How to Decorate a Real Christmas Tree: Step-By-Step Guide

Every year, it happens. I turn into a Dickens-reciting, carol-singing, cookie-baking, tree-sniffing, cocoa-chugging lunatic, and if any of that is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

Once we put up this cheerful addition in our dining room, I get it baaaaad, y’all.

live Christmas tree in dining room and real pine garland surrounding doorway

As the holiday season approaches, there’s nothing quite like the magic of decorating a real Christmas tree to infuse your home with that warm and cozy Yuletide spirit.

If you’ve just brought home a fragrant evergreen beauty and are wondering where to start, fear not! In this guide, I’ll walk you through the steps to transform your tree into a dazzling masterpiece. Decorating a real tree is a bit different than decorating an artificial one.

The best part about using a real tree is it doesn’t need much! The charm is all in its natural beauty.

little girl at a tree farm

Choose the Perfect Tree

Whether you opt for a majestic fir, a sprightly spruce, or a winsome pine, make sure it’s fresh and vibrant. A good shake should dislodge any loose needles.

I love knowing that this annual adventure to visit a tree farm creates lasting memories for our family, goes to help our community and local farmers, and that once the season is over, the tree is still biodegradable and recyclable, so they won’t end up in a landfill somewhere.

Prep the Trunk and Trim

Cut about an inch off of the bottom of the tree trunk and make sure you cut it perfectly straight so the tree is standing straight. If a trunk is out of water for too long, the sap hardens at the end and won’t soak up water in your tree stand, so a fresh cut solves that problem.

Use a hand saw or chain saw to cut any extra limbs off of the bottom too that might interfere with your tree stand. Then, place it in your tree stand. Usually, merchants will do the trimming for you at tree lots and farms.

choosing a Christmas tree at a tree farm

Decide on a Tree Stand

The tree stand matters. Big time. The one that seems to be just about fail-proof is this one. Make sure you get a stand that works for the height of your tree though or else it could be a tip-hazard and a giant, sappy mess.

Fluff and Shape

Once your tree is securely in its stand, it’s time to give it some love. Gently fluff out the branches, working from the bottom to the top. This not only gives your tree a fuller appearance but also provides more space for ornaments to shine. If there are any bare spots, don’t fret – we’ll cover those in a twinkling!

minimalist real Christmas tree decor

Spray Plant Protector on Branches

There’s this plant protector spray called Wilt Pruf that you can apply to your tree branches or to any fresh garland or fresh wreaths to reduce moisture loss, so they won’t dry out as quickly. Just make sure to spritz it on at room temperature, not in freezing conditions.

Pick the Best Side to Showcase

(Is this a total Captain Obvious step? Sorry.) There’s usually that one bad side with holes and a few rough looking spots, so turn the bad side to face a corner or wall in the room.

If you’re using a basket or a bucket, put your tree, with the tree stand, in it at this point too before starting to decorate. If you’re using a tree skirt though, wait until you’ve finished decorating so you don’t get fallen needles on it.

minimalist Christmas tree with garland, candles, and simple ornaments

Add the Lights

Choose what lights you want to have on it first. Start from the base and work your way up, weaving the lights in and out of the branches

Candle Style

Go the antique route with these candle style ones.

Incandescent Lights

These come in all sizes and colors, and they give off warmth that release oils in the tree to release that pine smell.

LED Lights

A newer style of tree lights that stay cool, so they are completely fireproof.

Bubble Lights

If you like a retro style look, these lights are large, colorful, and resemble the look of lava lamps.

Globe Lights

These lights are round and larger than most lights, with a softer glow.

Or make it have extra glow by mixing two types of lights, like continuous lights and twinkle lights.

Start loosely wrapping your strand of lights beginning at the top of the tree and working your way down. Push some lights closer to the trunk and pull some out toward the tips of the branches and in between to add depth and extra glow.

We went the simple route this year with just a strand of these antique style candle lights. I love how Victorian they make the tree look with that soft glow.

clip on christmas tree candles

Add Garland

Choose wired ribbon, beads, stranded popcorn and cranberries, cable knit trim, whatever is your style. Drape it with a scallop look, wrap it and nestle it loosely between branches, drape it vertically from the top. Have fun with it. Keep your garland spaced as evenly as you can.

We went Victorian with ours again with just a simple scallop using these gold wood beads. Something about that scallop look reminds me of a pretty wedding cake.

wooden garland painted gold

Add Twigs, Berries, or Floral Picks

I love adding icy twigs for extra texture, berry branches for more color, or artificial flower stems for filling in holes. Space them out throughout the tree, and add a few more sprigs at the top to emphasize your tree topper. I stuck with just a few of these metallic magnolias this year. 

faux flowers as ornaments

Hang Ornaments

Start with the larger ornaments and space them out all over the tree. Cover holes between branches with these too.

Fill in with medium/small ornaments, closer to the trunk and out to the end of branches. Evenly space out colors and shapes so you don’t have two or three of the same type clustered together.

Avoid heavy ornaments since real branches are easily weighed down. Shatterproof glass-look balls work the best for me. I love how these faux mercury glass ones look antique but are actually plastic and safe. 

Real Christmas tree decor can be very minimalist so the natural beauty of the tree can shine through.

mercury glass ornament on a tree branch

Add Tree Topper and Skirt or Collar

I like to use stars or angels that have clips on them instead of those little cones, especially since real tree limbs are more pliable than artificial trees. They tend to sit up straighter that way and don’t fall down.

I you want a cheaper option for a tree skirt, a pretty throw blanket you already own (or maybe find at the thrift store) works perfectly. Or place it inside of a large basket.

real decorated Christmas tree in a basket

Preserve Your Live Tree

That might be a weird one, but I learned this trick from the owner at the farmer’s market when picking out our tree. Pour a can of Sprite into your tree stand along with water once every two weeks to keep your tree fresh. Or some tree lots/farms sell tree preservative to pour in with water.

Pet Proof Your Live Tree

If you have a cat, tuck a few orange peels under the tree skirt or in the tree basket since cats don’t like the smell of citrus. If you have a dog who is a little mischievous, hang a couple of jingle bell ornaments on the bottom branches to alert you if their curiosity ever gets the best of them.

Boom! Done!

live christmas tree decorations

Our Christmas Eve dinner is going to be all sparkly and magical this year for sure.

real Christmas tree in a dining room

Robert, the kids, and I have one more tree to decorate that will be more of the free-for-all anything-goes tree. I guarantee it’ll be packed with homemade family ornaments and construction paper creations from preschool crafts, and every single one will be clustered at the very bottom where little hands can reach.

And I’ll bet you a million bucks it’ll be the prettiest tree of all.

Right now though, I’m pretty goo-goo-eyed for this one.

dining room with decorated real Christmas tree

If you don’t live near the mountains or a place to cut your own tree, you can always pick them up at tree lots and hardware stores. Choosing a real tree helps farmers, communities, and ecosystems.

Do you have any fresh Christmas tree decorating tricks of your own? Or tips for keeping it looking fresh through December? Are you sticking to a decorating style this year or is it full of family treasures?

It’s always beautiful, no matter what. Charlie Brown is right… no tree is ugly as long as you give it plenty of love.

real christmas tree at night

Christmas Tree Decorating Ideas

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of Christmas tree stays fresh the longest?

Fraser firs are known to last the longest out of all the Christmas tree species. Canada ships them worldwide for this very reason.

How long do real Christmas trees last in a home?

Most live Christmas trees can last 4-6 weeks on average as long as they’re properly trimmed and watered regularly.

What Christmas tree does not drop needles?

Nordmann Fir trees are known for holding onto their needles.

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The Ultimate Guide to Decorating and Caring for a Real Christmas Tree | blesserhouse.com - A step-by-step guide for decorating a real Christmas tree like a pro and how to take care of it to make it last throughout the holiday season. #realchristmastree #livechristmastree #christmastree #treedecor
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  1. Lauren, Iโ€™ve never seen a tree placed in a basket, itโ€™s so beautiful! Hobby Lobby usually has a pretty large selection. Can you elaborate on that please?

    1. Hi Kelly! I found this particular basket at Pier 1 on sale and now it looks like it’s discontinued. Sad! Here’s the link to it: http://rstyle.me/n/cvkfbkb5ky7 If it helps, the measurements are 22″W x 21″D if you ever want to find one that’s a similar size. Hobby Lobby might have some. World Market and The Container Store might be good places to check too. We have our tree in a regular tree stand (I linked to it in this post) where we water it just using a spouted pitcher, and the tree stand is inside of that basket. I’ve even seen some people have luck finding large baskets at thrift stores and cutting the handles off to use for their trees. Galvanized buckets work well too, if you like the rustic farmhouse look. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I really appreciate these tips, thank you. And I love your tree!! Those candle lights are perfect – you have definitely inspired me to seek them out. We do also do a real Christmas tree, and it is always decorated by the whole family with our years of favourite ornaments. Our tradition is that the youngest member of the family gets to place the star on top.