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Spruce or fir: which type of Christmas tree suits me?

Sira Huwiler-Flamm

Whether blue spruce, red spruce, pine or Nordmann fir – there are so many species of Christmas tree that buyers sometimes feel overwhelmed. That’s why most people choose the same variety every year. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of each species, how can you keep them fresh for longer, and which types are grown in Switzerland? An expert provides tips on buying trees here.

A family decorates a Christmas tree with golden and red ornaments.
© Getty Images/Westend61

In this article

Local and sustainable: trees from Switzerland are becoming increasingly popular

In Switzerland, 1.2 million Christmas trees are decorated in homes each year, according to the association IG Suisse Christbaum, the interest group of federal Christmas tree producers and direct sellers. And around 45 percent of the trees come from domestic forests or crops. “Around 500 forestries and farmers grow Christmas trees in Switzerland,” says Philipp Gut, President of IG Suisse Christbaum.

In the pre-Christmas period, trees are often available for around 20 francs from supermarkets attempting to lure buyers with cheap offers – these generally come from Denmark, Germany or the Netherlands. A spruce grown in Switzerland is usually also available for around 20 francs, while more up-market trees such as the Nordmann fir grown locally can cost twice as much. “These trees are grown sustainably, without long transportation distances and energy-consuming cold storage and, if they come from Swiss forests, they are produced completely without pesticides.” Since they provide a habitat for native animals during their seven to ten-year growth phase, bind CO₂ and produce oxygen, you are doing something good for the local environment by purchasing a Swiss tree.

Forest rangers usually know where you can source Christmas trees in the region during the Advent season. If you don’t live right next to a farmer or forest owner who offers Christmas trees for direct sale, the members’ page of the interest group and the website of the Swiss Association of Forest Owners WaldSchweiz each have a list of Swiss Christmas tree producers.

Nordmann fir

Due to its long durability, regular growth and dense needles, the Nordmann fir is by far the most popular Christmas tree in Switzerland. WaldSchweiz speaks of a market share of 65 percent. Firm needles and flexible wood make it possible to decorate the tree with lush, heavy Christmas decorations. This variety originally comes from the Caucasus – but due to its popularity it is now also cultivated in many places in Switzerland. However, this magnificent green tree also costs more than other varieties.

A field of Nordmann firs.

Depending on its size, a Nordmann fir grows for seven to ten years until it is ready to be felled for the Advent season.

Spruce

One in five Swiss living rooms have a decorated spruce tree during the Advent season. The resin-scented tree, also known as red spruce or Norway spruce, was once the classic in Swiss households. This is because the spruce is the most common tree species in Swiss forests. Unfortunately, the delicate tree rapidly loses its needles in heated rooms. But if tradition is important to you, you can’t go wrong with spruce if you only want to keep your Christmas tree in place during the actual festive season, or if you are able to set it up outside.

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Blue spruce

The blue spruce (Picea pungens) is both attractive and popular. It appeals to around five percent of Swiss households. The durability of the blue-green species, which originates from the Rocky Mountains, is about average in relation to all Christmas tree species. It exudes a Christmassy fragrance and is a real eyecatcher with its sturdy branches. But watch out: gloves are advisable when putting it in place, because the needles are extremely sharp – the “pungens” in its name actually means sharply pointed.

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Colorado fir

The Colorado fir (Abies concolor), which originates from North America, has particularly soft needles that last a long time. The slightly curved blue-green needles are typical of its appearance. This type of tree is often also called the white fir. Since the wood is very soft, light tree decorations are recommended. Unfortunately, it is sensitive to frost, so it is still a rarity in Switzerland, and therefore difficult to find on the market.

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Pine

The pine tree (Pinus sylvestris) has fragrant needles and an even longer durability than the Nordmann fir – it loses virtually no needles at all. However, hardly anyone in this country wants to have a pine tree as a Christmas tree. The soft branches are sensitive and may be damaged during transport or if the tree ornaments are too heavy. Black pines are a little sturdier. With their long, rich green needles and individual, rounded growth, pine trees are Christmas trees for individualists and rebels: rather than being classic Christmas trees, they are attention-getters. The needles, which can be up to seven centimeters long, make decorating a little more complicated.

Close-up of a black pine branch. This tree has needles up to seven centimeters long.

A Christmas tree for individualists: the black pine has needles up to seven centimeters long.

Noble fir

The noble fir, also called the red fir (Abies procera), is considered one of the most beautiful Christmas tree species in the world. Buyers are attracted to this North American tree not only because of its particularly lush, gray-green needle splendor, but also on account of its very long durability. The strong branches can also easily bear heavy Christmas tree decorations. The problem is that the noble fir is also a little diva. “It makes very high demands on the soil and climate and is therefore rather rare in our country,” says the expert from IG Swiss Christbaum.

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Fraser fir

The Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) exudes a pleasant lemon scent. This is a real insider’s tip for anyone who prefers to decorate their tree with real candles: the Fraser fir is a flame-retardant tree species. This fast-growing conifer from North America needs light pruning here and there, but it tolerates this very well – plus this tree is extremely durable.

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Subalpine fir

The Subalpine fir or Rocky Mountain fir (Abies Iasiocarpa) is not yet very common due to its sensitivity to frost, but it is still represented in five percent of Swiss households during Advent. The bluish tree, which comes from Arizona, has soft needles with a strong citrus scent and very good durability. Since it tends to remain narrow as it grows, you can find a place for a Subalpine fir even in small rooms.

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How to keep a Christmas tree looking attractive for longer

Whereas in the past, Christmas trees weren’t placed in the sitting room until Christmas Eve, the Swiss are now increasingly keen on enjoying a decorated tree throughout the Advent season. However, dry heating air can damage the tree and lead to rapid needle loss.

How do you keep the tree fresh until the Christmas vacation? “Since trees grown locally are cut at short notice and reach the buyer by the most direct route, they also last longer,” Philipp Gut explains. “Fresh, high-quality trees can be recognized by their uniform color and needling.” Before setting up the tree, it should be stored in a water bucket in a cool place and protected from the sun and wind.

If you want to stand the tree right next to a heater in the sitting room, it may help to turn the heating down. “We recommend a Christmas tree stand with a water reservoir – because a medium-sized tree evaporates around a liter of water every day,” indicates the expert. “So regular watering helps.” The tree can absorb water better if it is freshly cut before it is set up and decorated. But watch out: the foot should not be sharpened, as is often the case – a straight cut allows the tree to store more water under the bark. And here’s an extra tip from the Christmas tree expert: “It’s best to put the tree up half a day before decorating so that the branches can unfold.”

Conclusion: diversity instead of routine

You don’t always have to opt for the Nordmann fir – Christmas trees with a wide variety of shapes, colors and scents are available on the Swiss market. Even unusual species such as the long-needled pine or the lemon-scented Fraser fir can increasingly be purchased in this country.

If you want to do something good for the environment and local farmers, you should choose a tree grown in Switzerland. With a bit of luck, you can even pick out the tree yourself on the spot – this is a very special experience, especially for children.

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