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There are die-hard fans and annual buyers of genuine evergreens, and then there are those who can’t stand the watering and sweeping up of pine needles, let alone having to buy and strap a real tree to the roof of their car. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Get yourself a festive air freshener and it’s just like having the real thing, right? Well, almost. Buy the wrong fake tree and everyone will know it’s fake, and you’ll be reminded every time you look at it. But follow the rules below and your tree will be so lifelike, even you will question its origins.

Choose PE over PVC

There are two materials commonly used to make fake trees: polyethylene (or PE) and polyvinyl chloride (or PVC). PVC trees feature fake flat needles whereas PE trees have 3-dimensional needles that look more realistic. The overall shape of the branches on PE trees look thicker and more lush. And if you inspect the needles they are actually round and feel almost real. One thing to keep in mind, some product reviewers have commented that PE needles do fall off trees like the real thing, but of course, this is a one-time set-up thing and won’t get worse as the season goes on.

Do: Look for 3-dimensional needles made of PE.

Don’t: Buy an artificial tree without looking at it up close. The picture on the box won’t tell you enough about how it looks.

Look for a pre-lit tree

You won’t be able to see the wires of your string of lights on a pre-lit tree like you would if you had a real tree, but you know what? That’s okay. In this regard, your tree will look neater and better than the real thing. Most pre-lit trees feature tiny lights that are wrapped around the tree branches. You just plug the whole thing in and your tree is lit!

Do: When looking for a pre-lit tree, make sure to look for one that promises that the lights will stay lit even if one bulb burns out.

Don’t: Buy an artificial tree with lights that have to be unraveled and hung during set-up. This makes the whole affair so much fussier. Make sure the lights are discreetly wound around the branches without extra wires.

Select a hinged tree over a hook-in tree

There are two types of trees as far as assembly goes: hinged trees usually come in three or more sections that are stacked on top of each other (all you need to do is bend the branches into place), while hook-in trees require you to literally hook each branch onto the tree’s trunk. The do-it-yourself step associated with a hook-in tree means that the tree is less expensive, but it may also mean that it’s less realistic looking as you’re the designer of the tree’s shape and human errors are always a possibility.

Do: Arrange branches so they tilt up slightly, this will allow for easier hanging of ornaments and make your tree look real.

Don’t: Throw out the tree’s instructions, especially for hook-in trees. Even straightforward sections of a hinged tree can get mixed up if you haven’t assembled the tree in a year.

Avoid buying a flocked tree

Let’s be honest: it doesn’t snow indoors. So buying a tree with fake snow or glitter (called flocking) will completely make it look fake. Yes, you can spray genuine trees with fake snow but does anyone do that anymore? Get a tree without any white stuff and it will stand the test of time.

Do: Choose a tree that looks all natural and pay attention to the green of the branches. What looks unique in a store, may look totally fake at home. For instance, a light or “white” green may look festive but won’t look genuine.

Don’t: Spray your fake tree with glitter or snow unless you’re prepared to clean each and every needle next year when you decide you want it green again.

Keep extra adornments to a minimum

You can buy trees with pine cones, berries and even ornaments attached but they are there for good. Most artificial trees cost between $50 and $600 but can cost upwards of $1,000 if you go all out. Buy one without decoration and you won’t be stuck with the same colour scheme year after year.

Do: Choose a simple tree without ornamentation or one with minimal ornamentation. A few berries probably won’t ever offend.

Don’t: Go overboard with the decorations. While a fake tree might be able to handle more ornaments without losing needles or falling over, too much ornamentation will definitely make it look fake.

Fake trees that look real

christmas trees
From left: Noma Pre-Lit Whistler Pine Tree ($500 at Canadian Tire); Home Accents Holiday 6.5 feet Pre-Lit Noble Fir Tree ($100 at Home Depot);

Holiday Living 9-ft Pre-Lit McKinney Fir Artificial Christmas Tree with Clear Lights ($599 at Lowes)