12 Easy-to-Grow Species of Fir Trees

Most Popular Choice for Christmas Trees

illustration of species of fir trees

Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018 

Some of the most popular choices for Christmas trees belong to the fir genus Abies, one of several evergreen conifer genera in the Pinaceae family of woody plants. The most common Abies species used for traditional Christmas trees are the balsam fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, and Nordmann fir.

Firs are distinguished from other pines by the presence of needle-like leaves that attach singly to the branches. This is in contrast to spruce trees, which have paired needles with a hinge-like base, and pine needles, which are bunched in clusters. Fir trees are also distinguished by cones that stand upright on the branches, like candles. Fir tree cones are softer than other coniferous trees and they come apart at the end of the season to spread their seeds.

Best Firs for Living Christmas Trees

Of the firs, the best species for use as potted, living Christmas trees are the Fraser fir, the balsam fir, the white fir, the Spanish fir, and the noble fir. Choose a species with good cold hardiness in your region. Leave the tree in the container you purchased it in for the first season, if possible, and bring it indoors for no more than 10 days at a stretch. It can be moved outdoors for a day or two during the holiday season to give it a rest from the stress of warm indoor conditions. Your tree will survive best if you position it in a relatively cool space, away from heat ducts. After a few years, if the tree begins to yellow, it should be repotted in a larger container.

  • 01 of 12

    Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

    A cluster of balsam fir
    Kitchin and Hurst/Getty Images

    In addition to being a popular choice for a Christmas tree, the balsam fir is used for its aromatic oils and resins, as well as in making paper. In shape it is a symmetrical, narrow tree with a pyramidal to conical shape and flat, shiny dark green needles up to 1 inch long. This tree is sensitive to heat and often struggles in climates warmer than zone 5. It is not very tolerant of urban climates, but it is still a common choice as a landscape tree.

    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 6
    • Height: 40 to 90 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 02 of 12

    Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri)

    A closeup of fraser fir
    F.D. Richards/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    John Fraser, a Scottish botanist, was the inspiration for this fir tree's name. The tree has flattened, shiny, dark green needles up to 1 inch long, and have white bands on the undersides. Similar in appearance to the balsam fir, the Fraser fir is also a very popular Chrismas tree. It is sometimes known as the she-balsam.

    Note: The Balsam wooly adelgid (Adelges piceae) has decimated many of these trees since it was introduced into the tree's native range.

    • Native Area: Eastern United States
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Height: 30 to 50 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 03 of 12

    Grand Fir (Abies grandis)

    Close-up of the branch of a grand fir
    DymphieH/flickr/CC By 2.0

    The grand fir is one of the fastest-growing fir tree species, as well as one of the tallest. The cones on this tree turn yellow as they mature. It has flat needles up to 2 1/2 inch long, shiny dark green on the top with two white lines on the undersides. The bark is smooth and gray. This tree has a number of regional common names, including great silver fir, giant fir, Oregon fir, lowland white fir, Vancouver fir, western white fir, yellow fir, and great fir.

    • Native Area: Northwest U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 6
    • Height: 100 to 250 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 04 of 12

    Himalayan Fir (Abies spectabilis)

    Photo of a Himalayan fir branch
    Wendy Cutler/flickr/CC By 2.0

    Parts of this fir can be used to create an essential oil and incense. This tree is one of the best specimens for shady areas. An essential oil derived from the needles can be used to treat colds, rheumatism and nasal congestion.

    • Native Area: Afghanistan, China, India, and Nepal
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 9
    • Height: up to 100 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Korean Fir (Abies koreana)

    Cones on a Korean fir
    Wendy Cutler/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    The Korean fir is one of the smaller fir species. It grows slowly and will fit into most landscapes. These firs will start producing cones at an early age. The cones are distinctive; they appear in late spring and come in shades of blue or purple. The short, broad needles are up to 3/4 inch long, shiny dark-green on the top surfaces and silver on the undersides. This species makes a good living Christmas tree due to its small size.

    • Native Area: South Korea
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7
    • Height: 15 to 30 feet tall; occasionally 50 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 06 of 12

    Noble Fir (Abies procera)

    A branch of noble fir
    Oregon Department of Forestry/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    Also known as red fir or white fir, the noble fir is a popular choice for Christmas trees. There are distinct tiers of branches with open spaces, so you can showcase ornaments without the tree looking like it has bare spots. This is the tallest species of fir tree. The needles, about 1 inch long, are blue-green, white whitish lines on both the tops and bottoms. The cones are 5 to 10 inches long and are purple-brown when ripe.

    • Native Area: Western Oregon, Washington, and northwest California
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 6
    • Height: This fir can be over 240 feet tall; some have grown to 300 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 07 of 12

    Caucasian Fir (Abies nordmanniana)

    A close-up of Nordmann fir
    F.D. Richards/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    This tree is also known as the Nordmann fir, named after Alexander von Nordmann, a Finnish zoologist. The branches are densely packed with flattened, glossy dark-green needles up to 1 1/4 inches long, and have two white bands on the undersides. The bark is charcoal gray. The cylindrical seed cones are 6 inches long and are dark reddish-brown in color. The cones are blue-green when immature with brown bracts peeping out between the scales.

    This species can tolerate living in a container (as long as they were started in one) so it can be a good choice for a living Christmas tree. 

    • Native Area: Northern Armenia, Russian Caucasus, Georgia, and Turkey
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 6
    • Height: 40 to 80 feet; occasionally over 200 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 08 of 12

    Red Fir (Abies magnifica)

    A small cluster of red fir trees
    Jeff Foott/Getty Images

    Also known regionally as California red fir, Shasta fir, or silvertip, the red fir gets its principle common name because the bark turns dark red as it matures. The smooth, gray bark of young trees becomes rough and orange-red on older trees. The blue-green needles are typically 3/4 to 1 1/4 inches long. The seed cones are 3 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches long, yellow-green in color, ripening to brown. This tree does not handle drought well, but it has good frost tolerance.

    • Native Area: Southwest California and Oregon
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: up to 200 tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Silver Fir (Abies alba)

    Silver fir

    böhringer friedrich / Wikimedia Commons/ CC By 2.5

    This fir species produces an essential oil that smells like pine trees. The flattened needs are 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches long, a glossy dark-green with two whitish bands on the bottom sides. The seed cones are 3 1/2 to about 7 inches long, greenish when young and dark brown when mature. Historically, this was the first species to be used as Christmas trees in Europe.

    • Native Area: Southern and Central Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Height: 130 to 200 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 10 of 12

    Spanish Fir (Abies pinsapo)

    Spanish fir

     

    NLink / Getty Images

    This fir tree species has female cones that look like raspberries. The needles are very sharp, inspiring another common name, hedgehog fir. The smooth bark is dark gray, gradually turning rough and scaly as the tree ages. The needles are short (about 1/2 inch long) and pale green-blue in color. The cylindrical cones are 3 1/2 to 12 inches long

    • Native Area: Morocco and southern Spain
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 8
    • Height: up 100 feet; more typically 25 to 75 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 11 of 12

    Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa)

    subalpine fir

    brewbooks / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    The subalpine fir tree is a medium-sized fir tree that grows very slowly; it is frequently used in bonsai craft. Bark on young trees is smooth and gray, becoming rough and scaly as the tree ages. The flattened needles range from 1/2 to 1 1/4 inches long, with stripes on the undersides. The seed cones are 2 1/5 to 5 inches long, dark purple/black ripening to brown in the fall. This subalpine fir does well in areas with some shade. It is also known as the Rocky Mountain fir.

    • Native Area: Western North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Height: 60 to 100 feet tall in the wild; usually much shorter in landscapes
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 12 of 12

    White Fir (Abies concolor)

    A Compacta white fir

    PROF. D. Richards/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    This fir tree is often grown in western landscapes; it is regionally known as the Rocky Mountain white fir, California white fir, and Colorado white fir. It has soft, flattened pale blue-green needles up to 2 1/2 inches long. The barrel-shaped cones are 3 to 6 inches long, yellowish-green maturing to brown or purple, but they may not appear on the tree for the first 40 years. The bark is light gray and smooth but gradually becomes furrowed as the tree ages.

    • Native Area: Western North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Height: 30 to 75 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure:

Firs are trees that do best in relatively cool, moist conditions. The soil should be fertile and well-drained. Compacted soils should be loosened by digging in compost or other organic amendments before planting the tree. Planting is best done when the potted tree is dormant, in the late autumn, winter, or early spring.