9 Christmas tree decorating mistakes to avoid – for designer-approved style

Fix these now for a perfectly decorated Christmas tree, according to design experts

How to decorate a Christmas tree
(Image credit: Future)

Have you fallen foul of Christmas tree decorating mistakes, perhaps without even realising it? 

For many, decorating the tree is one of the most magical parts of the year, so the last thing you will want to think about is following design 'rules.' After all, the process often offers a chance for you to revisit personal heirlooms and homemade ornaments that you might otherwise never bring into your space. 

However, learning how to decorate a tree from professionals is never a bad thing, especially if you want to make the right statement to your friends and family over the festive season. Therefore, while these Christmas tree decorating ideas and rules are certainly not rigid, they will help you achieve the aesthetic you may crave this holiday. 

From an overload of baubles to an inconsistent garland – these are the most common mistakes to watch out for, according to those in the know.

Christmas tree decorating mistakes to avoid 

Knowing how to make a Christmas tree look fuller is one of the things you should do to elevate your festive decor, but what should you avoid?  

1. Over or under-decorating your Christmas tree

Christmas tree in unfitted farmhouse kitchen with aga and farmhouse table used as island

(Image credit: Future/Malcolm Menzies)

It may seem like a somewhat inevitable place to start, but over-dressing your tree is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, and in many ways, it is easily done. 'Too many decorations on a tree is not a good look,' says designer Jen Dallas (opens in new tab)

To prevent your tree from looking too crowded, Jen recommends keeping a balance of space between ornaments and ensuring you can see some greenery and lighting in each space. 'All of those considerations can really make or break a tree,' she says.

'For me, Christmas is all about going over the top with decorations, so I really don't mind over-decorated trees, especially because it's often my kids doing the decorating and they like to throw the kitchen sink at it,' says Lucy Searle, Editor in Chief, Homes & Gardens. 'However, I'm not a big fan of under decorated Christmas trees, which, I think can look a little miserable and unfinished.'

2. Placing larger ornaments at the top of your tree

white living room with Christmas tree, sash windows, alcove and a neutral rug

(Image credit: Future/ Paul Raeside)

Jen explains that larger ornaments should be placed towards the lower part of the tree, while smaller pieces should be placed towards the top. 'That will keep the tree from looking like it might fall over from all of the heavier objects being placed at the top,' the designer says. 

As well as gaining visual balance from putting larger decorations at the thicker, lower end of the tree and smaller ones above, she adds that the ornaments you do use should then be equally disbursed over the entire tree and not placed on one specific side or area since most trees are generally visible all round, even when pushed in a corner.

3. Only using one type of ornament

christmas tree in modern living space with white sofas and black accessories

(Image credit: Future/Polly Eltes)

You would be forgiven for thinking that a coherent collection of ornaments would give your tree a seamless look overall. However, Jen warns that this lacks individuality and character –  both of which are fundamental to the best Christmas decor ideas

'Mix and match ornament styles,' Jen says. 'Don’t use the same types of ornaments. Make it interesting! Help your tree tell a unique story.'

4. An inconsistent garland

traditional-style living room with grey corner sofa and christmas tree with fire lit

(Image credit: Future/Adam Carter)

'Christmas garland ideas, used on the tree, need to look consistent from the bottom to the top of the tree,' says Jen Dallas. 'Keep it equally spaced as it trails up the tree, otherwise it makes the tree look untidy, and even like it's uneven or leaning.'

5. Leaving off the tree topper

Christmas tree topper ideas with a straw star on top of the tree

(Image credit: Future)

'I think of Christmas tree topper ideas as a finishing flourish,' says Lucy Searle. 'It's like choosing to wear a hat at a wedding, elevating your outfit just that touch more. I don't think it matters whether you choose a Christmas tree ribbon, a star or an angel (which is what my kids favor), it just gives the tree a completed look.'

6. Forgetting the tree skirt

Star quilt, blue, white and green Christmas design

(Image credit: Not On The High Street)

If you've got the Christmas tree base right, it will keep your tree sturdily upright throughout the holiday season. And, of course you can hide it with gifts. But once those gifts are open, the base is on show. And it's rarely pretty.

'Christmas tree skirt ideas are largely hidden beneath gifts in the run up to Christmas,' says Lucy Searle. 'But once those gifts have been opened, they come into their own, hiding and ugly base effortlessly.'

gold Christmas tree and wreath, purple lights

(Image credit: John Lewis )

Christmas trends are ever-changing. Every year, different colored trees appear to have a moment, and in some cases, if you're particularly fond of a specific color, these trees can be worth the investment. However, in other cases, designer Devin Shaffer (opens in new tab) warns, it is better to stick with a traditional tree. 

'As beautiful as they might be, a blue or purple tree is eventually going to lose its attraction,' he says. 'Much like an interior project, start with a neutral backdrop (traditional color tree) and add trendy colors and styles to the bulbs as your taste changes over the years.'

8. Opting for the wrong type of Christmas tree lights

Flocked Christmas tree branches with gifts

(Image credit: Folding Chair Design Co)

'Obviously a beautifully decorated tree is nothing without lights. But normal string lights let off a lot of heat which, as we know, can dry out the tree. If you are putting lights on your tree, consider LED lights,' advises Chris Bonnett, founder of Gardening Express (opens in new tab). 'Not only do they let off less heat but they’re also more energy efficient and give the tree a softer glow.'

9. Not prepping your tree before decorating it

Farmhouse Christmas decor ideas
 with tree

(Image credit: Michael Sinclair)

To keep a Christmas tree alive for longer, you need to prep it just ahead of decorating it. 'When you purchase your tree, the seller will already cut the bottom of it. But before putting the tree up, it’s a good idea to give it another cut,' says Chris from GardeningExpress.

'Sap will have formed at the bottom of the trunk from the first trim in an attempt to heal the tree's wound. Giving it another trim before placing it in water will remove this, allowing for a much better water consumption.

Then remember to check your Christmas tree's water levels every day:

'You might be surprised by how much water your tree will consume,' says Chris. 'They can drink up to several liters of water in the first couple of weeks, and will typically consume around one to two liters of water a day, so make sure you keep an eye on water levels and top this up when necessary.'

What should you avoid with a Christmas tree?

Decorating aside, the biggest thing to avoid with a tree is to place it near a heat source. A radiator that's on will dehydrate your tree and cause it to turn brown, while an open fire can be a real hazard with dried branches near by. The same goes for candles.

Megan Slack
News Editor

Megan is the News and Trends Editor at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes. As the News Editor, she often focuses on emerging microtrends, sleep and wellbeing stories, and celebrity-focused pieces. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.