with it. “The pre-lit lights were the best feature about it!” AT commerce coordinator Emily says. “The light yellow glow matched the flocking covering almost perfectly, especially in the dark.” Because of how much it’s flocked, it has some fallout while unboxing and setting up. While it’s nothing that can’t be swept away or vacuumed up, it could be worth putting down a barrier between the tree and your floor while you assemble. After that, wrap the base in an equally as fluffy and white tree skirt, and you’ll be good to go. “It does look amazing though, despite the shedding,” Emily says. “The flocking was still very full on the tree, and the frosted tree looked realistic from afar and up close. I’ve had so many compliments on the tree and how good it looked, I almost felt like I wouldn’t need ornaments on it! It’s saving me so much time on decorations and really helping me give the white Christmas vibe.”

Who It’s Best For: Those who prefer the grand, heavily flocked look; those who are going for white Christmas decor; those without pets or small children.

Pop-up trees, while they aren’t a new fad, haven’t quite made it into the mainstream as many households’ main Christmas tree. That said, they’re the easiest to assemble. Our winner of the best accent tree, the Carroll Pre-lit Pop-up Decorated tree, “is essentially one big spiral that expands like a spring when you lift it,” AT assistant shopping editor Britt says. “I immediately thought it resembled something straight out of Whoville! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw how slim the box was. The tree arrives totally flat with all the ornaments and lights attached,” which, yes, would confuse us, too. That said, “putting this tree together takes less than five minutes. There’s a rod in the middle to keep it stable. I don’t think this would be my main Christmas tree, but it looks great as an additional holiday decoration. It’s so festive and bright! I also love how quick and painless it is to assemble!” If assembling an artificial Christmas tree seems like a hassle to you, this is your fix. But if you’re looking for more decoration on top of your other tree, this is your easiest fix.

Who It’s Best For: Those with little time or patience for tree assembly or decoration; those who want additional full-sized decor that’s easy to set up.

Good to Know: Love the tree, just not the decor? Don’t worry, it can be detached, but it’s worth knowing it may be difficult to reattach the ornaments if removed.

For those with unique spaces, be they mobile, tiny, or simply interestingly shaped, a tree to match could be just what’s needed. Among the few alternative trees we tried (which, unfortunately, did not include an upside-down Christmas tree this round — but we’ll be brave enough in 2022), this wall-hanging one by Grandin Road is of high quality and actually pleasing to the eye up close and far away. It’s truly an adorable bit of holiday decor, even in addition to a full-sized tree (or perhaps a few minis), but offers all the spirit we crave all on its own. “I loved that this came entirely assembled, straight out of the box,” says AT contributor Riddley. “You just have to unbox and hang it up!” Its six pieces are pre-connected by invisible monofilament string, so there’s no worrying about manually measuring space between the “branches.” “It’s much larger than I expected,” Riddley continues, “so it’s not really ideal for a door (a wall is good), but I see this as a great alternative for those with limited floor space.” Think of it as a large, unique wreath, with alternating greenery throughout, or even a clean, artistic display for your treasured ornaments.

Who It’s Best For: Those with literally no space for a regular Christmas tree; those looking for unique holiday decor in addition to their tree.

Good to Know: Christmas merchandise must be returned before December 23 or within 30 days of purchase, whichever comes later.