With each season there are things to consider when it comes to looking after your green space both indoors and outdoors, but during the December holiday season thoughts tend to focus on two horticultural mainstays of many homes. Our gardening expert, RHS professional associate Darren Rudge is on hand to share his advice on choosing a real Christmas tree and caring for a seasonal poinsettia. You can also discover more hints, tips and guidance in our Gardening Ideas page.

Darren Rudge section divider

December is all about decking the halls and two of the most traditional decorations for homes during the festive period are real Christmas trees and poinsettias. However, it’s worth noting some of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to selecting your perfect festive fir or that annual splash of yuletide colour! Read below for my 12 Tips of Christmas (Trees) and how to pick a perfect poinsettia!

Close up of a Christmas tree with other Christmas trees in the background

Finding the finest festive tree

Whether you buy your tree at the start of December, or wait until Christmas Eve, whatever your family tradition is it’s worth checking my guide to the best firs and how to tell if a 6ft monster is worth the money.

Tree sellers use a simple pricing formula: whatever they can get away with! There is no hard and fast rule about the price for a Christmas tree and there are no set limits, so it’s important to know a few things before you choose what will become a mainstay in your home over the holiday period.

The Norwegian Spruce is the most common and cheapest, the Nordmann Fir is next up the price scale, and the Fraser Fir commands top-end prices.

Christmas trees growing in rows

Here are my Twelve Tree Tips for Christmas trees:

  • Top Tip 1: Before you do anything and buy the first tree you see, make sure you know how much space you have. Measure the height of your room before you go out to purchase one, remembering to leave extra room for any decorations that will sit on the top.
  • Top Tip 2: It’s thirsty work being a real Christmas tree. A cut tree is basically like a giant cut flower; it needs water to keep it going. When you buy a real tree, double-check there is a fresh cut straight across the base as this helps water absorption and clears any old resin. When you get it home place it in a bucket of water, so it has a good drink. If it’s not coming inside just yet, keep it somewhere cool and protected from the elements (e.g. an unheated garage/shed). Before it comes in, saw off about an inch from the bottom – this will help with watering. Once inside, place it in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water. A cut tree will need at least a litre of water a day to stay looking good, so you will need to buy a stand that can hold a couple of litres if you are buying early in December and want it to see out the year.
  • Top Tip 3: Don’t buy Norway spruces at the beginning of December: their needles drop early. But if you prefer to put up a tree closer to Christmas, a well-watered spruce should last for 12 days. 
  • Top Tip 4: Compare weights. Trees are sold wholesale as premium, standard and third grade. Premium trees are heavier, bushier and have a straight “leader” (the central stem at the top of the tree).
  • Top Tip 5: The wholesale price of a medium-size Norway spruce is about £7, and £13-£15 for a medium Nordman fir. Standard retail mark-up is typically 100%. If you pay much less than £30 for a standard 5ft Nordman fir, you’re bagging a bargain.

Christmas trees leaning on a bench with snow on the ground

  • Top Tip 6: If you want an early tree, buy a Nordman fir. The needles won’t drop. They do cost more though, this is because they take about seven years to grow compared to five for a Norway spruce.
  • Top Tip 7: When you’ve selected the tree you’d like, pick it up and drop it! This is a good test to evaluate its freshness. Hold it by its stem, upright and drop it on its stump from a few inches above ground, if more than a few needles drop it has not been freshly cut.
  • Top Tip 8: Buy from a local grower if you can. Pop on to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association website and check out members locally or sites like Pick Your Own Christmas Tree or The Forestry Commission. Another good choice is using Needlefresh Direct who distribute real Christmas trees direct from the growers to your local retailer! You can also now choose a tree online and have that exact tree delivered directly to your door. Not only does your tree arrive fresh from the grower, but it is grown in harmony with nature and the wildlife that naturally inhabit the plantations.
  • Top Tip 9: Most importantly ensure whoever you buy your tree from operates the forestry stewardship scheme and displays the FSC logo. The FSC system allows businesses and consumers to identify, purchase and use wood, paper and other forest products made with materials from well-managed forests and/or recycled sources. Trees should also be tagged with the FSC logo.

FSC logo

  • Top Tip 10: Be very careful of sellers who suddenly spring up on old garage forecourts. It’s hard to tell where these retailers have come from, whether the tree has been sustainably harvested, what condition the trees are in and (more worryingly) if they’ve been illegally taken.
  • Top Tip 11: You must take care of your tree indoors. Keep it away from a heat source as they will dry out quickly, especially if you don’t keep it watered. A dried out Christmas tree can be a danger – an always be extra careful keeping electric lights away from any water sources that the tree may have.
  • Top Tip 12: Ultimately – you could try growing your own and make it the festive focus in your garden each year! Look to buy a rooted, containerised tree that you can move back outdoors after the festive period but bear in mind that every year it will need to move up a pot size. Alternatively, grow a tree outdoors such as the Normann fir, the Blue Spruce or Norway Spruce, this can can become your outdoor festive focus! There is something extra special about planting your own fir tree that can grow happily in a prominent position in your garden and is then decorated every December.

When all else fails, fake it. Some artificial ones can look just as good as a real tree, and if you commit to using it for many years to come, you’re reducing the number of trees that are farmed. That said, a reputable tree grower is working hard to be sustainable. At the end of the day it’s down to personal preference but be aware you will pay a premium for good ‘fake’ quality.

White and green Christmas trees on display

Poinsettia Pointers

It's easy to see why poinsettias are the most popular Christmas house plant, during December the Euphorbia pulcherri has fantastic bright red or cream bracts and adds a real festive touch to any room.

As with amaryllis, most people tend to throw poinsettias away after Christmas, but with a little extra care, and light manipulation they can be saved and brought back to bloom the following winter.

Close up of a Poinsettia

Caring for your poinsettia:

  • The key thing to remember with poinsettias is that they are a Mexican plant, so avoid letting them get cold.
  • Make sure you keep them out of temperatures below 13 °C (55°F).
  • You should take care to keep your poinsettia warm when transporting it home or to give as gift. Wrap it in a bag if you can, so that the cold outdoor air doesn’t get to the leaves.
  • Poinsettias love the warm environment provided by our central heating during winter. Ideally they should be placed in a room that will be consistently kept between 15°C and 18°C.
  • Try to avoid placing poinsettias on windowsills, as these can often be draughty and slightly colder than the rest of the house. If you are putting your plant by the window, make sure that the leaves aren’t touching the cold glass, as this will damage them.

Poinsettias on s staircase

  • Place your poinsettia in a bright place but out of direct sunlight. It prefers a humid environment, but if using a misting spray, be careful not to spray the foliage. A simple way to create humidity around the plant is to fill a shallow tray or saucer with pebbles, cover with water and stand the poinsettia in its pot on top of the pebbles.
  • Be careful not to overwater your poinsettia. You should only need to water it if the soil is starting to dry out.
  • Make sure that its pot has good drainage, and never leave it sitting in water. How often you need to water will depend on the temperature of your house.
  • If your poinsettia is being over or under-watered, its leaves may start to wilt and turn yellow. You should be able to diagnose the issue by checking the moisture level of the soil with your finger; if it feels saturated then it is.

Whatever you decide to do and however you decide to decorate, have a fantastic festive time folks.

Happy gardening!

- Darren Rudge

The Laughing Gardener

Christmas trees with lights on

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