Holiday

The 14 Types of Christmas Trees You'll Find on the Farm

Read up on the pros and cons of each before heading out to chop your tree down.

November 26, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

Before you go out and buy—or cut—your own Christmas tree, you no doubt have an idea about how big a tree (height and diameter) you can fit in your space. Size, however, is not the only criterion to consider. How much are you planning to decorate the tree? Are the ornaments lightweight or heavy? Are the needles soft enough so they don’t create a hazard for kids and pets? Do you want a tree that exudes a strong fragrance that spreads through your home? And finally, how well will the tree retain its needles?

This will help you narrow down the type of tree to look for. Most Christmas trees sold in the United States are firs, but in the south, pines are also common because they can grow in warmer climate zones. If you are living in a hot climate, pines might be the only locally grown Christmas trees available.

Christmas Trees and Sustainability

As an ecologically-minded consumer you might have qualms about getting a Christmas tree in the first place. There are a few things you can do though to make your Christmas tree choice as sustainable as possible.

If you have a yard and the space, buy a potted Christmas tree that you can later replant, just make sure that the species can indeed grow in your climate. Keep in mind that a potted tree will be much heavier, and the lowest branches will be higher off the floor.

If you don’t have the option of replanting the tree, buy a tree that is grown as locally as possible so it has a lower carbon footprint than a tree that has been shipped across hundreds (if not thousands) of miles. You can check for nearby Christmas tree growers here.

Christmas trees are also notorious for being grown with lots of pesticides and insecticides. Try to find a Christmas tree farm that practices Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which encourages minimal spraying and fewer chemicals.

Below is a list of the most common Christmas tree varieties. Although some varieties hold their needles better than others, it is always a good idea to water the tree regularly so it keeps longer.


Balsam fir

No wonder this small to medium-size tree is considered the classic Christmas tree—it is the most fragrant of all.

  • Shape: Conical
  • Needles: Dark green, soft
  • Branches: Strong, good for decorating
  • Fragrance: Strong, spicy
  • Needle retention: Good

Douglas Fir

One of the most popular Christmas trees because of its perfect, full shape. But beware—it needs frequent watering to last.

  • Shape: Pyramidal
  • Needles: Dark green to blue green, soft
  • Branches: Strong, good for decorating
  • Fragrance: Strong, sweet
  • Needle retention: Good, but only with watering

Fraser fir

For all those who like to load their Christmas tree with ornaments, this is the one.

  • Shape: Pyramidal
  • Needles: Dark blue-green with silvery undersides, soft
  • Branches: Extra strong and upward-tuning, good for heavy ornaments
  • Fragrance: Strong
  • Needle retention: Good

Noble fir

This tree is native to the western part of North America so you will most likely find it in the Pacific Northwest, where it’s one of the most popular Christmas tree varieties.

  • Shape: Symmetrical
  • Needles: Dark green to bluish-green, soft
  • Branches: Strong, good for heavy ornaments
  • Fragrance: Strong
  • Needle retention: Good

Canaan fir

Often considered the perfect Christmas tree (because it combines the branch sturdiness of the Fraser fir with the dark green color and conical shape of a Balsam fir) but with a less intense fragrance.

  • Shape: Conical
  • Needles: Dark green with silvery blue undersides, short and soft
  • Branches: Strong, good for decorating
  • Fragrance: Medium to strong
  • Needle retention: Good

Grand fir

The soft branches and needles do not support lots of ornaments, but this tree makes up for it with a special fragrance that mixes the typical coniferous aroma with citrus.

  • Shape: Pyramidal
  • Needles: Yellowish-green with white bands on the underside, soft
  • Branches: Moderately strong for decorating
  • Fragrance: Strong citrus smell when needles are crushed
  • Needle retention: Good

Concolor fir (White fir)

A tree that checks all the boxes: beautiful shape and color, sturdy enough to support heavier ornaments, and a delicious orange or lemon aroma.

  • Shape: Pyramidal
  • Needles: Blue-green with a silvery tint
  • Branches: Strong, good for decorating
  • Fragrance: Medium, citrus scent
  • Needle retention: Good

Scotch pine

Of all the pines, this is the most popular species used for Christmas trees because it won’t drop its needles even when it becomes dry.

  • Shape: Pyramidal
  • Needles: Dark green, stiff
  • Branches: Strong, good for decorating
  • Fragrance: Medium
  • Needle retention: Good

White pine (Eastern white pine)

This is the tree for minimalists who want to put the focus on the tree itself and not the decorations. It’s also the one to pick if you have a sensitive nose and prefer a fragrance-free tree.

  • Shape: Pyramidal
  • Needles: Light blue-green, soft
  • Branches: Flexible, not recommended for heavy or large ornaments
  • Fragrance: None to low
  • Needle retention: Good

Virginia pine

This is one of the most popular Christmas trees in the American South, a small to medium tree with dense foliage.

  • Shape: Pyramidal
  • Needles: Dark green
  • Branches: Strong, good for heavy ornaments
  • Fragrance: Medium to strong
  • Needle retention: Excellent

White spruce

A dense tree but not the type you’d choose for its fragrance because the needles give off an unpleasant smell when crushed—another common name for the tree is “skunk spruce”.

  • Shape: Symmetrical
  • Needles: Dark green, stiff
  • Branches: Strong, good for heavy ornaments
  • Fragrance: Unpleasant
  • Needle retention: Moderate, even with frequent watering

Norway spruce

A tree that scores high on looks, and is great for ornaments, but even with regular watering, its needle retention is poor—not the type of tree that you can put up early and that will last until Christmas.

  • Shape: Pyramidal
  • Needles: Dark green
  • Branches: Strong, upward slanted and good for ornaments
  • Fragrance: Medium
  • Needle retention: Low, even with frequent watering

Colorado blue spruce

A very handsome tree with a winter blue hue, but not the best choice if you have small children or pets because its needles are sharp.

  • Shape: Symmetrical
  • Needles: Bluish-gray, sharp
  • Branches: Strong, good for heavy ornaments
  • Fragrance: Strong resinous pine smell when needles are crushed
  • Needle retention: Good

Which type is your go-to tree and why? Tell us below!

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1 Comment

LumieredelaVie December 5, 2021
This article would be *much* more effective if it had picture examples of each variety.