The best order to decorate a Christmas tree – according to designers

Know what goes on first and last with these tips from professionals

A slim Christmas tree in a burgundy living room beside a green velvet sofa
(Image credit: Atkin & Thyme)

We all dream of a fairytale Christmas tree but are often not sure how to achieve it. 

While it is simple to work out the basics of how to decorate a Christmas tree, professional designers and Christmas tree experts suggest it is not what you decorate it with, but the order you decorate your tree that makes the biggest difference to the final look.

This is the best order to decorate a Christmas tree for maximum impact, according to the pros.

The best order to decorate a Christmas tree

If you want to bring your Christmas tree ideas from Pinterest to your living room, you need to nail your decorating routine, especially if you want to make your Christmas tree look more expensive.

Once your tree is in place and you have fluffed your Christmas tree to the max, then you can start decorating.  

1. Start with illumination

Close up of Christmas tree in front of a dresser

(Image credit: Simon Bevan / Future)

Christmas lights are one of the most important parts of holiday decorating and serve as the foundation for the rest of your ornaments, so start with these and build your look up from there, suggests principal designer Jacky Chou, founder of Archute

To make this step less frustrating, Jacky recommends starting at the bottom of your tree and working your way up in a zig-zag pattern, wrapping the light strand around branches to hold it in place. 

‘Make sure to tuck them in so they don't stick out too much,’ he says. This way, they will create a warm and cozy glow that will highlight the rest of your decorations. Take your pick from white or colored lights, depending on your preference and Christmas tree theme.’ 

Principal and Director at Archute
Jacky Chou
Principal and Director at Archute
Jacky Chou

Jacky Chou is the principal and director at Archute, an editorial magazine about architecture, home and garden. They have been referenced by The New York Times, Bustle, House & Home, Bloomberg, and Angi. Jacky also his own an online interior design company as well called Laurel & Wolf.

2. Follow with ribbons or garlands

Real Christmas tree with white and gold ribbons

(Image credit: Brent Darby)

Decorating a Christmas tree with bows is one of the major Christmas decorating trends of 2023, and is a simple yet effective way to make a Christmas tree look luxurious and fuller. Christmas tree ribbon ideas aren't limited to adding gift bows to your branches, however, as Jennifer Derry, interior design expert and chief merchandising officer at Balsam Hill reminds us:

‘A really simple and effective way of using ribbon in your decorating is to wrap it around your tree,’ she shares. ‘Spiraling down from the top of your tree, feed the ribbon or garland between branches. 

‘Another way of adding ribbons to your tree is to weave through your tree using a cascading technique. Starting from the top of your tree, drape the ribbon down creating bends in your ribbon that concertina it up so it creates a ripple effect. Secure the ribbon at various points throughout the tree with floral wire. This is another technique where it’s best to build your other decorations around the ribbon.’

 Jennifer Derry
Jennifer Derry

Jennifer leads Balsam Hill's merchandising, sourcing and product development efforts. She has spent her career at lifestyle specialty retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch, Williams-Sonoma, and Restoration Hardware and is deeply passionate about building great brand experiences for customers.

3. Add the main ornaments

Christmas tree skirt ideas with oversized baubles

(Image credit: John Lewis)

Like lights, you can’t have a Christmas tree without some baubles. When your ribbon or additional Christmas foliage is in place, baubles can be arranged strategically around them, continues Jennifer Derry, interior design expert. 

‘The number of baubles you need to cover your tree is dependent on both the size of your tree and the size of your decorations. The coverage of decorations on your tree is up to you; some people prefer a maximalist look while others may want to opt for a pared-back look which enables more of the tree to be visible.’

Once you have decided on your desired look, Jennifer recommends starting by dividing your tree into sections and assigning ornaments to sections to ensure there is enough of each type of ornament for each section to help create a balanced look. This might mean starting at the base of your tree with your larger baubles and working upwards towards the top with your lighter pieces to avoid dragging branches down and misshaping your tree.

‘A top tip to create more depth is to layer your decorations, placing larger baubles deeper into the foliage and building up around them, filling the gaps with smaller decorations as you go,’ Jennfier adds.

4. Fill gaps with tinsel, if using

Christmas tree ideas with clear glass and silver baubles and silver streamers

(Image credit: Michael Sinclair)

Tinsel is a great addition if you want a more traditional Christmas decor scheme, or are looking to play on nostalgia. When adding tinsel, it is important to use it minimally to avoid overwhelming your tree and covering the rest of your decor, reminds Artem Kropovinsky, interior designer and founder of Arsight. 

He suggests adding it as one of your last steps, draping it among your branches and around your more important decor for a little extra sparkle.

Artem Kropovinsky
Artem Kropovinsky

Based in New York, Artem Kropovinsky, founder of Arsight, has a decade of extensive and considerable global design experience. Prioritizing minimalism, sustainability, and authenticity, Artem, alongside his team of professionals, works on projects in the US and worldwide.

5. Finish with the tree topper

Christmas tree topper ideas with a wooden star

(Image credit: Lindye Galloway Design Studio)

Like the icing on a cake, Christmas traditions dictate that Christmas tree toppers should go on last.

Principal designer Jacky Chou urges you to get creative with your topper. ‘It can be anything you like,’ he says, ‘such as a star, an angel, a bow, a snowman, or even a hat.

‘The most important thing is that your tree topper is proportional to your tree size and height, and it should complement your theme and color scheme,’ he adds. ‘So, place it carefully on the top branch of your tree, ensuring it is stable and straight.’ 


What is the best way to put baubles on a Christmas tree?

When putting baubles on a Christmas tree, it is often a good idea to start at the bottom of the tree and work your way upwards, using smaller baubles as you go further up. When using a variety of baubles, set the larger and heavier baubles towards the back of the branch where it is sturdier to prevent pulling the branch down and out of place. Lighter, smaller baubles can go towards the tip of the branch to ensure it is not lost in the foliage.  

Do people still put tinsel on a Christmas tree?

Tinsel is a very traditional Christmas tree decoration that some people still use for a traditional or nostalgic Christmas tree theme. If you are looking to add a little sparkle to your tree with tinsel, add it after you have added the lights and baubles to help fill gaps, but avoid going overboard to prevent burying the rest of your decor. It should be like putting on a necklace, not a metallic jacket.

Decorating your Christmas tree in the right order isn't just helpful for a more luxe-looking festive centerpiece – it can also help to fix a myriad of Christmas decorating problems, from making a Christmas tree look fuller to making an artificial Christmas tree look more realistic, making the added effort worth it.  

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.