Project Guide

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree

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Gather Tools and Materials
A picture of a step ladder, lights, ornaments, ribbons, ornament hooks, a tree topper and a tree skirt for decorating a Christmas tree.
  • You will need a ladder or step stool to safely dress most trees. Choose one with good stability and an appropriate weight rating.
  • Collect ornaments, ornament hooks, a tree skirt, tree topper, Christmas lights, garland, ribbon or any other Christmas tree decorations you like. (With a little practice, you can learn how to make a bow for a Christmas tree topper.)
  • Choose the light type that suits your style. LEDs produce a cool-tone light. Incandescent lights offer a warm glow and novelty lights add personality. You can mix styles to create different effects. Be sure to use indoor-rated lights that are UL-listed and have the same color cord as your Christmas tree.
  • Purchase the number of lights based on the tree's height and type of coverage you want. Use 100 lights per foot for low coverage, 250 per foot for medium coverage and 350 per foot for heavy coverage. Keep a few extra bulbs on hand so you can replace any that go out.
  • When you decide how to decorate for Christmas, go for the look you want, whether it’s traditional, minimalist or even eclectic. 
Choose a Location and a Tree
A man and woman setting up a Christmas tree to decorate.

Select a location for the tree that takes both safety and aesthetics into account. Be prepared to rearrange the room furnishings if needed to make the best space for the Christmas tree.

  • Find a location that is close to a free electrical outlet as the tree should not share an outlet with any other household appliances.
  • Avoid allowing electrical cords from the tree to stretch across any space that gets foot traffic.
  • Install a smart plug at the outlet so that you can control the tree from your smart phone or tablet.
  • Be sure the tree will be in a fairly cool spot away from the heat of furnaces or fireplaces. This will help prevent a fresh tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard. It will also help prolong the life of artificial trees.
  • Measure the ceiling height of the space as well as the width and depth to be sure it can accommodate the tree, topper and tree stand. 
  • If a live tree is too tall for the space, trim it from the bottom so it maintains its shape. In many locations, a Home Depot associate can make a fresh cut on the bottom of your tree to help it fit better into a tree stand. 
  • Leave a minimum of 8 inches of free space surrounding the tree to make it easier to decorate all sides.

The Home Depot has a variety of Christmas trees, including live Christmas trees, cut Christmas trees and artificial Christmas trees that look incredibly realistic. Types of trees may vary, but often include pine, Douglas fir and others, so you can find the perfect tree for your home. Pre-lit artificial trees are also available.

How to Decorate a Christmas Tree With Lights
An illustration of a Christmas tree decorated with lights in three vertical triangle shapes.

To avoid risks of fire or other dangers, it’s important to know how to put Christmas lights on a Christmas tree correctly. 

  • Before you begin applying the lights to the branches, test each strand to make sure it works and there are no bulbs missing or burned out. Then determine the pattern you want for stringing the lights.
  • Draping: This technique uses the fewest lights. It’s also one of the quickest Christmas tree decorating ideas, requiring only about 20 minutes. Begin at the top and drape lights around the tree in a spiral.
  • Triangle: Visually divide the tree into three vertical triangles. Fill in each triangle with lights, alternating the light strings from side to side down the length of the area. This method takes about 45 minutes.  
  • Branch wrapping: Begin at the bottom of the trunk and wrap each branch with a light strand up to two inches from the tip. This method uses the most lights and takes more than 60 minutes.
  • Use your choice of light colors. A monochrome color scheme, such as all white lights, works with any almost any ornaments when you decorate a Christmas tree.
Check for Missing Lights in Your Christmas Decorating
An illustration showing how a decorated Christmas tree looks when you stand back and look for spots that need lights.

Once the lights are placed, stand back from the tree and squint your eyes until the tree becomes blurry. This will help you see any dark spots on the tree. Add lights to the areas that need them.

How to Decorate a Tree With Ornaments
A man holding a little boy on his shoulders while the child hangs an ornament on a Christmas tree.

Think about how to decorate for Christmas before you start, so you can decide whether you want to use a certain color scheme or theme. 

  • Gather ornament hooks to accommodate varying weights and sizes of ornaments.
  • Hang large ornaments first. Begin at the top of the tree and move vertically down the tree, attaching three large ornaments for every foot of tree.
  • Next, hang medium ornaments. Place these farther into the branches with eight to 10 ornaments per foot.
  • Fill in gaps and adorn branch tips with small ornaments. Place about 20 per foot.
How to Put Ribbon on a Christmas Tree
A Christmas tree decorated with ornaments, lights and ribbon in a living room.

It’s easy to learn how to put ribbon on a Christmas tree, and wide ribbons can help hide any remaining bare spots. 

  • Start by using one to three kinds of ribbon, varying the sizes, colors or patterns. For example, use a plaid red and green ribbon with a solid gold ribbon. 
  • "Fluff" out the tree branches, whether they are real or artificial, to help hold the ribbon. Mesh or textured ribbons usually hold onto the branches better than smooth ribbons. Burlap works well with rustic Christmas decorations while satin ribbons are lovely on an elegant Christmas tree. If necessary, cut small pieces of green pipe cleaners, put them around the ribbon and then twist them onto the branches to secure them.

There are three main ways to put ribbon on a Christmas tree:

  • Start at the base of the tree and go slightly up as you wind the ribbon around and around the tree. This creates a barber pole effect. Leave even spaces between the ribbons. Twist the ribbon as you wrap it around, if desired. 
  • Put a bow on the top of the tree. Then cut lengths of ribbon and let them hang loosely from the top to the base. Twist each ribbon a few times to give a festive Maypole look to the tree. 
  • Drape ribbon in swags from the bottom to the top of the tree. Make each swag about 12 inches long. 
How to Put Garland on a Christmas Tree
A Christmas tree decorated with white garland and gold ornaments in an all-white living room.

Use the same basic steps for decorating a Christmas tree with ribbon when you're ready to put garland on a Christmas tree. Then follow one of these three popular methods:

  • Wrap garland around the tree, working slightly up as you go from the bottom to the top.
  • For extra interest, twist two different kinds of garland together and drape them in swags around the tree. Again, work from the bottom up. 
  • Cut lengths of garland and twist them slightly into s-shapes. Secure them to the top of the tree and let them hang loosely to the base. 
Christmas Tree Decorating Ideas With Accessories
Someone putting a lighted, star-shaped tree topper on top of a Christmas tree.

Place a tree topper at the crown of the tree. Take a few steps back and check to see if the topper is straight. If not, adjust it as necessary. You can also top your tree with a purchased or DIY bow. 

  • If you want to learn how to make a bow for a Christmas tree, start by cutting a 15-inch length of ribbon. Use a longer piece for a bigger bow. Fold it over on itself to make two loops at the top and one at the bottom. Don't let the ribbon twist. The two top loops should look like two bunny ears.  
  • Next, cross the right loop over the left to make a third loop, so the bases come together. Keep the tails of the ribbon flat and of equal length.
  • Fold the loop that's now on the left behind the right loop and through the bottom loop. 
  • Pull the top loops together to form the bow and make a knot in the center of it. Notch the ends of the ribbon tails as desired.
  • Finish your Christmas decorating with a Christmas tree skirt around the base of your tree. 

Decorating a Christmas tree is a timeless tradition in many homes. Find more ideas on how to trim a Christmas tree by exploring our wide selection of ornaments, lights and accessories for the holiday season. The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them.