7 Christmas Tree Lighting Tips that Will Make the Job Easier
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Christmas tree lighting tips that will make your tree, whether real or artificial Christmas trees, look festive and will glow from within.
When it comes to holiday decorating, I have put the lights on more Christmas trees, both real and artificial than the average person will in a lifetime.
My job in retail display had me putting the lights on and off (we cut them off the display trees every holiday season so we could put fresh ones on) of hundreds and hundreds of trees and garland, too. When I say hundreds – I literally mean hundreds.
I know how to hang Christmas lights as well as my know my way around a strand of mini string lights and wanted to share my Christmas tree lighting tips to make the process of putting lights on a tree fast and easy, and that will give you glowing results.
What is the Right Way to Put Lights on a Christmas Tree?
There are many professional Christmas tree lighting techniques to correctly put lights on a Christmas tree. Here are 3 ways:
1. Branch Wrapping
This is the best way to add lights to a Christmas tree where you string the lights on the tree branches, one branch at a time. It does take time, but is the best way to hide the wiring.
This is done by going up and down each branch on the tree starting at the base of the branch and wrapping the lights around the branch as you work to the outer tip of the branch and then back down along the branch.
Once you are back at the Christmas tree’s base, you move onto the next branch. This requires quite a few strands of lights depending on the size of the tree and the number of lights on each strand.
2. Going Round and Round Horizontally
This is the fastest way to add lights to a Christmas tree. It works very well when you have a very full tree.
To do this technique, start at the top or bottom of the tree. As you go around the tree with a light strand, simply push the strand into the center of the tree along the branches and then back out again.
Going round and round the tree horizontally repeating the process. When you get to the end of a strand, plug in another strand and continue adding lights in this manner.
Once you have 3 strands plugged in to each other. You will need to plug in the next into the outlet. (See how to do this later in the post.)
3. Add the Lights Vertically
String the light strands vertically up and down the tree.
To do this method, you start each strand of lights at the top of the tree and simply let it hang down. Tuck the ends into the branches to hide the end of each strand. I found that working top down, instead of bottom up, you are better able to hide the wires at the top of the tree that is not a lush and full as the bottom branches of the tree.
When doing this you need to connect all the lights around the top and will need to add a plug near the top of the tree.
I watched my dad use the branch wrapping method when I was a child. He was really good at it. It can be time consuming as it took him all day, but every wire was hidden.
The going round-and-round horizontal method or vertical stringing method can leave too many empty spaces and the lights sometimes look too lined up.
The Easy Way to Put Lights on a Christmas Tree
To put Christmas tree lights on my tree, I learned early in my display career from my seasoned display decorators I worked with that we did not have time to wrap every branch.
Instead, we used methods that were fast, easy, and where the lights were always evenly spaced with little wire showing.
1. A 9-Outlet Christmas Tree Cube
Before putting lights on the tree, use a handy-dandy 9-Outlet Christmas Tree Cube Tap Extension Cord . It is the best tree lighting invention ever!
If you are not familiar with this type of extension cord, once you use it – you will never ever put lights on a Christmas tree without it.
When you use a regular extension cord with one outlet tap – all the plugs from all the lights have to reach this plug or outlet bar. The top light strands have to weave down the tree to the bottom to be plugged in where the outlet(s) are.
It can get quite messy and may leave more lights than are necessary along the path to the outlet.
This scenario does not happen when you use the 9-outlet Christmas Tree Cube – this extension cord gets strung up along the trunk of the tree and evenly places 3 cube taps (for 9 plugs) one at the bottom, middle, and top of the tree.
The light strands on the top of the tree get plugged into the top tap outlet, the middle lights – the middle tab, and the lights around the bottom, go into the bottom tab outlet.
No more having to send all the plugs to only one outlet or area. It also makes it easy to follow the safety rule, not to plug more than 3 sets of lights together.
Once you have three light sets strung together. For safety, you have another outlet in close proximity to start another 3 strands.
The extension cord also has a rocker switch that makes turning the lights on and off all at once very easy.
2. Testing the Lights Before You Wrap Them
Test each light strand to make sure it is working properly before stringing on the tree. There is nothing worse than having to find the bad strand once the lights are on the tree.
Plug each strand into an outlet and leave it plugged in for about 5 minutes. Next, gently shake it around to make sure all the bulbs are secure. If it stays lit – it is good to put on the tree.
If half the set is lit and the other is not – you could try replacing the first bulb after the outage or a fuse, but this may not fix the strand. Don’t toss these, they can be used to light the bushes around the exterior of your house for Christmas.
You string the lit section on and shove the unlit section into the bush.
3. Lighting the Christmas Tree Trunk First
To make a Christmas tree look like it is lit from within, string clear mini lights around the trunk and in the center of the tree. The lights add depth and interest to the tree. For a 7 foot tree, use 2 – 3, 100 count light stands.
Even if you are using multicolor Christmas lights, use clear white on the trunk. Then put the colored lights on the rest of the tree.
At night, the tree will have a beautiful warm glow. You can mix color strands with clear lights for a festive glow.
4. Add the Lights from Top to Bottom
The best way to string lights on a Christmas tree is to start at the top and work your way down. The reason I do this is that the top is usually sparse and it is hard to hide the wires.
I can use whatever amount of lights that is needed to get this area just right. Once I think it looks OK, I proceed down the tree.
How to Keep the Christmas Tree Light Strands from Getting Tangled As You Work?
To keep the strands from tangling as you hang lights to the tree, wrap them around your shoulders like a shawl.
This allows you to pull the strand freely when you need more to hang on the tree and keeps the rest from tangling.
Weave the strings of lights in vertical waves or zig zag style in 12” heights while moving around the tree horizontally, then choose the most prominent branches to wrap the lights around to make sure the strand is secure. You do not need to wrap every branch.
One thing to consider is when using a variety of brand new lights or have strands from different manufacturers – the colors and brightness of the bulbs may look different – if this is the case, make sure to place similar strands evenly around the tree. If not, spots or a section on your tree may look different, either in color or light intensity.
How to Put Lights Evenly on a Christmas Tree?
To make sure you are spacing the lights evenly on the Christmas tree – do the “squint test” to bring the lights into focus as you look at the tree. It creates a bokeh effect when you squint.
How to do the Squint Test – Simply stand a few feet away from the tree and squint your eyes as you look at the tree. This helps you see where there is an empty spot that needs filling.
There is usually no need to add a new string of lights, but just move a section of a strand already on the tree to space the lights out more.
5. Twinkle Lights
Mini twinkle lights look the best on a Christmas tree. Adding these incandescent twinkle lights – not LED or blinking lights, but bulbs that slowly twinkle one light at a time, not the entire strand going on and off at once adds to the glow and sparkle of a lit tree.
I even add a few strands of twinkle lights to a pre-lit artificial tree. They make the a pre-lit tree look magical.
You can buy twinkle lights here:
6. How Do You Figure Out How Many Lights You Need for a Christmas Tree?
Buy more lights than you think you will need. 100 light strand lengths are the best to use for most sized trees.
- As a rule of thumb – figure you will need 100 – 200 lights for every foot of tree. I always add more than this though as I like to see a lot of classic white twinkling lights on the tree.
- It is much easier to simply throw out old strands that don’t light. It is too time consuming to figure out the cause of the unlit bulbs. Even if you do find the cause, it is a weak point and is likely to just go out again. Toss and use a new strand.
7. Storing Christmas Lights
To easily store lights so they won’t get tangled – wrap the strand around a piece of cardboard or a cardboard tube saved from a roll of paper towels. Plug each strand to itself and then store in a large box.
- When wrapping around the cardboard, start with the male plug so that when you unwrap next year, you’ll have the plug end of the strand ready to start adding to the tree unwrapping as add the strand to the tree. Doing this also helps with keeping the strand from tangling as add the lights to the tree.
More Christmas Decorating Tips
Are you looking for more creative Christmas decorating ideas to make your holidays merry? Check out these Christmas decorating posts.
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About how many lights or feet of lights does it typically take to wrap the trunk? Really excited to try this approach this year!
Hi Joanna – I use at least three 100 bulb strands for a 7 ft full tree. After I wrap a portion of the trunk, I step back, squint my eyes to bring the lights into focus to decide if I need to wrap more or continue up the tree with the same density of lights. Adding the lights this way before adding to the branches really makes the tree look magical.
Wow, such great detail. I like your article. I want to read more about your blog. Thank you for sharing an amazing post.
These are great tips. Through the years I have tried various methods of lighting the tree, with mixed results, and your tutorial gives clear instructions for different methods. I still get a real tree and always plan to redo the lights at least once until I’m satisfied. I like the squint test – this year I ended up putting an extra string of red on the tree since the multi lights looked a bit too blue to me. I’m also going to add some clear lights up the center to get that glow!
Your lighting instructions are great and very detailed for the beginner. Gratefully, I have a perlite tree. It is a 10 foot tree and it would take hours otherwise. My Dad used to work in an interior decorating department of a large resort and they would spray paint the trees some years. This was before colored trees were available. The trees were so beautiful.
Any tips for lighting artificial trees that need lights for glass figural ornaments? My tree is beautiful once it is done, but it is so much work, I have noticed each year I am procrastinating getting the tree up. I have beautiful glass animal ornaments collected over the years, and in order to see them in all their glory they need to be reflecting lights that are close. I have to do the very time consuming “wrapping each branch technique”. Putting the lights on the tree is the only part of the holidays I don’t like, everything else is very merry. Thanks for sharing your tips.
Hi Michelle – Your tree with the glass ornaments sounds beautiful. Getting the lights to shine or be behind each so they look magical does take time, but is very much worth the effort. I have a few ornaments myself like this and when I hang them, I move the string of lights a bit so a light is behind them. I totally understand how long this would take to do this for an entire collection of ornaments.
The only thing I can think of that may help, but is becoming popular especially in custom built homes. Christmas tree closets are becoming a thing. Balsam Hill even sells the stand and covers to be able to to place the tree on a rolling stand. When Christmas is over, you cover the tree and roll it into the closet until next year.
Since we all can’t enjoy this luxury and have to remove the ornaments so the tree can be stored in a box – how about when you go to remove the ornaments after Christmas, you place a piece of painter’s tape on the branch were the ornament was. Fold a piece over so the sticky sides stick to each other. You can even write what ornament was there. Next year – you will have an easier time placing the ornaments – hoping that the lights don’t stop working and have to be replaced.
If I think of an idea – I will email you. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas – enjoy your beautiful tree.
My tree comes lite so we are set!!!Lol
For holding and storing lights, us one of those orange extension cord wrap holders. You can string together a few strands and they are easy to carry around and prevent tangling.
Don’t throw away a bad strand, just salvage it for the bulbs when inevitably the others burn out. But ideally, switch to LED and then you shouldn’t have to worry about dead bulbs.
Thanks! Those were some great tips and I needed them. Have a merry Christmas and a happy Kwanzaa and a happy new year.
Hi Diane – these are great tips! I’d like to add to them a tip of my own that we’ve enjoyed over the years. I put on a set of 3 strings of clear lights strung together, and another set of colored lights strung together (separately from the clear strings). I plug each set into an extension cord, and then plug each set into a separate dimmer. Now I can have a completely clear tree, a completely colored tree, or a blazing combination of both. The dimmers let me adjust the levels for some interesting effects – dimming one or both sets down in the evening with a nice low fire in the fireplace is very soothing – :-)
Thank you so much for this post! I purchased the cube extension cord. It is a game changer! Because of it I was easily able to light up the trunk and then use your techniques to get so many more strands of lights on my tree. The tree is absolutely beautiful lit up this way. I had never wanted to do the wrap each branch technique because we get a live tree and it just seemed exhausting. Lighting the trunk, Zig-zagging the lights and using your squint technique made this super easy. This is the most beautiful Christmas tree we have ever had because of how it glows. Thank you so much for these tips.
I also really quizzed my family on what it important to them this Christmas as you suggested in another post. Was so surprised by what mattered to them and what didn’t. Have been able to make the season so much less stressful by eliminating things that really don’t matter to them (they really didn’t want a 2nd tree for the playroom- never saw that one coming!), but they were sad we missed visiting a park last year which has gorgeous lighted displays. So, instead of decorating a 2nd tree we are heading to the park tonight to enjoy the displays there. Our theme for the month is more merry, less stress. Thanks so much for your blog and Merry Christmas!
so are you stringing the lights in a ZigZag pattern (like up & down on that row) and are you also wrapping thep at the same time?
Hi Susan –
I string the Christmas lights in a zig-zag pattern and as I go around the tree, I drape the string on a branch hign and then move it around the tree and wrap it under a lower branch and then bring it back up. After doing this on a few branches, I loosely wrap the string around one branch and then keep moving around the tree placing the lights in a zig-zag and wrapping around every few branches.
I do not wrap the string around every branch, not even close. I push some in and they stay. I have been lighting my tree this way for years. It is fast and easy and when it comes time to take the lights off the tree, they come right off – no fussing and unwrapping that is very time consuming.
One note I should mention that may help – I always look for very full trees – Douglas Firs or Frazer Furs that are dense. Dense trees make this process so doable.
These are great ideas! Thank you. I just bought a 9′ artificial tree where the branches fold up for storage. With the new tree, I bought LED lights. My husband wants lights on all the branches, but after lining each branch (in and out along the branch) with LED lights, it looks like stadium lighting. We do not want to wrap it maypole style, and feel that stringing every other branch might be blotchy? Any suggestions?
Hi Angela – Did you figure out a way to string your lights? Have you considered jut adding the new light to the center of the tree, not out on the branches? It really makes the tree glow from within and you don’t see any of the wires. Other than this, I would simply try to loosely wrap the strings around the tree, but in and up and down pattern as I show in my post. This way, the lights don’t look like they are simply wound around.
I wish you’d refine the advice about over-buying then tossing old/weak strands of lights. Is there a way to recycle wires, lights, extension cords and the like in your area? I love Christmas but it seems like we could be much more aware of our potential impact when deciding how much to buy vs. how we can care for and reuse what we already have…
Your tree lighting ideas are great. Any ideas for my vintage gold tinsel tree – half a light string went out and I need clear lights with tan wires. Kathy
Thanks Kathy – Finding tan wires may be impossible, but have you checked out Fairy lights? It seems every retailer sells them now. I also think these string lights could work. You can check them out on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/2hH4AjP
Do you have any recommendations or a formula regarding how to determine how many strands of lights (both clear for the center and colored for the “exterior”) a tree will need? I used your tutorial last year on my first real tree, and it just looked fantastic.
I did wish that it was a little less bright (with the other room lights off) however. This is probably because I insisted on the absolute tallest tree that would fit in my small apartment. :D
Well, girly, I have to tell you I don’t leave comments but felt compelled this morning. As a recent at-home-old-lady I now string the tree with lights. I figured I’d go online and see if there were any good do’s and don’ts. Your step-by-step instructions were BY FAR the most comprehensive and informative. Brava!! And your suggestion to light the tree with white twinkles is brilliant. Thank you from the bottom of my Christmas lovin’ heart!! Merry Christmas!!
Hi Alicia – Thank you for reading and taking the time to leave a comment on my blog. Knowing that what I write about helps others is what inspires me to share every thing I know about DIY and how to make a home pretty. Merry Christmas…enjoy your tree.
Diane, I just bought two trees yesterday on “returnable” basis. LOL. One is a 6 foot ‘new’ Cashmere tree. After I bought it, I went to Michaels and saw a traditional 6 foot tree that looked like it would be easier to add ornaments on, and to add the ‘inner lights’ because I have twinkle lights that I love and will be added everywhere else. I had never seen the cube extension cords and will get that!!! What a wonderful invention! Can those be attached to the tree with tie wraps? I just found your article today and I am so excited to get started. Thank you so much! I have a feeling the ‘Cashmere tree’ will be going back. :)
Hi Janeane – I would go with your gut instinct and get the traditional tree. :-) Yes, you can attach the tree extension cord cubes to the tree with twist ties, cable ties, tie wraps. I just bought myself a bunch of new twinkle lights this week. Most of mine have gone out over the years. It was time to get new ones. I plan on getting my tree decorated this week. Enjoy yours. Thanks for reading my blog… Happy Holidays.
Many years ago an HGTV special taught me how to store lights. It’s ridiculously easy. Just roll the string into a ball, like yarn, with the female end in the center. Pop each into a plastic grocery bag. They have never tangled.
I do the same. It really works! You can even do them like an outside extension. Cord and wrap around your arm from
Elbow to hand .
Diane, are you aware of any white wire 9-Outlet Christmas Tree Cube Tap Extension Cord to use with a White Flocked artificial Xmas Tree? Green obviously won’t work. Googling this did not lead to anything. I’m hoping you’ve done this with a white Xmas tree.
Btw, I really appreciate you sharing your expertise. Have a very Merry Xmas
Hi Lillian –
Here is a link to a site that has white 9 outlet ext. cord: oogalights.com/White-Christmas-Tree-Light-Extension-Power-Cord-15-Foot.aspx
If they can’t be delivered in time, I made my own 9-outlet cord one year when my previous one broke.
You can use 3 regular white ext. cords and and make our own. Figure out the height of the tree and then twist tie the 3 cords together in a way that has the outlets at the top, middle, and bottom. You can plug the top into the middle outlet and then the middle plug into the bottom outlet. The last plug goes to the wall or a power strip.
You can also weave the cords close to the stem of the tree and tie one outlet near the top, one in the middle, and the third at the bottom. Use twist ties to hold each outlet block into place. You will have three cords to plug in this way, but it will work.
Diane, what would you recommend for a flocked white artificial Xmas tree? I need lights with white wire. I want twinkling lights, green colored lights on the outer perimeter with clear lights in the center of tree.
I agree with the other ladies, I’ve been searching for good lighting techniques for the Christmas Tree and yours is the one, the best! Actually, I couldn’t much good advice out there anywhere, which is surprising with Google at our fingertips! I am still having trouble with being able to see and appreciate all the ornaments when the tree is all lit up at night, they seem to just disappear into the tree and lights :/ Any tips for that? Thank you so much for your article! Vanessa from Washington
Hi Vanessa – The best way to keep ornaments from disappearing into the tree is to not use thin wire ornament hooks. Instead, use green pipe cleaners or heavy duty (wire gauge 14 or 16) green florist’s wire. You can buy these at the craft store. Cut to about 4″in length and then loop one end on ornament’s hook. Then find the branch you want the ornament on and tightly wrap the other end of the pipe cleaner or wire over the branch. If you want it to sit on top of the branch or face a certain direction, simply mold the wire with your hands to get it the way you want. Happy Holidays!
Thank you so much for what you do and for sharing your talents and abilities. I wish you were my sister, my friend, my neighbor. But just so you know, you are my angel.
I love browsing your website and just learning from your talent. I cannot wait to light the Christmas tree in a couple of months.
Hi Molly – Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to connect with me and say hi. It makes my day to hear that what I write about has inspired others. You are my angel, without wonderful readers like you, I would not be able to blog. XO
Right now I am in the process of moving. No fun, but once I get to a new home, I am excited to begin new projects and ideas. I hope to be settled in before Christmas.
so, I’ve wanted to add colored lights for my kiddos. R u telling me the tree pictured has clear in the middle and then colored? Beautiful. I’m doing it next yr if so!
Hi Rebecca – Yes, I strung strings of clear white lights up and down close to the base and then used colored lights on the outer branches around the tree. My daughters would never allow me to have an all clear white lights on the tree. Doing both makes everyone happy and makes the tree glow from within. Merry Christmas
this year I bought light keeper pro to fix sections of mini lights that would not work. It has worked very well. You can find how it works on YouTube. It says it won’t work on light sets with multifunction control but I set the function to on all the time and it worked for me. I had a new set of red, green, and blue. All the Reds quit working. This tool got them working with just a few clicks of a trigger.
these are great tips. I do the same with the white lights inside the tree. I never thought to do the multi lights like this though . definitely going to try this method. thanks for tips !
I have to tell you that your blog about lighting the Christmas tree is the best one that I have ever read!!! And, I think I have read about a million. I use a lot of lights on my trees and am always looking for great lighting techniques. Your description of each step is perfection and easy to follow. My one regret is that I didn’t find you sooner!!!! Thank you and Merry Christmas.
Thanks Gloria – Sometimes I take what I know for granted and always think that others know what I know. So happy that my post helped you. Merry Christmas
Thanks so much for the lighting tips. I have always had a real tree and love the idea of the white lights inside the tree since my family prefers the multi-colored ones. I also like the twinkling lights idea. I hate blinking lights…..very distracting so I may try that next year. God bless you in the New Year!
Great job, Diane! This xmas tree is so gorgeous that you could easily use this for a great Xmas card. The tree just glows, inside and out, what a great idea, now this what a Xmas tree should look like! Thanking you so much for this super idea! Diane, your the best :)
I love the idea of twinkle lights rather than blinking lights.
L0ve you hints, going to try them. Loved the picture of your Dad from your last post. My Dad passed away this spring and we are going to try to make ornaments from a sweater he loved, thanks for the idea.
great post diane. I put my tree up yesterday and tried a new way I saw on pinterest… I guess it’s the branch wrapping method. I got “up” the tree and ran out of lights. ugh! I took them all off and did the lasso sort of while weaving in and out.
I just did the “squint” test to my tree and I clearly see one spot that needs attention. who knew!
As for the extension cord, my pre-lit tree has that and I LOVE it. I didn’t know you could actually buy them. good to know!
Thank you for the tips! I’ve always wondered how to get my tree to look like this. I’m going to PIN for next year, we just decorated this years tree on Saturday. I used some multi colored large retro looking lights plus some Shiny Bright ornaments and some hand made from the kids:)
Could you imagine decorating the tree at Rockefeller?! 4100 lights :) Madness! But it’s totally beautiful.
Hi Gabby – Every time I see that tree, all I can think is – I am glad I didn’t have to put those lights on :-) It is a beauty though.
My husband always did an amazing job of stringing the lights, but when I had to take over, it became an awful chore, and it never looked the way his did—even though I spent hours and hours. The first pre-lit tree I bought was a nightmare. The next was much better once I figured it out. But you may have made me brave enough to do my own next year! Maybe I’ll even add a few strings this year since the docorations haven’t been added yet. You are the best. Thank you!