Emily VanSchmus takes the guess work out of adding lights to your Christmas tree for Better Homes & Gardens.
This handy guide will teach you how to hang lights on your Christmas tree. Get our editor-tested tips on how to light artificial Christmas trees and find how many strands you need to decorate your tree.
Are you stumped when it comes to how to artfully drape Christmas lights on a tree? These easy-to-follow tips will show you how to put lights on your Christmas tree, whether it’s a real tree (here’s how to pick the best one) or an artificial tree. We’ll help you create your best holiday tree yet, effortlessly and beautifully.
How to Hang Lights on a Fresh Christmas Tree
When hanging Christmas tree lights on a tree, you should plan on using 100 lights for every foot of your tree’s height. So for a six-foot tree, you’ll need about 600 lights. We’ll show you how to hang lights on a real Christmas tree—it just requires a little patience.
- Instead of wrapping the lights around the tree in a maypole style, mentally divide the tree into three triangular sections, from top to bottom, around the tree’s cone.
- Plug in the first string of lights, and nestle the last bulb on the string at the top of the tree next to the trunk. Weave the tree lights back and forth across the triangle, being careful not to cross the cord over itself. When you reach the end of the first string, plug in the next set and continue weaving the lights back and forth until you reach the bottom, connecting no more than 300 Christmas lights end to end. Repeat this procedure for the remaining triangles.
- Step back from the tree and look at it with your eyes crossed, or squint until the tree is blurry. Wherever you see dark holes on the tree, rearrange the lights as necessary to fill in. To remove the lights without tangling them, work in reverse.
Reasons to Opt for an Artificial Christmas Tree
There is good debate over real versus artificial Christmas trees. While some people find the piney, wintry scent of the branches puts them right in the holiday spirit, others find the real evergreens can create a mess. The fullness of a fresh cut tree is hard to replicate in an artificial tree, but one could complain about the regular waterings. Allergies can also prevent you from having a live tree, so if these reasons or others get in your way, perhaps choosing an artificial Christmas tree for your holiday decorating is in the cards for your household. Creating a magical glow of lights on an artificial tree isn’t difficult, but it demands patience. Below are three different ways to put lights on an artificial Christmas tree.
How to Hang Tree Lights on an Artificial Tree
Many artificial Christmas trees come in sections that open like umbrellas. If you use miniature tree lights ($8, Target), you can wrap them around the branches and leave them on permanently—just be sure to light each section separately! We like to use 100-light strands because they are easy to work with as you wrap the tree branches.
1. For Minimalist Lighting
This is a great technique to put lights on a sparse Christmas tree. Instead of using 100 lights per foot of tree, we’re using about 50 per foot. To maximize the impact of this technique, we like to use large lights like these globe string lights ($34, Overstock) or retro-inspired bubble lights.
- Use about three boxes of 100-light strands ($14, Walmart) for a 6-foot tree and about five boxes for an 8-foot tree.
- Begin at the bottom of the tree close to the trunk. Allowing some slack or leader cord in the first strand of lights, separate the cord near the first bulb so it forms a loop. Slip the loop over one of the branchlets or greens near the trunk, and wrap the cord a few times around the green to secure it.
- Pull the string of Christmas lights taut to the tip of the branch, then work back toward the trunk, wrapping the cord over itself and the branch.
- Separate the cord again when you reach the trunk, and slip the cord over a branchlet to secure it. Carry the cord over to the next branch, wrap it around a green near the trunk, and pull it out to the tip. Wrap the cord over itself and the branch as before.
- Continue wrapping branches in this manner until you come to the end of the string. Plug in the next set, and keep going until you reach the point where the tree comes apart. Work any extra lights back along the branch rather than crossing the section. When you wrap the top section of the Christmas tree, don’t wrap the lights around as many branches so the tree will look evenly lit from top to bottom.
2. For Moderate Lighting
For a classic but bright look, we like to use LED lights like these warm clear LED mini Christmas lights ($13, Target). They don’t produce heat and are completely safe to decorate your tree.
- Use six boxes of 100-light strands for a 6-foot Christmas tree and eight boxes for an 8-foot tree.
- Follow the same procedure as for subdued lighting, but add dimension to your tree’s sparkle by looping the strings a couple of times around on each branch, getting some of the lights closer to the trunk. Work your way from the bottom of the tree to top.
- Cover more tree in sparkle with fewer lights by working the string of lights under and over each branch. Follow this pattern all around the tree, working from the bottom to the top. It’s simple, but it makes a lot of difference by actually covering your tree in lights instead of lassoing it.
3. For Showcase Lighting
If you want the effect of a Rockefeller tree in your living room, you’ll need extra light. To make your tree really wow, double the number of lights to 200 per foot of tree. Here’s how to string lights on a Christmas tree that dazzles.
- Use 12 boxes of 100-light strands for a 6-foot tree and 16 boxes for an 8-foot tree ($119, The Home Depot).
- Wrap the cord around every green as you work back along the branch.
- Try pairing different-size bulbs with different stringing techniques. We like to string larger lights on first using the weaving technique, then layer in the smaller LED lights closer to the trunk using the branch-wrapping technique. It covers your entire tree and shines bright for all to see.
4. For Lights You Can Control from Your Phone
If you’re the tech-savvy type who likes to control everything with an app, you’re in luck. Now, you can easily program your Christmas tree lights to display whatever colors and patterns you like, all from a simple app on your smartphone. Pick up a set of Twinkly multicolor LED lights ($130, Amazon) and use the lights to decorate your tree as normal—then, wow your family members by changing up your holiday display with a few taps on your phone screen. Twinkly also offers music-syncing lights ($18, Amazon) so you can program your tree to change colors in time to your favorite Christmas songs.
How To Hang Christmas Tree Lights Vertically
Horizontal is traditional, sure, but this small change in orientation makes a big difference in presentation. Instead of wrapping the lights around the tree from top to bottom, hang Christmas tree lights vertically.
Mentally divide the tree into three triangular sections. String lights by starting the string at the bottom of the tree and pulling it up to the top, then back down like a mountain. Continue to zigzag up and down the tree. Once you’ve wrapped the tree, tuck the strands farther in on the branches to make room for ornaments.
How to Hang Christmas Tree Lights Outdoors
When you’re looking to add a bit of seasonal cheer to your house or the trees and shrubs in your front yard, follow these guidelines for lighting outdoor areas.
- If you use floodlights ($38, The Home Depot) to show off outdoor evergreens, use white, blue, or green lamps. Red, yellow, amber, and pink lamps will make the trees look a muddy brown.
- Don’t try to hang strings of Christmas lights from the eaves with cup hooks—in a strong wind, the wires may swing loose. Instead, use plastic gutter clips ($4, Walmart) that hook onto the gutter and hold the wire tightly in place. Look for packages of gutter clips in crafts stores and hardware stores near the tree lights and supplies.
- Be sure you have outdoor electrical sockets to plug into when you use outdoor Christmas lights. Don’t worry about hiding the electrical cords—just keep them organized neatly, and no one will notice them.
Tips and Considerations to Safely Hang Tree Lights
- Christmas tree lights can either be end-to-end—aka string-to-string—or stacked. Before buying your tree lights, check the boxes to make sure they’re all compatible. By using stacked plugs, you can join more strands than you can with end-to-end plugs.
- To maximize safety, never plug more than two extension cords together. Instead, buy them in the lengths you need, and make sure they can handle the wattage of the bulbs.
- The wattages of all the lights you use should be the same. This prevents power surges while prolonging the life of the bulbs.
- Plug in the lights before you remove them from the box so you can see if they work before you put them on the tree.
- Consider using miniature clear (white) lights for your base lighting, then add strands of the new cool-burning large bulbs for color and variety. Alternatively, add sets of novelty lights, such as flicker-flames, flashing lights, bubble lights, or other shapes.