My wife and I are in our forties and have never had an artificial Christmas tree… until now. Last year we finally got tired of picking lousy fresh cut trees, crawling under the tree to check the water, tying branches together to keep the heavier ornaments up and cleaning up pine needles… every single day. But there aren’t a lot of guides or helpful information about how to buy an artificial tree because artificial Christmas trees are cheap enough that you can buy them on a whim and just expensive enough to keep you from buying a new one very often.
Picking an Artificial Christmas Tree
Buying an artificial Christmas tree is like buying a high-end electronic device: there are lots of companies offering lots of features and different benefits and you never know exactly what you’re getting until long after you’ve purchased it and brought it home. All the big box hardware stores selling artificial trees, all the local retail stores sell artificial trees and there are literally hundreds of different variations to consider, from overall height and width to needle size, shape and feel to lit or unlit and then what type of bulbs you might want. There are trees designed for almost every niche and need imaginable.
My wife and I quickly decided we wanted an unlit artificial Christmas tree for a few reasons:
- First, we felt that it would allow us to change our color choices in future years.
- Second, we figured new lights would get better and brighter as time went on and it would be silly to replace the whole tree when some bulbs eventually broke.
- And lastly, when you read the online reviews for any artificial tree it’s the lighting component that seems to break first and create the most dissatisfaction. With this knowledge in hand we sat down on the couch, poured out two glasses of wine, and started shopping.
There are three “big” artificial Christmas tree brands on the internet. They are arranged in order of general affordability:
Tree Classics – They offer a variety of artificial trees and Christmas decorations at a price point that is similar to the big retail stores (Target, Walmart, Kmart). They only seem to sell through their website, though they don’t have a lot of close-up large photos of their trees. You can expect to pay about $300 to $450 for a 6.5′ artificial tree, depending upon the options you choose.
Balsam Hill – Often at the top of most internet searches, they specialize in holiday trees and decorations and that’s pretty much all they do. They have a wide variety of choices and price ranges and they only seem to sell through their website. They also do a pretty good job of showing you multiple close-up photos and videos of their product, giving you the sense that you know what you’re buying. They also offer a “branch kit” where you can buy a small box of sample artificial tree branches. You can expect to pay about $400 to $600 for a 6.5′ artificial tree, depending upon the options you choose.
Frontgate – Frontgate is a high-end home décor company which happens to also sell some pretty popular artificial Christmas trees. Their tree variety is limited to a few size and a few types of trees (no unlit options that I could find). They only sell 7.5′ and 9′ artificial trees and you can expect to pay $1200 to $1400 for one of those.
If you still feel better buying from a retail store, that’s okay. There are lots of brands to choose from. The GE Fresh Cut brand of tree is a popular brand that can be found at a variety of stores, though there are many others as well.
I’m going to repeat this: the vast majority of complaints about artificial trees revolve around the lights not working. Really. Go ahead and search yourself. Artificial trees are apparently easy to build, but designing Christmas lights to last more than a season or two is pretty difficult. Yes, the convenience of having the lights built in is nice, but it also comes with the risk that they won’t work in a few years.
All the big artificial tree websites feature “sales” which always seem as though they’re about to end. They are usually replaced with a different sale with the same values. One week there might be a “Harvest Savings Event” sale and the next week it might be a “Halloween Spooktacular” sale followed by a “Pre-Thanksgiving” sale, but it’s rare that you’ll find a time when there isn’t a “sale” of some sort.
We chose a Balsam Hill Balsam Fir 6.5 unlit tree. It’s one of the best-rated Balsam Hill trees and it apparently won some awards from Good Housekeeping. We ended up getting it for $349 in an “After the Holidays” sort of sale.
Unboxing The Balsam Hill Tree
Our Balsam Hill tree arrived about a week after we ordered it, which was right in line with the estimated delivery date. It came in a large box that was awkward to move but didn’t seem too heavy. We laid it down on its side and opened it up. Here’s what we found inside:
• A set of instructions and brochures
• Three sections of artificial tree (clearly labeled)
• A folding tree stand
• Two sets of “fluffing gloves” (Medium and Large) with a little bag
• A heavy duty plastic tree storage bag
Everything was packed relatively securely and there was no sign of damage or shifting.
Setting Up Your Balsam Hill Tree
Following the directions I was able to complete the initial setup relatively quickly. There are three trunk pieces which are clearly labelled with each section’s branches tied together. The bottom section is the largest and heavier, the middle section is slightly smaller and the top section is the smallest.
Basic assembly was a snap.
1. First, you swing open the arms of the tree stand so they are perpendicular and place it on the ground.
2. Then you insert the trunk of the largest tree piece into the stand and tighten the set key.
3. Next you slide the second section into the trunk of the first section. Finally, you slide the third section into the trunk of the second. If you can slip one pole into another you can put together a Balsam Hill artificial tree.
That’s about it. Each section is tied together with a ribbon which you can now remove. All your branches tumble down and you now have a pretty good looking artificial tree.
If you have a pre-lit tree you’ll find that each section plugs together, completing the wiring connection.
Fluffing The Tree
Now comes the most tedious part of setting up any artificial tree, and the first time you set up your tree will require the most work. You want to “fluff” up the branches and make them look more realistic. To do that you’ll want to put on your complimentary cloth gloves and then methodically going over each branch, pulling apart and twisting all the smaller wire branches so that they begin to resemble a real tree.
Depending upon the size of your tree this can take an hour or more the first time you do it because every single secondary wire branch is tightly packed onto every single primary wire branch. It’s easy to do, but it’s a bit repetitive. The more effort you put into this step, the more realistic your tree will look.
After the first year, this step should take a little less time because when you pack up your tree you won’t crush down every branch quite as thoroughly as they do at the factory.
Balsam Hill Video – Unboxing and Setup
Balsam Hill Look and Feel
Here’s where the Balsam Hill trees really shine. I’ve experienced a couple different types of Balsam Hill trees and they all look realistic and they all feel great. The branches on the Balsam Fir are a combination of two different needle types. There are some branches that are made with the traditional plastic strip needles, and there are other branches that have molded round-tipped needles. Each branch is wrapped in a thin brown tape that resembles pine branch bark.
Is it perfect? No. Is it pretty darn good? Yes. Yes it is. The branches have enough color and variety to look great even when you’re standing just a few feet away. Once you have your tree lit and decorated you’ll be amazed at how great the Balsam Hill tree looks.
Decorating Your Artificial Tree
I’ve had lots of different types of fresh cut Christmas trees over the years and there are usually two problems you experience when it comes to decorating:
- The branches are sometimes too weak and too thin to hold your heaving branches.
- The tree is too dense or too sparse to easily decorate with lights or garland.
The Balsam Hill Balsam Fir overcomes both problems. The smaller branches are stiff enough to any of your glass or crystal ornaments and the branches can be bent and twisted to your liking.
Once your tree is assembled and decorated there’s really not much else to do. It’s sturdy, it doesn’t need watering and looks great.
Is A Balsam Hill Tree Worth It?
Do the math: a tree at a firehouse costs about $70. A tree from the hardware store costs about $50. In 5 – 7 years you’ve spent $350 for fresh cut trees which you eventually haul out of your house and leave at the curb. A decent artificial tree will easily last 10 years or more if it is properly cared for and stored in a cool dry location. From an economic standpoint an artificial tree makes a certain amount of sense for most people.
While the notion of a live tree is a romantic one, there is a point where convenience can trump romance given the right circumstances. The price of the our Balsam Hill tree was not too far out of line with most of the better trees we saw in retail stores and it certainly wasn’t the most expensive tree by any means.
For us purchasing a Balsam Hill artificial tree was well-worth the money. Though artificial trees are certainly not for everyone, I would heartily recommend taking a look at what Balsam Hill has to offer if you’re in the market for a new Christmas tree.