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How to
Decorate a Tree

Whether you’re scouting the local farms or pulling the trusty faux evergreen out of the attic, setting up and decorating your Christmas tree is a favorite holiday pastime. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your family’s decorating traditions – and create new ones.

Step 1: Get Into Shape

FAUX: Even the best faux trees need fine-tuning. Lift and separate the branches and tips to lose that “packed away” look. This will make more room for lights, garland and ornaments later.

LIVE: If you’re decorating a live tree, you’ll want to use the best side – the place where the branches are most evenly spaced and symmetrical – as your “front.” It’s OK if it’s a little off-kilter, though: That’s what makes live trees so charming. Also, don’t be afraid to gently trim a branch here and there to get the shape you want, particularly at the bottom.

Tip: Put on a pair of well-fitting gloves to keep sharp bristles at bay. 

Step 2: Light It Up

FAUX: Many faux trees come with lights already attached. (Which means they don’t mysteriously become tangled in the off-season.) Turn them on to make sure everything is working. If you want, make small adjustments so that you can see more or less light through the branches.

LIVE: To add glitz to a live tree, start at the top and wrap the wire snugly around the branches as you go, planting connectors deep within the tree so they can’t be seen. Keep the lights turned on if they’re LEDs or bee lights, and turn C-9s on every once in a while to make sure you’re getting an even glow. And don’t be tempted to skimp on the backside of the tree: Lights back there create extra sparkle and depth, and brighten your glass and mercury ornaments from behind beautifully. 

Step 3: Put On the Garland

Start your garland at the top and place it as far out toward the end of the branch as feels secure. The amount of drape depends on the surface space as well as the style of your tree, but aim for branches that provide even “swags” of garland. Once the garland is on, you’ll have natural segments that will make it easy to distribute ornaments evenly.

Step 4: Accessorize with Ornaments

Arguably the most fun element of the tree, ornaments are special because they are collected over time and tell stories. Lay them out to assess what you have. (This practice also brings back a lot of good memories.) 

Start with the largest ornaments, placing them as far into the center of the tree as your branches allow. This will keep them sturdy and fill uneven spaces. Hang them as high up on the tree as is comfortable, but plan to use more medium and small ornaments farther up.

Next, place medium ornaments farther out on the branches. Use your garland to create “sections,” and try to place certain types and colors in each section. Don’t be too mechanical about this, though: The beauty of a tree is often found in its quirks and imperfections. Be sure to fill the back as well; those glimpses of color and shape create depth.

Special or sentimental ornaments are next. You want these to have pride of place for viewing, as well as for conversation starters. If you have pets, consider “wag height” and place these ornaments above that.

Lastly, place smaller ornaments on the outermost part of the branch, where their scale won’t get lost and their weight won’t shift the branch.

Tip: Host an ornament swap with your loved ones. Handcrafted pieces are always special, and are a way to showcase your kid’s (and your!) artistic talents. 

Step 5: Choose a Tree Skirt

The tree skirt provides as much fashion as it does function. It catches needles and sets the stage for beautifully wrapped presents. They come in a wide variety of fabrics, patterns and sizes so you can find one to suit your style. The one you choose should cover the entire tree stand.

Tip: Simply drape a bed linen around the stand for an inexpensive, but classy look. 

Step 6: Top It Off 

The topper is the finishing touch to your tree. Familiar and seasonal symbols – like angels and stars – are a classic choice. Keep the size of your tree in mind, and choose one that balances it nicely and isn’t too heavy. When it comes to this last piece of the puzzle, it’s ok to think outside of the box. We’ve seen (and loved) large poinsettias and burlap bows that make unexpected, but beautiful, toppers. 

Tip: If you’re just too busy this holiday season to decorate your tree, we’re here to help. Visit or call your local Pottery Barn store to find out more about our Trim-a-Tree services.