How to Trim a Christmas Tree

A close-up of a decorated Christmas Tree.

Artificial, real, spruce, fir, pine—no matter what kind of Christmas tree you choose, it has to be trimmed for the holiday season. Follow this step-by-step guide to decorating your Christmas tree, and achieve holiday perfection.

Step 1 - Fluff and Groom the Needles and Branches

Before you start to hang ornaments and lights, fluff the needles of your artificial tree. Look for bent branches that can be pulled straight. Some branches may need to be pulled up or down. The goal is to eliminate any bald spots in the tree to create a full look all over. Fluffing your branches will make an artificial tree look more like the real thing, and it will making trimming your tree much easier in the steps to come.

If you have a real tree, you will also need to do a little grooming before you place your ornaments. Look for any brown needles and remove them if you can. Cut off any very gnarled branches. And if you find a branch that has a lot of sap on it, you may want to cut just a little off to avoid dripping.

Step 2 - Top it Off

A gold star and ornaments on a white tree.

On TV and movies, the tree topper is always the last thing to be placed on the tree, but this is impractical. You should actually put your topper on first. The tree topper may have a cord attached to it that needs to be connected to the tree lights. Placing a topper is bound to cause a fair amount of jostling of the tree as well, and this can destroy all your careful trimming. Put the topper on first, and then work your way down the tree.

Step 3 - Put on the Lights

A close-up of Christmas trees with white lights.

You want to put the lights on the Christmas tree before you place a single ornament. Plug in your strand of lights so you can see exactly how the tree is lighting up as you place your lights. Now, walk around the tree wrapping the lights around, going from the bottom up or from the top down. The goal is to hang the lights evenly all the way around in a spiral pattern. You want an equal amount of space between each level of the spiral.

Step 4 - Hang the Ornaments

Artificial, real, spruce, fir, pine—no matter what kind of Christmas tree you ch

Hanging the ornaments on the tree is a long process, but if you take your time you'll end up with a beautifully finished tree. The goal is to hang your ornaments so that each one swings free. You don't want your ornaments resting or brushing up against other branches. You also want good ornament spacing. Place your ornaments based on type. Start with your round balls, and place these all over the tree with good, even coverage. Next, add icicles, stars, or other specialty-shaped ornaments. Your most personal and prized ornaments should go on last so you can give these the best placement to finish off the overall design.

Step 5 - Add the Extras

If you like to add garland and/or tinsel to your tree, now is the time. Wrap garland around the tree in a spiral pattern, placing it between the layers of lights you added earlier. You don't want the garland and the lights to line up perfectly, or you may block your lights. Tinsel should be hung so that it hangs straight down. This will ensure maximum glitter and movement around the tree, which will make it sparkle.

Step 6 - Finish it Off

Contrary to what movies tell you, the last step in trimming your tree is actually at the bottom -- not the top. Once everything is placed, you'll want to sweep or vacuum the floor around the tree. Even with an artificial tree, little needles, debris, and glitter will fall off the tree as you're trimming. You'll want to clean up this mess before you place your Christmas tree skirt, which is the final step of your amazing tree design. If you have presents ready, place them under the tree to complete the look.