New trees and lights for making merry

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Flocked trees fit in with a trend in white for Christmas 2015.

As with many artificial things in our virtual-reality world, they look more and more real all the time.

And that includes Christmas trees, which take in not only the idealized evergreen — branches perfectly spaced and of uniform length — but also Charlie Brown look-alikes of wispy needles and random placement.

Thank technology, which also gives us innovations in lights that include projectors that cast images of snow or kaleidoscopic colors on the side of a house and icicles that appear to be melting along the eaves. And more and more bulbs are battery-operated, taking lights to areas of Christmas decorating where they’ve never been before.

And because lights so often are already attached to artificial trees, you can hardly shop for one without shopping for the other these days. Bulb sizes and shapes range from micro to mini to globe, and incandescents still can be found among the strands of the newer, brighter LEDs.

All the innovations — from type of bulb to solid vs. flashing to color-changing vs. solid to battery vs. electric to timer vs. off-and-on switch — mean it’s important to read labels on packaging to make sure you’re buying what you want.

Here are some of the trends to look for — and look out for — in the holiday decorating landscape of 2015.

THE LIGHTS THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’

Lowe’s has several models of trees whose lights can be changed from clear to multicolored or can go back and forth between the two.

Icicle lights aren’t just those strings of weeping mini-lights anymore but also take on a solid icicle appearance, with lights that can have the effect of dripping or flashing. Again, be sure the bulb provides the kind of light you want. Reading reviews online of a product can help if you aren’t sure.

And while the brilliant LED bulbs are the cool-to-the-touch, energy-conserving wonder, you can still find incandescent trees and strings of lights, which are less expensive but don’t last as long. "Most people go toward the LED," said Shawn McCormick of Lowe’s. "That’s what most of our lights are going to. We only have one bay of incandescents."

Among solid-color lights, blue is popular this year, McCormick said. Strings of lights and projectors of blue lights were the first to be sold this year, he said. There also are icicle lights that are blue, Jessica Knott of Lowe’s said.

When it comes to picking out an artificial tree, the more tips and more lights are on it, the fuller it looks. "It looks more like a real tree," McCormick said. This also increases the price.

And, yes, the upside-down tree is still around.

One of McCormick’s customers recently asked for a "Real Feel" tree, indicating how far artificial trees have come from being obviously plastic. In picking its best artificial trees for 2015, Good Housekeeping found a 7 1/2-foot balsam fir that has true green color and a natural sweep to its branches. It also includes a plug-in for the tree topper, a foot pedal for turning the lights off and on and two zip-up bags for storage (at balsamhill.com, $999). The online Balsam Hill sells trees in three categories of "realism": most realistic, realistic and traditional (made of PVC).

Projectors that project lights on the house or a tree make easy work of decorating and have been popular this year, McCormick said.

There also are some solar options, McCormick said.

BATTERY-POWERED

Improvements in the life and look of battery-operated lights mean that if you’ve ever regretted not being able to light up a wreath because you didn’t want a cord dangling off of it or your mantel was dark because there was no outlet nearby, you now have lots of options.

You can find tiny lights on wire strands for indoors and regular-sized lights on heavy cords for outdoors. You can find battery-operated garlands of pine cones, candles and stars. Twinkling lights and steady lights. Clear or multicolored. Short lengths and long yardages.

Karla Binns of Roo Grayson always carries strings of battery-operated lights, but "they’re not real bright, so I always double-string," using the longer lengths, she said.

Some lights and, more often, battery-operated candles come with timers, so be sure you want that feature rather than a simple off-and-on switch, though you can always override the timer by turning it off and on when you want it.

All of these new options mean you have to be especially careful about reading labels. Look to see whether they are electric or battery-operated. If they say twinkling, be sure the look is what you want; often, flashing is what you get. Be sure the lights say "for outdoor use" if you intend to use them in the elements.

SNOWY AND WHITE

In local home decor shops, Christmas trends are already borrowing on Sherwin Williams’ color of the year for 2016: white.

You can see it in flocked trees and in simple white birch branches tucked in all over the place, whether upright in a basket or vertical on a mantel.

White or flocked artificial trees are part of a natural look that’s big now, Binns of Roo Grayson said.

"Grapevines, berries are huge, greens and whites and the champagne color … snow and ice. I mix it all together," she said.