Take care when choosing a tree...

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You can go as wild as you like when you decorate your Christmas tree, but you have to play by the rules when you’re buying and caring for it, says Hannah Stephenson

There’s no need for your tree to be over-hacked, lopsided and backed into a corner, if you just do a little groundwork before you buy.

For instance, measure your floor-to-ceiling space, taking into account the height of any stand below and the fairy or the star which will add extra height to the top.

Then look at the width you have to play with. Will relatives be constantly brushing past the tree to reach a door or a sofa? If so, you’ll need to take that space into account and be prepared for some secateur work.

Of the estimated eight million real Christmas trees bought every year in the UK, according to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, the most popular is the non-drop Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana), originally from south Russia. However, these are quite bushy trees and if you only have a narrow space, it might pay to shop for a smaller type, like the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), popular in the eastern United States.

If space is really tight, you may opt for a small cypress which you can plant in a pot, then place on a side table or stand and decorate accordingly. Once Christmas is over, provided you have kept it well watered and away from radiators, you should be able to plant it out in the garden when weather and soil conditions permit.

Andrea Blackie, garden designer and horticulturalist at plantify.co.uk, home to Britain’s biggest online plant selection, says: “If you don’t have the space for a full-size Christmas tree, you can get creative with other plants to make your home look festive this Christmas.”

She recommends small evergreen shrubs that will fit into a small space and can be decorated to look fabulous during the festive season.

Common box (Buxus sempervirens), a shrub with small, glossy green aromatic leaves, can be clipped into cones or even bought in a cone shape then decorated with small baubles and other festive adornments.

Another alternative is a standard, such as a bay or a berried holly, into which you can secure baubles and ribbons to give them a festive look without taking up too much space. They can be planted out once the festive season is over to give year-round enjoyment.

Whatever you choose, remember that evergreens prefer the great outdoors, so don’t put them anywhere near a radiator and keep them well watered in a cool room. If you can, leave it till the last minute to bring them inside.

If you are buying a traditional Christmas tree, saw off the bottom 5cm of trunk to open up its pores before you bring the tree inside and place it in a bucket of water until you are ready to house it. When you bring it in, make sure you can keep it topped up with water, as a tree will drink half a litre a day. Most Christmas tree stands have a space for water, or you could simply wedge it into a bucket.

Make sure the tree is fresh – look at the colour; when it dries out it loses some of its green hue.

Stroke the needles too, and they should feel moist to the touch.

If it starts shedding some of its needles when it moves, it’s not the freshest.