Christmas trees: where to buy the best
This weekend is traditionally the first Christmas tree-buying weekend of the season. While people with artificial trees have been proudly displaying them since the middle of November, those who like a real tree are advised by the Christmas Tree Growers' Association not to buy until December - so we can expect people to be flocking to the shops on Saturday and snapping up a bargain. The question is: where should they be buying their tree?
Most of us will be limited by the sellers available in the area (unless we can think of nothing better to do than drive around for half a day with tree tied to the top of the car). This is likely to include garden centres, warehouse-style stores, high street shops, supermarkets, and the kind of businesses that crop up on street corners.
If you buy on the high street you are likely to be asked to pay a premium, because you'll need to help the retailer meet the higher cost of their overheads. John Lewis is a good example here, because a 6-7 foot Nordman Fir tree will set you back £75. This is a premium tree, and is likely to last well, but many of us don't want to spend anything like this on a tree.
Local shops and garden centres, meanwhile, will sell a range of trees at a variety of prices, so you'll need to go in, check the trees, ask the prices, and do a few tests. The main question is where the tree is from. In this country we use more trees than we grow, so a million trees are imported each Christmas. If you get a tree from overseas, it will generally have been cut far earlier in order to transport it, so it's not gong to last as long in your lounge. If you're not sure where your local shops buy their trees, then ask.
There are exceptions to every rule, so it's worth checking how fresh your tree is by picking it up and dropping it onto its stump. If lots of needles scatter to the floor then you're not looking at a freshly-cut tree.
Warehouse stores, such as B&Q and Ikea are actually very sensible places to buy a tree, because they occupy a useful middle ground between the cost of a high street tree and the quality of one you can pick up from a temporary stall. B&Q is a reasonable mid-range option. - with a 6 foot Nordman Fir tree selling for £53 - delivered to your home.
Homebase is positioning itself down the cheaper end of the market, and has some bargains. You can get a Norway Spruce tree (5-6 feet) for just £15, or a 5-6 foot Nordman Fir for £30. There is also a range of trees with roots, and you can buy a 3.5 foot-4 foot Noble Fir tree with roots for £40, which you'll be able to use again for the next few years.
Ikea is running its amazing tree deal again this year, whereby if you spend £25 on a tree you will get a £20 voucher to spend in store. The downside to your tree is that it's an Abies Nordmanniana, which won't hold onto its needles fantastically, and it's only four and a half feet tall. However, for £5, it's hard to complain.
The supermarkets are getting in on the act, and some branches of Asda, Tesco and Aldi have started selling trees. Aldi is offering an amazing bargain, with a 5-6 foot Nordman Fir priced at £19.99. The trees are grown in Scotland too, so should be reasonably freshly cut, which makes them definitely worth having a look at if you have a local Aldi.
Finally, there are the temporary sellers. These vary hugely in cost and quality. They typically sell a lot of the imported and lower grade trees, but that's not always the case, so you may want to pop along and test the trees out.
Overall, therefore, of the national retailers, if price is your only driver then the Ikea tree is the biggest bargain at £5. If you want something a bit taller, and are not too worried about the type of tree you get, Homebase is cheap at £15, and if you want a premium tree at a cut price, the Aldi £19.99 Nordman Fir is definitely worth a look.
Of course, every area has different options, so you'll need to spend some time touring them to make your decision. While you're out and about you can generally work to the rule that £5 per foot is a great price for some of the cheaper types of tree, and £7-£10 per foot is about average for a premium tree. Anything that costs more than that would need to be a very special tree to be worth the money.
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