Christmas light ideas for outdoor trees – 11 ways to add a sparkle to your yard

Festoon bulbs from branches and add a twinkle to trunks with these Christmas light ideas for outdoor trees

outdoor christmas trees with lights
(Image credit: Future)

Make a note: you need to tick Christmas light ideas for outdoor trees off your festive to-do list! 

It's the season of goodwill, so it makes sense that any Christmas decor ideas should be enjoyed by more than your immediate family and friends. By decorating your backyard and home's exterior for the holidays, you're helping to bring joy and color to your neighborhood and community – something that's sure to put you on Santa's 'nice' list.

A Christmas tree decorated with twinkling lights is the perfect symbol of the season. And you don't even need to buy a traditional pine or fir tree to get the look. Any tree in your yard can be illuminated – in fact, dressing tree trunks, boughs and even bushes with lights is the latest way to bring the holiday spirit to your lot.

'We have seen a trend for new tree silhouettes and varieties alongside the traditional fir,' agrees Dani Taylor, Product and Creative Director for Cox & Cox

'From your small pre-lit potted doorstop tree to spectacular indoor-outdoor faux trees, there's now a wonderland of decorative varieties. This has rewarded us with real scope to decorate our outdoor trees in style, however large or small our yard may be.'

Christmas light ideas for outdoor trees

Lighting up front yard and backyard trees will help to elevate your outdoor Christmas decor ideas, bringing height, depth and drama to your scheme. 

A tree by your fence or gate, for example, will act like a signpost to signal that this is a home with a festive atmosphere.

A tree on the front porch or steps will draw you closer to the house, creating a sense of invitation and welcome.

And there are lots of different lighting options, so you can style that looks and feels right for you and your property.

'Fairy lights and festoon lights are being used more and more inside and out. Around a tree is the perfect place to use them, lighting up the most beautiful feature in a garden and creating a feature and statement,' says Thalia Shaw, Founder and Owner at Sparkle Lighting.

'There is a real trend for solar-powered garden lights,' Thalia continues. 'And lots of people have started using fairy lights in their gardens, and these offer a more delicate finish around trees and branches.'

1. Wrap a trunk with twinkling lights

trees wrapped in lights around trunk

(Image credit: Lights4Fun)

The bare branches of a winter tree have a natural elegance and beauty. But twist some fairy lights around the trunk and lower limbs and you'll add a touch of magic during the holiday season.

'This is a great idea if your yard tends to look a bit lifeless during the colder months, when foliage has fallen from the trees and there are few flowers to bring color,' says Andréa Childs, Editor of Country Homes & Interiors magazine..

'Choose a mix of warm white and clear white light bulbs to create standout on your street. And either use timer-controlled lights which you can set to switch on and off automatically to make the most of the darker hours without wasting electricity. Or choose solar-powered lights which will come on as the light falls.'

2. Cheat with chic faux trees

faux outdoor christmas tree

(Image credit: Alun Callender/Future)

Faux LED trees will bring professional-standard quality to your outdoor Christmas light ideas. They're a popular choice of events planners, hotels and boutiques, and are becoming increasingly sought after by savvy homeowners looking for an upscale finish to their seasonal decor.

Available in maple, cherry and even palm tree designs, LED trees like these from Twilight Designs look best massed long a path or the side of a house to create an illuminated walkway, or framing a porch or front door.

For a simpler option, choose flower-shaped LED fairy lights and twist these into the branches of your outdoor trees to replicate the look.

3. Put your outdoor Christmas tree in front of a window

small outdoor christmas tree with lights

(Image credit: Polly Eltes/Future)

The ultimate in inside-outside decor – and an alternative to typical Christmas wreath ideas – a Christmas tree placed outside a window can be lit and enjoyed from both inside and outside the home.

With its proximity to the house, you can keep the Christmas light ideas for outdoor trees simple. A garland of small fairy lights that look like stars when lit is all you need to create a festive look.

4. Create a Christmas tree grotto

group of outdoor christmas trees with seating

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

The trend for outdoor entertaining, even once Jack Frost has made an appearance, means that firepits, barbecues and campers are set to be a big part of our holiday season. So why not dress up your yard for the festivities?

'I predict people will go big with their Christmas decorations this year, with many opting for larger trees and more extravagant wreaths and trees than previous years,' says Shaun Powell, Christmas interiors expert and CEO of Find Me a Gift.

'We will also see a rise in people opting for real trees over fake ones, as the smell and nostalgic feelings of a real tree will overtake people’s desire for convenience this year. And we'll see a more a rustic take on the traditional Christmas tree.'

Outside, this translates to porches and patios being decorated for the season, as well as backyards given a festive grotto look with tree trunk stools, cosy sheepskins, and lots of decorated outdoor trees. 

5. Go nostalgic with color

colorful outdoor christmas tree lights

(Image credit: Lights4Fun)

After years of tasteful white twinkles, colored bulbs are making a comeback, both for indoor Christmas light ideas and outside the house. 

'One of the key themes this festive season is to inspire some nostalgia from Christmases past,' explains Amy Mason, Director of Product at Lights4Fun.

'Adding joyful touches of retro color is the perfect way to bring your Christmas to life, creating a vibrant and playful atmosphere for little ones and bringing back cherished memories for adults.'

You could choose strings of colorful fairy or festoon lights. But for a more graphic approach to your outdoor light ideas for Christmas trees, arrange your lights in bands of bold color that spiral around your tree. 

Choose a single color scheme, such as red candy cane red and white, or opt for color-changing lights so the shades switch to create a new effect every time.

6. Make a minimal tree with lights

outdoor christmas tree made from fairy lights

(Image credit: Paul Raeside/Future)

Don't have a tree to decorate? You can still create the lit Christmas tree look. Simply find a branch or sturdy wooden stick, and use this as the trunk of your alternative tree.

Secure a string of fairy lights at the top of the branch, then extend it to the ground. Peg in place with a tent peg, take the fairy lights to the top of the tree again, and continue until you have created a 'Christmas tree' shape.

7. Match your tree to the rest of your outdoor decor

Outdoor Christmas tree with garland and wreath

(Image credit: Lights4Fun)

Coordinating each element of your outdoor holiday decor will create an elegant and considered scheme. You don't need too much – a tree, a foliage garland and a wreath, each illuminated with lights, is just enough.

'I like to keep holiday decor outside simple and understated, with white Christmas lights on the roofline and up our front yard trees, as well as magnolia leaf wreaths and tons of poinsettias,' says Mimi Meacham, Founder and Principal Designer of Houston-based Marian Louise Designs.

8. Style a 'wishing tree'

magical wishing tree for Christmas

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

A 'wishing tree', where people can tie on messages of gratitude, prayers, or wishes for themselves or others, is a lovely tradition for Christmas. If you have a well-placed tree in your front yard, you could invite family, friends and members of your community to make their wishes and read the notes written by others in the neighborhood.

To make the ceremony even more special, illuminate the tree with lights – or buy a ready-made version like this Magical Wishing Tree from Cox & Cox. Young ones, especially, will love to write their messages and tie them on to the tree with ribbon.

9. Light your tree with candles

outdoor festive patio

(Image credit: Plainpicture/Johner/Future)

To add a traditional touch to your Christmas light ideas for outdoor trees, pick out LED faux candle designs. These bring all the vintage style of a traditional tree, without any risk from real flames – especially in a breezy outdoor setting.

Clip-on candle lights work especially well when you're creating an 'outdoor room' on your patio or in a corner of your yard. 

'Create a cozy and welcoming display for your patio with soft lighting from candle lights and lanterns, fairy lights and Christmas lights,' suggests Andra DelMonico, Lead Interior Designer for Trendey

'Add soft textures in the form of throw pillows and blankets. Attach a garland to the railing and arrange winter-hardy plants that can take the place of summer plants that you have moved indoors.'

10. Make a lit tree a focal point

christmas tree shape outdoor. lights

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

A large garden, drive or front yard can make the perfect 'stage' for an extravagant lit Christmas tree. This might be a tall fir or pine decorated in classic fashion, but it could also be an opportunity to try something more contemporary.

'A tree like this is a real talking point but unlike a show-stopping real tree, it's also incredibly to remove once the holidays are over. You can simply fold it up and pack it away until next year,' says Country Homes & Interiors editor, Andréa Childs.

'You can also personalize it with additional decorations, so that it looks as good in the daytime as it does once night falls.'

11. Make a 'Charlie Brown' tree

branch christmas tree with fairy lights outside

(Image credit: Claire Richardson/Future)

Known as a 'Charlie Brown tree' after the favorite Peanuts comic, a simple twiggy tree or slightly sparse pine can come into its own at Christmas time. 

'There's something whimsical and minimal about a Charlie Brown that embraces simplicity in the midst of a holiday that can be overabundant,' explains Ginger Curtis, Owner Urbanology Designs in Texas.

Place your tree in a soil- or sand-filled bucket, with a covering of baubles to decorate. Then light with solar-powered or LED lights.

How do you put Christmas lights on an outdoor tree?

There are lots of ways to style Christmas light ideas for garden trees.

You could decorate a pine or fir tree just as you would an indoor Christmas tree, with lights twisted through the branches or clip-on candles at the end of the branches.

Wrap lights around trunks and branches to add dimension and height to your garden illuminations. And if you don't have tall trees to decorate, entwine micro lights around bushes and shrubbery instead.

Finally, you could choose faux tree made from Christmas lights, which will give the illusion of a tree without foliage or branches covering up the sparkle.

What types of light can I use to decorate an outdoor tree?

Weatherproof lights are essential when planning Christmas light ideas for outdoor trees, and they can be solar-powered, battery, or LED.

If your lights are mains powered, be sure that any cabling and the socket is waterproof and certified for outdoor use. Shield the socket with a cover to protect from the elements.

Avoid trailing wires to avoid trip hazards or accidentally shorting out your display.

Andrea Childs

Andrea has been immersed in the world of homes, interiors and lifestyle since her first job in journalism, on Ideal Home. She went from women's magazine Options to Frank. From there it was on to the launch of Red magazine, where she stayed for 10 years and became Assistant Editor. She then shifted into freelancing, and spent 14 years writing for everyone from The Telegraph to The Sunday Times, Livingetc, Stylist and Woman & Home. She was then offered the job as Editor on Country Homes & Interiors, and now combines that role with writing for sister title