Up Your Tree Game

Home: Know-How

Try a few simple strategies to make choosing, decorating, and taking down your Christmas tree a little easier this year.


By Berit Thorkelson
Illustrations by Rachael King Birch

The Real Route

Whether you're a first-time buyer or you've always had one at the center of your festivities, here's how to get the most from your real tree.

Freshness checklist

Needles should be green and flex when you bend them. Make sure the tree doesn't shed many needles when you run a branch through your fingers. And of course, you want that fresh-tree smell.

Smart move

Standard services (free or for a fee) at tree farms and lots are tree cutting, baling, and tying it to your vehicle. If it's offered, do the machine shaking, which gets rid of dead needles, spiders, and other pests.

Roof rules

Two tactics prevent wind damage on the drive home: If your tree isn't baled, wrap it in a tarp or blanket. Second, load it stump forward.

Tree-stand secret

The feature that could mean life or death to your tree is water capacity. (If a stump cut dries, it can't soak up water.) Get a stand that holds a gallon.

Good measure

It seems obvious, but many of us forget: Measure your space for height (including stand and topper) and width (keeping distance from heat sources, vents, and foot traffic in mind). Then take your measuring tape when you tree shop.

Artificial Upgrades

If fear of a fake look has turned you off artificial trees, this may be the year to reconsider. Plastic-molded, custom-colored needles realistically mimic many kinds of trees.

By the numbers

Tip count equals fullness, but don't be fooled into thinking that a higher number is always better. Trees with longer needles don't require as many tips to appear full. And if you like lots of big decorations, you may want a lower count to accommodate them.

Happy returns

Add up the cost of a real tree, a stand, and lights. Let this number inform your budget for an artificial one, keeping in mind that quality plus a strong warranty equals greater lifespan and long-term savings.

The light decision

Do you prefer things fast and uniform? Go prelit for tidy, tangle-free insta-illumination. More of a creative who revels in tradition and the tree lighting “event”? You probably want the flexibility of DIY lights.

Attention ornament-lovers

Perhaps the two most important features to consider if you plan to load this baby down with decorations are strong branches and a high-quality stand.

Step-Above Stands

Locking wheels

Decorate your tree, then roll it into place. Starts at $79; balsamhill.com

Foot pedal

Pump the pedal to tighten the cable holding the tree. Starts at $69; krinnerusa.com

Adjustable clamps

Removable legs and clamps secure your tree. $39.99; omegatreestand.com

Strong grip

Steel claws hold the trunk in 1½ gallons of water. $59.99; blackanddecker.com

What's Hot this Year

Real trees for rent. Super-slim artificial trees that fit in tight spaces. A fresh-cut conifer delivered to your home (some companies will set it up, too). Ornaments in different finishes (gloss, matte, glitter) of the same color. App-enabled lights, like Lumenplay, for light shows.

Trimming Tricks

Bright ideas

Here's why you want LED lights: They emit the same quality light as incandescents now—really!—but use far less energy. Strands are predicted to last up to 40 years, and you can connect up to two dozen of them. They're made of sturdy plastic and come in trendy retro and oversize styles, too.

Strand count

Memorize this easy formula: one 100-count string of mini lights per vertical foot of tree. (Up that number if you love dazzle.)

Better connection

Choose whichever bulb type, color, size, or wattage you like, but for safety, don't mix them if you're connecting strands.

Replacement matters

Don't ignore dark spots. One burnt-out bulb no longer shuts down the entire string, but it causes remaining bulbs to burn hotter and brighter so they're more likely to burn out, too.

Ornament order

The old way: Hang ornaments willy-nilly. The better way: Start deep within tree branches and work your way out. (Near the trunk is a fine spot for those you're not as crazy about.) Then space your biggest and best evenly around the tree, filling in with mediums and smalls.

String lights

Run the string up the trunk and wrap the length of each branch. Wrap once on the way back to the trunk.

Ornaments

Instead of using a flimsy hanger, attach each ornament by twisting floral wire around a branch.

Tree topper

Bend tree tip to double its thickness so it fills the base of the topper. Use fishing line to anchor topper to branches.

Ready to hang your lights?

Go to BHG.com/TreeLights to watch our video for helpful tips to make your tree look its best and brightest.

Special Extras

Try these clever accessories to make this year's tree the best yet.

Ornament hooks

These sturdy, 16-gauge wire hooks come in six finishes. 12 for $7; wirestormcreations.com

Bluetooth speaker

Plug your lights into the Holiday Brilliant speaker to synchronize them to music on your phone. $19.98; homedepot.com

Modern metallics

Get the effect of tinsel without the mess with these 10-inch-long tin icicle ornaments. $2.95 each; cb2.com

Scented sticks

The ScentSicle ornaments make your artificial tree smell like a fir. $8.99 for six in White Winter Fir scent; enviroscent.com

Takedown Time

Don't think of the celebration as over. It's just safely tucked away until next year. Here's how to make sure your tree and accessories stay protected, accessible, and ready to shine again.

The tree

Storing an artificial tree upright and decorated is becoming popular. If you have the indoor space, you can't beat this option for saving time and effort. Carefully wrap a roll of grocery-store plastic wrap around the tree to hold everything in place. You may want to remove your precious ornaments first. Or invest in a stand-up tree bag, which you put under the tree before you decorate it (see page 55 for one option), and remove all your ornaments before storing. Some bags come with extras, such as tree-skirt storage and wheels for easy hauling.

Lights

Replace any burnt-out bulbs before you store the strings. For easiest retrieval and decorating next year, coil each strand and put it in a resealable plastic bag. Label the bag with the type of lights or where they are used. Nestle the bags in a labeled storage bin.

Ornaments

One idea is to outfit a storage bin with tension rods for hanging ornaments. Put delicate ones into egg cartons in the tub. Or wrap each decoration in a coffee filter and place in small plastic drawers or lidded bins, labeled by category (large, small, delicate, for example) so you can unpack them in the order you want.

Ready for Storage

Smart organization and careful packing guarantee next year's holiday decorating session will be a breeze.

Light reel

Neatly wind up your lights on this Jumbo reel. $7.99; christmascentral.com

Tree bag

Bag it for efficient storage. Large with rolling stand, $149.99; treekeeperbags.com

Ornament box

Three stacking trays secure 63 ornaments in this labeled bin. $69.95; pier1.com

Where to Take Your Final Boughs

Most communities have curbside and drop-off options for disposing of your real tree. Some city departments (such as parks and recreation) recycle trees into mulch or compost. Check procedures and restrictions on tree size.

Consider repurposing the tree with these ideas from Melissa J. Will, who writes the Empress of Dirt blog. Cut slices from the trunk to make ornaments and other crafts. (She recommends debugging the slices before using by placing them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in a 175-degree oven for an hour or two.) Use greenery as winter planter decorations. Turn the whole tree into a bird-feeding station by stringing it with popcorn, berries, or pinecones covered with peanut butter and birdseed.

Let go of Old Lights

Switched to LED strings? Take your incandescent versions to a Home Depot store (November 3–December 14) or a recycling center. Or mail them to retailers such as holidayleds.com and christmas-light-source.com for a discount on an LED purchase.