Christmas Tree Decorating…Step by Step, Like a Pro

Decorating a Christmas Tree at the Albany Institute of History and Art

For 10 years I decorated Christmas trees for the Albany Institute of History and Art’s FESTIVAL of TREES.

Each year I came up with a different theme, like a tree covered in antique looking bulbs, a tree covered with dried flowers, a gold tree for King Midas, and Mardi Gras inspired tree to name a few. For all my creative efforts, I won the Popular Choice Vote twice. I won over florist stores, garden centers and other venues that had seemingly unlimited budgets and product to work with, versus the $250. they gave me to buy tree decorating supplies.

All the Tricks of the Trade, that I used to decorate a Christmas tree like a pro, on a limited budget, I am going to go over with you in this post.

Step 1 ..Deciding on a Theme / Coming up with a Color Scheme ..There are many ways to come up with a color scheme / theme for your tree.

#1 You can pull colors from your own home, taken from the room where the tree will be placed. Let’s say your living room is decorated in Gold, Burgundy and Hunter Green. Right there you have three colors to work with, and your tree will perfectly match the room.

If you go with colors like that, you will next have to decide which of the three colors will be the Predominant Color (color most used on the tree), Subordinate Color (second most used color), and Accent Color (color used sparingly across the tree). You can do gold and green with touches of burgundy, gold and burgundy with touches of green, or green and burgundy with touches of gold. The choice is yours.

#2 Another way to get inspired is to just walk through the Christmas aisles of stores, go to garden centers that have Holiday Shops, or wander through craft supply stores.

Me in front of my Prize Winning flower tree

Right here I want to stress, Christmas doesn’t have to be red and green anymore. People like Martha Stewart have brought to the market many new colors for Christmas ornaments like Rust, Aqua-Teal, Copper and Lime, to name a few.

One of my trees, a Blue, Silver and Gold one, was inspired by fancy ribbon. The ribbon had Stars, Crescent Moons, and Suns on it, found at a discount store.

I did a flower covered tree (above). The starting point was many similar colored bouquets of dried flowers, that I found at an upscale grocery store. The color scheme started there, pulled / inspired by the flowers.

Step 2 ..Going Shopping for Decorations ..Once you have come up with a color scheme / theme that you will be working with, the next thing to do is go out and find supplies.

The first thing I want you to thing about is that your tree has 4 sides, a Front, 2 Sides and a Back. When purchasing decorations, buy a minimum of 4 of everything, so each side has the same product on it.

My Blue, Green and Gold Tree and my Snow Tree

One of my trees, for the Institute was covered in many Antique looking ornaments. I did not have enough money to cover it completely with those kinds of fancy bulbs. My solution was to look carefully at the fancy bulbs that I had, to see if there was a neutral / common color they all shared. In that case, it was silver, the background color of all the bulbs. I then bought many low-priced assorted sized silver bulbs as filler, and it did the trick.

When buying filler bulbs, or for that matter any kind of bulbs, for your tree, get small, medium and large sized bulbs. Different sizes make for visual interest. Remember to buy at least 4 boxes of each size of bulb. You will need one box for each side of your tree, though two, or three boxes of each, for each side is even better.

When looking for tree decorations Think Outside of the Box. Look for things in the Bridal / Baby Shower section of a craft store. One time I found many bags of gold plastic filigree hearts, that could be opened and filled with candy. I did not put candy in them, buy made and glued a small bow to each one I had, and with a hook attached them to the tree.

You can also find things like small plastic metallic baskets, that would be used as favors, or plastic Champaign glasses. For my flower tree, I cut 4″x4″ squares of tulle, pulled them together in the center, with florist wire, and attached them to the tree. I picked, dried and sprayed 100 hydrangea heads with Aqua Net to preserve them. I also sprayed and glittered lotus pods. My advice is to keep your eyes open to possibilities and be imaginative.

Step 3 ..Fluffing up your tree, if it is artificial A beautifully decorated tree starts on a beautiful tree. After assembling your tree, working from the top down, start bending and reshaping the branches. Think about how the tips of a real tree grow upward toward the sun. If you have evergreens by your house, study their growth habits, and try to shape your branches to look like the real thing. When I shape a tree, I step back many times to look at the overall shape I am creating. If I see something is off, I will bend those branches to make the look right.

Step 4 ..Putting Lights on Your Tree Divide your tree into fourth (quadrants). Think front, 2 sides and a back. Only put lights on one side of your tree at a time. Start at the bottom of any side and slowly zigzag them up the tree, to the top. To read a full article on Lighting a tree, read my 11-3-2011 post titled Putting Lights on the Christmas Tree…The EASY WAY.

Up on a ladder, placing glittered sticks on the Tree


Step 5 ..Putting Garland or Beads on your Tree is really a lot like putting lights on your tree, but in reverse. As with lights, divide your tree into fourths. Start placing your garland or beads on the tree’s front, working from the top zigzagging downward. You might want to add a bit of florist wire, or a bulb hook to the end of the garland or beads, when you first attach it to the tree. This will keep it secured, and in place. If you run out of product, just wire another length of garland or beads to what you have and keep draping.

After completing the front side of your tree, start working on the sides, doing the same as you did on the front. Finish up by adding garland or beads to the back.

A Gold Tree with Vertical placed Garland and Beads, and other theme trees

On some of my trees I ran the garland and beads vertically up and down the trees, versus draping them horizontally.

If you want to place beads or garland that way, Start by wiring your first piece of garland or beads to the front top center of your tree. Bring your beads downward to the front-bottom, across the center-bottom, and upwards on the tree’s back. You have just divided your tree in half with garland or beads. Once you are at the top, where you started hanging your garland or beads, turn your garland or beads right and work them down and around the tree again. You are now dividing your tree’s halves into sections. Repeat the process until you have divided your tree’s halves into thirds.

When decorating the Mardi Gras tree (Me on the ladder, pictured above), I swagged the tree in tulle. I cut 2 strips of tulle 1/2 yard wide, 4 times the length, as the tree was tall(For a 6 foot tree think 24 feet). I folded the two strips in half, and gathered them all up in the center with florist wire. I then wired all the fabric to the top of the tree, and started swagging the four pieces of fabric, attaching them to the tree with florist wire, as I worked downward. If I needed, I could add more fabric at the base of any swag, to have enough fabric to work down to the bottom of the tree. To read a full post on putting tulle on a Christmas tree click here.

On a snow themed tree (the one I won a price for above), I wanted the branches to sparkle a bit. I bought silver garland that was about 3/4 to 1 inch thick. I wrapped the garland somewhat tightly, straight down the center of the branch, from the place where the branch hooks into the trunk, to the center most tip.

Step 6 ..Let the Decorating Begin

A Mauve and Silver tree for the lobby of Trans World Music

Remember earlier in this post, when I said to buy a minimum of 4 of everything? When decorating your tree, as you did when putting on lights and garland or beads, you decorate one side at a time.

Take all the decorations that you bought / assembled, and make four equal piles, with exactly the same decorations in each pile. One pile will be just for the front, the next two will cover the sides, and the fourth the back.

When decorating a tree, you want to put on any extremely large / focal point ornaments first. On my gold tree for King Midas, the golden reindeer were anchored first. On the flower tree, the big bouquets of dried flowers were the first things to go on.

After that, start putting on all the decorations that you have the most of first. Start by taking your small filler bulbs from pile one, and put them only on the front of the tree. After that take the small filler bulbs from pile two and put them on side 1, followed by the small filler bulbs from pile three, to decorate side 2. Finally take your small filler bulbs from pile four, and put them on the back. Repeat this pattern of applying the bulbs with the medium and large filler bulbs, and any other kinds of decorations that you have. Finishing up with your fewest and most fabulous ornaments. This way you are evenly distributing and layering your ornaments to make a grand presentation. Step back, here and there, to see if any bulbs need adjusting.

When decorating Christmas trees, I always feel More is More. So there you have it Step by Step Christmas Tree Decorating. I hope this post was inspiring to you. Merry Christmas to All…Happy Decorating!

Companion Posts
Putting Lights on a Christmas Tree…THE EASY WAY 11-3-2011,
How to decorate a Christmas Tree with Tulle 10-20-2012,
How to Make a Tulle Christmas Wreath 11-8-2012,
It’s EASY to Fluff a Fake / Artificial Christmas Wreath 11-30-2011,
Make an Easy NO TIE Bow for your Christmas Wreath 12-8-2011,
Some ideas for Repurposing, Reusing, Recycling, an Old Christmas Tree 11-20-2012,
Cutting / Making Paper Snowflakes 10-27-2011,
Turn your Paper Snowflake into a Snowflake Snowman 12-14-2011,
Make some Animals from Cut Paper Snowflakes 12-19-2011,
A popular craft project for kids, Make a Christmas Tree out of your name 11-18-2011,
Some Outdoor Christmas Decorations that you can leave up ALL Winter 11-26-2011

(Unrelated, but Really Popular Interior Decorating Posts)
Arranging Living Room Furniture, so Sofas talk to Chairs, like the Pros do 9-7-2012,
Arranging Furniture TWELVE different way in the Same Room 9-15-2012,
Arranging Furniture around a Fireplace in the Corner of a Room 9-29-2012,
The Right way to Hang Curtains and Drapes 5-3-2011,
The Right height of Table Lamp for your End Table 5-19-2011

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About fredgonsowskigardenhome

Your eyes deserve to view beauty. I hope Fred Gonsowski Garden Home helps to turn your vision, into a reality.
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14 Responses to Christmas Tree Decorating…Step by Step, Like a Pro

  1. I have never known how to do this and am looking forward to following your instructions :) thank you..all your trees look great!

  2. Denise campbell says:

    Absolutely great work Fred . You are truly talented. I really enjoyed your site.
    Denise Campbell from Troy NY

  3. Shirley says:

    Hi Fred
    Very interesting , will pass this to my friends and family!
    Thanks again
    Shirley and Roy

  4. You actually make it appear really easy together with your presentation however I to find this matter to be actually one thing which I believe I would never understand. It kind of feels too complicated and extremely huge for me. I am taking a look ahead in your subsequent post, I will attempt to get the grasp of it!

  5. June Leuenberger says:

    Thank you, thank you! You have explained everything so thoroughly. And it was worded so anyone can understand exactly how to do it!

    • Hi there June, I write the directions, just as I want to hear them myself, or as I would tell a relative or friend who does not know about the subject. Oh to often people give directions as if the reader already know the product. I hate it when people don’t give the directions as simple as possible. Here at FGGH i want to present the instructions step by step, so a person can easily understand them and to the project. I hope you have a wonderful Holiday period, and a Happy New Year. Thanks for your comment ;-}

  6. Shondra says:

    Hi Fred. Another wonderful article with clear instructions. I have had my tree up for over a week. It’s still not completely decorated. I couldn’t get the bulbs on properly! With your instructions I’m confident I can make this tree look wonderful. Thanks.

  7. Milton Bervig says:

    If you love crafting, you may know that craft supplies can soon get expensive. One way to keep crafting within a budget is to look for discounts on craft supplies throughout the year. Paper, ink, stamps, fabric, buttons and more go on sale in craft stores, bulk stores and online. You can also find coupons and special discounts. If you know where to look, you can take advantage of great prices. With careful planning and patience, you can buy crafting supplies for less than the normal price. –

  8. Lady49er says:

    Hi Fred,
    Thanks for helping me with a couple of tree decorating dilemmas I’ve had in the past. Although I’ve been using three colors of lights (teal, purple, and gold) plus clear lights and always use tulle instead of garland to go with my collection of Winnie the Pooh ornaments, these tips you’ve shared will make decorating our 12-14 foot tree a whole lot easier this year. That’s especially important this year because Santa will be taking off all the Pooh ornaments and redecorating the tree on Christmas Eve with a Frozen theme for my 4 and 6 year old daughter’s to go with the gifts he is leaving for them. Decorating 1/4 of the tree at a time will definitely keep my husband from screaming “Bah, humbug!”!!

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