How to decorate a Christmas tree- a step by step guide with tips from the professionals

·11 min read
 How to decorate a Christmas tree with tips from the experts
How to decorate a Christmas tree with tips from the experts

Arguably, it's one of the best things about getting your home ready for Christmas, but knowing just how to decorate a Christmas tree can leave you in quite a tangle, and we don't just mean with the lights.

What order to do things in, how to position lights and baubles and whether to choose fresh or faux are just some of the questions that stump many of us when it comes to dressing your tree.

But fear not, as our resident Style Editor Nicky Phillips is here with all of her top tips and a simple step-by-step guide to how to decorate your Christmas tree .

Once you’ve decided which of the many Christmas tree ideas you want to go for this year, come and take a read through our step by step guide. You won’t just have a lovely tree by the end of it, you’ll have one that looks like a pro just nipped in and finished it for you - except without the price and hassle.

Nicky Phillips Style Editor portrait
Nicky Phillips Style Editor portrait

Nicky Phillips

Style Editor

Nicky has worked for Ideal Home for over 20 years and has dressed 100's of Christmas trees in that time, for both Ideal Home and Style at Home, as well as our sister magazine, Ideal Home's Complete Guide to Christmas. With many of them gracing the magazines cover, she know just how to dress them to an exceptional standard.

At home, Nicky's own Christmas tree is dressed in silvers and whites and always with warm white fairy lights. She also loves to match her gift wrap to her tree theme too, for a stylish and cohesive look. 

How to decorate a Christmas tree

‘A perfect Christmas tree is a truly beautiful feature in every living room or hallway,’ says Nicky Phillips, Style Editor of Ideal Home. ‘Yet sometimes, even when we have selected beautiful decorations and put a lot of effort into decorating it, it doesn’t always come out the way we would like.’

‘The secret of a well dressed tree isn’t always about the well selected decorations, ribbons and ornaments – it’s the way you hang, scatter and place those pieces on the tree. So whether it be a faux or real tree this Christmas, I've shared my tips and tricks to help create your very best tree easily and stress free.’

Read on, and discover how to create the best-dressed festive fir to become the centrepiece of your Christmas ideas this year.

1. Place the Christmas tree and fluff the branches

Plain christmas tree
Plain christmas tree

First you'll need to set your tree in a secure stand – we'll later cover this with a tree skirt. If you're using a solid, wicker tree skirt, make sure to add it on at this stage, however.

Even if you have one of the best artificial Christmas trees, fluffing the branches is still really important, as it will make your tree look more natural and full, and also much more beautiful!

You can also do this to a certain extent with real Christmas trees, but be gentle so the needles don't drop. Another tip – wear gloves because the branches can be extremely prickly and you could risk a splinter.

Brunswick Tree, 6ft | £229.00 at John Lewis

If you need to update your tree this year, then this John Lewis tree is available in a range of sizes, and has a realistic look for the price of a faux option, as well as plenty of space for all of your decorations.

2. Put the lights on

Christmas tree decorated with lights
Christmas tree decorated with lights

If your tree is not pre-lit, now is the time to put your lights on the tree. Christmas tree light hacks are our saviour.

Firstly consider which lights. 'When choosing lighting for your tree the golden rule is to ensure the colour of your lights don’t clash with your decorations and baubles,' advises Georgina Horspool, Lighting Designer at Alexander Joseph.

'Begin with coloured lights to provide the main colour to your tree, then use decorations to provide contrasting bursts of colour. If you have a larger tree, consider using ‘globe’ shaped bulbs rather than the smaller LED stings – they create a better sense of scale and will be more cost effective. This year soft white light is in vogue.'

All sorted. Now it's time to place them on. The best way to do this is firstly by switching them on, it's far easier to see where you're placing them this way. Drape the light strand across the branches, working from one side to the other, top to bottom to ensure they are evenly distributed.

For best results void visible cords, using green cord lights can help to eliminate this problem.

Fairy Lights Battery Operated | £8.99 at Amazon 

These battery-operated fairy lights can be used indoors or outside to light up a space. They give off a warm glow that's easy on the eyes.

3. Add your tree topper


Most people think this should be the finishing touch, but when a tree is fully decorated it can actually be quite difficult to fix the topper. It's a real preference, to top or not to top that is the question?

'The tree does not look complete without a focal point perched high on the top vertical branch of the Christmas tree,' says Vanessa Arbuthnott, Founder and CEO of Vanessa Arbuthnott. ' I am a homespun type who wouldn’t buy anything plastic or sequinned or tinselled - just plain Scandinavian style using simple wooden or home-made paper decorations.'

A star, fairy or oversized ribbon bow are traditional options but there are so many other original Christmas tree topper ideas out there.

Eve Silk Christmas Tree Bow Topper | £42.00 at Not on the High Street 

For a more traditional approach to the bow trend, opt for this statement silk version. You can even personalise it to your family.

INERRA Chiffon Ribbons | £11.99 at Amazon

Create your own tree topper with this wire edged ribbon. There are two rolls included in this pack; plenty to create a rosette-shaped show stopper or cover the whole house in bows this Christmas.

4. Start adding decorations

Decorated christmas tree
Decorated christmas tree

Whichever of the Christmas tree trends you're opting for this year, our best tip is to put the heaviest decorations towards the inside the tree first, so the weight is supported by the branches. For the around the middle fill with inexpensive incidental glitter or shiny ornaments, that are perfect to catch the light from within the depth of the tree.

If you have a fake tree you don’t even need to hang them, they will just easily nestle in amongst the branches.

This step will fill all the gaps inside the tree and make it more three-dimensional and interesting.

5. Hang your key baubles

Decorated christmas tree with lights and baubles
Decorated christmas tree with lights and baubles

Start hanging your baubles, using larger ones at the base and medium sized baubles in the middle and top of the tree. Limit yourself to three or four different colours, using a variety of matt, shiny and glitter decorations. This will help give your tree depth and more interest.

A lack of structure and space with baubles is one of the major problems found when decorating trees. 'A lot of houses will hang ornaments on their Christmas tree haphazardly, causing it to look populated and a little bit claustrophobic,' say the experts at Christmas Tree World. 'You can easily avoid that by having a plan of what you want your Christmas tree to look like. You should spread out your decorations evenly, whilst also considering symmetry.'

Pack of 48 Baubles | £8 at Habitat

Add these to your festive creation, or just hang them on the tree. At less than 17p per bauble, they’re a bargain.

6. Add picks and sprays

Decorated christmas tree
Decorated christmas tree

Fill the tree with sparkling picks and sprays, branches with faux-ice crystals or snow, faux flowers, or just use natural branches with a dusting of white spray paint. You could try pine cones picks, too, painting the tips with white acrylic paint and sprinkling them with white and silver glitter, to make them look snow-drenched.

7. Showcase those extra-special ornaments

Decorated christmas tree
Decorated christmas tree

Now it's time to showcase your favourite ornaments, and add an element of surprise. These could be heirlooms or collectables – maybe you've brought back a Christmas trinket from a family holiday, or perhaps you have decorations your children made when they were little. If it's special, make sure it takes pride of place.

8. Time for finishing touching touches

Decorated christmas tree
Decorated christmas tree

Fill any gaps in the tree with smaller decorations, like mini baubles or bells. Or try finishing the look with glass (or acrylic) icicles on the tips of the branches, to create the perfect winter wonderland look for your tree.

9. Choose your tree skirt

Decorated christmas tree with silver baubles
Decorated christmas tree with silver baubles

Be imaginative with your choice of tree skirt or decorative cover. You could try burlap, faux fur or any other fabric to hide the trunk and any practical but mundane stand.

A fashionable option for the modern tree is a willow tree skirt, but as noted above, this would have to be placed on before the lights.

Wicker Tree Skirt | £30.00 at Habitat

This simple and stylish design by Habitat allows you to style out any wires or plugs needed for your lights. It's only available in one size, so make sure it will fit your chosen tree.

10. Pile up the presents

Decorated christmas tree with presents under it
Decorated christmas tree with presents under it

And done! Before you know it, that dream of the perfect afternoon decorating the Christmas tree with the family will become a reality. And, if not, chuck on your favourite Christmas playlist, pour a glass of Prosecco and dance around your beautifully decorated tree.

What's the easiest way to decorate a Christmas tree?

The easiest way to decorate a Christmas tree is to stick to just lights and forgo the baubles all together! But then where is spirit of the season of doing that?!

Chrissie Rucke OBE & Founder of The White Company says, "I'm a great believer in less is more when it comes to decorating a tree. I like to choose two or three of the same decorations and mix with fair lights for a simple-but-striking scheme. This year, on of my favourite designs is our lovely, glittered bauble which catches the light beautifully!"

How can I make my Christmas tree look fuller?

First and foremost, make sure you leave a real tree to acclimatise in your home. Once it's done so, fluff the branches to fill it out.

For artificial trees, clever bending and manipulation of the branches will make a huge difference in how full your tree appears. Your choice of decorating can go a long way in making your Christmas tree look fuller too. Carefully positioned oversized baubles can hide gaps in branches, and you can tuck in faux flowers or feathers, too, to give the illusion of more body on the tree.

Choosing the correctly sized tree skirt also helps, as if you use one that's out of proportion your tree is going to look smaller and thinner by comparison.

How do you decorate a Christmas tree for 2022?

The buzz word for this year has to be 'joy'. One of the biggest trend for decorating a Christmas tree is layering up bright, cheerful baubles and sentimental decorations. One of the other biggest trends has to the natural vibe. Every other area of our lives are going green, and Christmas is no exception. 'This year, we're going to see lots of natural, eco and sustainable materials,' says Rachel Epstein, Interiors Expert and Creative Director of CARME Home. 'If this is your go to choice, try incorporating acorns and dried fruit into your decorating.'

What order do you decorate a Christmas tree?

When decorating a Christmas tree there are two things you might start with. Firstly, if you're going for a solid tree skirt, this must go on before any decorations, otherwise all your hard work will end up on the floor!

If you're opting to cover up the Christmas tree stand with fabric, then the first thing that goes on the tree is the lights - make sure to work from the base upwards.

Then add your biggest baubles, followed by your medium sized and then smallest last.

Finish with a tree topper and voila!