It's become a perennial debate: should the Christmas tree be real or artificial? Canada AM convened a debate between gardening guru Mark Cullen and consumer reporter Pat Foran.

From Mark's one-minute pitch praising the advantages of a real tree, those who choose to chop can expect:

  • a fresh pine smell
  • a great appearance
  • a wide selection -- Fraser, Douglas, Balsam, Noble Fir
  • comes in many sizes, and can be cut to suit a space without destroying its appearance
  • can be purchased at an affordable price -- from $40-$60 for top-of-the-line trees to $20 for Grade 2 trees
  • easy to dispose of – it can be placed outside all winter with bird suet & then recycled for mulch
  • is eco-friendly because it is sourced locally, supporting Canadian industry & economy in the process
  • the trip to choose and chop a tree can become a nice family tradition

Of course, real trees have their disadvantages, too:

  • can require regular maintenance and upkeep including constant watering
  • can create a mess with dropping needles, sap and water spills
  • can be awkward to transport & bring inside the home
  • can't be kept and used again for the next year

The advantages of fake trees, according Pat's pitch, include:

  • lasts much longer and has no needles that dry out
  • a great option for people with allergies
  • more fire-resistant than real trees
  • sets up more easily than real trees
  • easier to maintain and you don't need to water it
  • cleaner too, with no messy needles, sap or water spills
  • can cost the same price as a real tree if you amortize it over 10 years

While the disadvantages are not to be ignored either:

  • has to be stored and it takes up a lot of room
  • is usually made in China or Taiwan so it doesn't support the '100 km diet'
  • made of petroleum products so it has a big carbon footprint
  • can't be recycled -- when it's disposed, it's actually a 'hazardous' product that can clog landfills

No matter what you choose, here are some tips for making sure your tree looks its best.

Choosing a real Christmas tree:

  • The most common trees used during the holidays include pine, fir, and spruce. Spruce tend to lose their needles first, fir are somewhat slower.
  • Upon deciding the type and size of Christmas tree, make sure your tree is fresh. A freshly cut tree will last longer and its needles will stay on the branches, instead of your floor.
  • While checking the lot for a fresh tree, make sure that the trunk has some sap coming out of it.
  • Look for a tree that does not have brown needles. The needles of pine and spruce should bend and not break. They should also be hard to pull off the branches.
  • Raise the tree just a few inches and drop it on the base of the trunk. Shake it a little if you can.  If a lot of needles fall, your tree may have been cut too long ago and has already dried out.

Caring for your cut tree:

  • With a saw, remove a 2 cm disk of wood from the bottom of the trunk, providing a clean cut that allows the tree to absorb water
  • Ensure that your tree has adequate water. Display your tree away from direct heat to maintain moisture and the fresh look of the tree.
  • Some people add floral preservatives, aspirin and even honey to tree stand water, but there is no evidence that these provide any benefit.

When choosing an artificial tree:

  • look for easy-to-use, pre-assembled, hinged branches for easy set-up
  • pre-lit trees make assembly even simpler
  • higher tip counts mean a fuller and more realistic looking tree
  • premium trees include lifelike poly-ethylene tips, and might also feature pinecones, berries or snow
  • condo owners can even choose half-trees that stand up against a wall

Setting up your artificial tree:

  • It is important to check the area in the room that you want to set up your tree. Remember to consider height, diameter at base/width, the available floor space and ceiling clearance for at tree topper
  • when it comes to decorating your tree, be sure to use energy efficient LED lights. They use 90 per cent less electricity than traditional incandescent seasonal lights, and last up to 10 times longer

Want to weigh in on the holiday debate? Leave your comments below.