If you have looked through decorating magazines, Pinterest, and product catalogs for Christmas decorating ideas you will see that there are so many different options for how to decorate your Christmas tree.

But, even though there are many, many different styles of decorating, there are also some basic rules that decorators use, both in your home and for your tree, that you can apply to properly decorate your Christmas tree and amaze your friends and family. These steps apply no matter what style of tree you have.

How to decorate a Christmas tree

How do professionals decorate Christmas trees? Just like decorating a home. Decorators apply certain design rules to decorating Christmas trees and many of them are the same whether you’re decorating your home or your tree.

decorating a Christmas tree

Decide on the type of tree for you

There is nothing like a real tree to give your home that authentic, amazing-smelling, Christmas feeling, but you don’t have to have a real tree to make your home look and smell amazing.

The trick to using an artificial tree is to find one that looks real. There are so many artificial trees available, both online and in stores, in all different styles, fullness, types of leaves, heights, colors, and more.

how to decorate a Christmas tree

In my opinion, the fullness of the branches is what makes or breaks a real-looking artificial tree. But don’t fret, there are ways to take a thin tree and make it look fuller too. Of course, if your style calls for a Charlie Brown tree, then, by all means, go with it.

Here are some great quality, real-looking Christmas trees from Amazon. I included different price ranges.

Shape and fill the branches of your tree

Now that you have picked your tree, it’s time to play with the branches. If your tree is not as full as you would like, then you can add branches to it! Find some contrasting greens to tuck in around the branches to help make the tree look fuller. Make sure to spread out the branches evenly around the tree.

I have used a lighter-colored garland to tuck around my tree in the past and it gives it nice texture and dimension. The Lvydec 2 pack below is very similar to what I used and I loved the contrast with my pine branches.

You can use a garland to wrap around the tree or use some floral picks like the Craftmore one below. Just make sure to spread them around the tree and make sure you buy enough to make the tree look full. I use 6-4′ garlands for my 7 1/2′ tree.

winter garlands for your tree

Take your home décor into consideration

Another thing you want to keep into consideration while deciding how to decorate your Christmas tree is the style of your home’s décor. If you typically decorate in a contemporary style, then you will want your tree to be contemporary. If you decorate in a farmhouse style then your tree should be more of a heirloom, traditional style. Here are some examples of different styles below.

colorful Christmas tree
Contemporary Style
traditional Christmas tree
Traditional Style
themed Christmas tree
Themed Tree

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Do you like the Boho Style? Read my post “The best boho Christmas decorating ideas” for some great ways to incorporate the style into your home this holiday.

How many lights do you need for your tree?

One of the biggest mistakes when decorating your tree is not using enough lights for the size of your tree. The Home Depot suggests using 100 mini lights, or 50 traditional-sized lights, per vertical foot of height of your full tree, and half of that for a thin or pencil tree. For more information on lights from Home Depot check out this post “Let’s light up the holidays

To give your tree the illusion of many lights fill the inside of the tree, near the trunk first, then go around again on the outer branches.

Have you ever added all your lights and then had to find the plug? If you start at the bottom, back of your tree with the plug end sticking out, you will always know where the plug is and it will be where you need it to be.

fun christmas lights for your tree

Add garlands, ribbons, and swags

The next step in how to decorate your Christmas tree is to add garlands, ribbons, and swags. I like to do this at this stage because it’s easier to do it now than trying to tuck them around all the ornaments. Tuck and drape in between and on branches starting at the bottom and working your way up the tree.

With your garland, swag, or ribbon, drape sections of them near the ends of the branches, all the way around, while tucking small sections into the tree as you go. This look is much more natural looking than placing the garland only on the outside of the branches. See the difference below.

As you go around the tree, either do one section of your garland all the way around the width and then start another piece of garland higher up. Or, slightly run your garland at an angle up the tree and run one continuous strand of garland all the way up.

Make sure to space out the garlands all the way up the tree. Do one section and then step back and see how it looks. Make any adjustments needed before moving on to the next section.

Tuck in picks and florals

Next, you can take your tree up a notch and add some picks. Use these to fill in bare spots, add another dimension of character, contrast, or simply as another ornamental item.

You can find picks in florals, greenery, pine cones, berries, little presents, and many, many more. Choose pics to go with your style or themed tree.

decorate a Christmas tree

Start with your largest ornament sets

Starting with your sets of filler ornaments, add your largest-sized ornaments first and spread them around the tree evenly. Add more towards the bottom of the tree but still use them all over.

Then do the same thing with your next-sized ornaments. Keep in mind to spread out different styles or colors of ornaments. I say sets of ornaments because I want you to save your “special” singular ornaments for last. So use the ornaments that you have a lot of first.

In the photo below I love how they used clusters of ornaments together instead of singular ones all over the tree. It gives the ornaments more importance.

decorated Christmas tree

Once you use all of your “filler” ornaments, fill in spaces evenly around the tree with your special ornaments so they are visible from the room.

Make sure you have enough ornaments to give your tree the look you are going for. A 7 1/2′ tree typically needs 80 ornaments to look full. Adjust the amount according to the height and width of your tree, as well as the amount of branches you have.

For instance, if you are into a thin tree without a lot of branches then you won’t need as many ornaments, but if you love a full grand traditional 10′ tree then you will need a lot more!

Buy ornaments in odd numbers

One rule that designers use in your home is to accessorize with odd numbers. This is scientifically proven to be more pleasing to the eye. It’s found everywhere in nature naturally. Basically, you don’t want your tree to be perfectly symmetrical or it will not look natural.


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If you’d like to make your own Christmas ornaments, read my post “Rustic Repurposed Christmas DIY’s”


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If you still have your Christmas cards from last year, you may like this post “10 ways to repurpose Christmas cards”

Top your tree

When deciding on your tree topper keep your theme and proportion in mind. You wouldn’t use a beautiful angel on top of a pink cotton candy-themed tree, but it would look beautiful on top of a traditional tree.

Also, you’ll want to find a topper that is the correct size for your sized tree. If you have a 10′ Christmas tree full of large glass ornaments, you wouldn’t want to use a star that is only 4″ wide.

Your topper should match the style and size of your tree proportionally.

decorated Christmas tree
decorated Christmas tree
decorated Christmas tree

Add a skirt

Adding a skirt serves two purposes. One is to cover the ugly tree stand. Two is to give your tree a wide base to balance out the height and width of the tree.

Think about that for a minute. If you just had a tree standing from its trunk in your home, it would give you the feeling that it is top-heavy and could topple over. But if you add a large skirt that is close to the width of the tree, then it grounds the tree and visually feels sturdier.

The good news is that you can use this predicament to add one more layer of décor to your tree.

colorful christmas trees
rustic simple christmas tree
white and red christmas tree

Tree skirts can come in all kinds of fabrics, colors, and styles to coordinate with your look. And now people are even thinking outside the box and using other materials for skirts, including a box!

How about adding a cardboard box wrapped in Christmas paper around your trunk? Or how about a large bucket or basket to the base? I prop my 5′ tree on the top of a whiskey barrel and I love it. It really gives the small tree some importance. Just remember to follow your theme and I’m sure you could come up with something creative and stunning.

Christmas tree decoration ideas and themes.

Using a color scheme for your tree décor

natural small tabletop tree
I think this is a store display, but notice how the beige and frosted grayish-white colors in the tree coordinate with the colors in the background.

Just like picking a color scheme for your room, you could choose a color scheme for your holiday tree decorating.

Keep the rest of your home’s decorating in mind when deciding on a color scheme for your tree. If you have a particular color in your room, consider using this color to coordinate your tree decorations. This is the best way to make sure that your holiday decorating doesn’t clash with the rest of your home.

You could also choose a few different colors for your scheme like the photo above. This type of tree would look amazing in a very contemporary home with lots of white walls, which would let the tree shine.

So if you decide to use a color scheme as your tree decorating scheme, just make sure it fits with the rest of your home’s décor and you can’t go wrong.

Using a theme for your tree decor

Another way to choose your tree decorations is to decide on a theme. Music, cardinals, dragonflies, woodworking, the beach, and pets are all themes. So is contemporary, farmhouse, industrial, Victorian, or coastal.

One of the trees below is using a “wishes” theme by hanging little notes with handwritten wishes on them. This theme is so personal and thoughtful and probably didn’t cost the homeowner anything to decorate it.

Decide on your theme and use items that complete that theme in your decorating.

Some of the trees I featured in this post are from a local tree decorating contest called The Festival of Trees. Take a look at even more great tree-decorating ideas from this site. They showcase everything from traditional, themed, whimsical, and even some “not” actual trees! They are amazing!

Traditional-style tree decorating

A traditional type of tree decorating is probably the most used theme. This theme is the perfect theme to use all of your mismatched, but treasured ornaments that you’ve collected over the years.

Traditional by definition means “existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established; habitually done, used, or found.” As long as you are not trying to mix in a completely different style of baubles, and you follow the steps for decorating your tree, all of your treasured keepsakes will look amazing on your tree.

Natural tree decor

A natural-themed tree is a great style for a country or farmhouse-styled home and could also work in a traditional home.

To pull off a natural-styled tree, use items found in nature such as twigs, berries, wooden ornaments, bird nests or bird houses, leaves, florals, and more.

If you really don’t want to take the time to shop or forge for ornaments, this tree above comes with all the ornaments!

Farmhouse-style tree decorating

To use a farmhouse style in your tree decorating you can use either a natural style like above, or you could use a lot of textures and lots of white.

For this style, I picture cotton picks, twigs, berries, red or natural burlap ribbons, and even little household items like old kitchen utensils, tarnished copper bells, wooden beads, and even some old jewelry.

This is a great style for someone who doesn’t have a lot of money for new decorations. Visit your local thrift store for some inexpensive, aged baubles and jewelry which is perfect for this style.

pine cone and floral christmas tree
I LOVE the simplicity of this rustic tree from Country Living

Some of my favorite ornaments from Amazon

Christmas Ornament 2020 Quarantine

It’s a Wonderful Life-Inspired Christmas Angel Bell Ornament

Gnome Christmas Ornaments Set of 4

Clear Glass Snowflake Ornaments

Buffalo Plaid Wood Ornaments 

Knitted Christmas Stockings

And don’t forget to add some scent to your artificial tree. These scented Christmas ornaments smell sooo good! I like to hang them on the inside of the tree where you can’t see them. Make sure to replace them periodically to keep the scent going.

Hopefully, some of these tips helped you to decide how to decorate your Christmas tree for your home. Just remember when decorating your tree to use your style and your home’s colors, and most importantly have fun doing it!

More holiday projects…

10 ways to re-purpose old gift cards
holiday decorations in box
Holiday wood blocks

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