Create a beautiful glow with these tips on how to string lights on a Christmas tree.

By Real Simple Editors
Updated September 30, 2020

When you’re learning how to put lights on a Christmas tree, you figure out pretty quickly that hanging tree lights is easy: Getting them to look just right and taking them down at the end of the holiday season is much harder. Fortunately, there’s a solution to both problems—and it’s so easy that you can watch the best Christmas movies on Netflix while you put it to work.

If you absolutely dread taking down your Christmas lights—and not just because it means the holidays are over—it’s probably because, when you hang the lights on your tree, the crossing strands form a wire net that’s nearly impossible to remove. The solution? Go vertical.

“The trick is to go up and down, not around and around,” says David Stark, co-owner of Avi Adler, a Brooklyn floral and event design company.

Need more proof that this tactic is the way to go? Decorators at New York City’s Rockefeller Center (who would know better how to light a tree?) use a trunk-to-tip method to create “not just a shell of light but an inner glow and a three-dimensionality that cannot be achieved any other way,” says David Murbach, the manager of the center’s gardens division.

Ready to hang your Christmas tree lights? We’ll show you step-by-step how to determine how many lights you’ll need, and how to string them on the tree so it looks effortless and there’s no dead space. (We even offer two different methods for hanging lights.) With our guide and advice from floral design expert Michael Walter, you’ll master this decorating to-do in no time.

How to put lights on a Christmas tree

  1. Figure out how many lights you need for your Christmas tree. A good rule is to average 100 lights for every foot of tree, but you can add more lights (or use fewer) as you prefer.
  2. Before you start, plug in the lights to check if all the bulbs are working. Leave them on while you work so you can see how they look on the tree, and so you can see dark spots.
  3. Decide how you want to string your lights: Some decorators, like those at the Rockefeller Center, prefer the vertical method. You’ll divide the tree vertically into three sections (think trunk to tip) and string the lights by section. Beginning at the bottom, weave each string in and out of the branches, to the top of the tree and back.

    Hanging Christmas tree lights horizontally—as in our video—is the more traditional method. Starting at the bottom, string your lights around and through the tree in a random fashion. Try to avoid any obvious pattern or spiral; you want the lights to look effortless.
  4. With either light stringing method, place some lights deeper into the branches and place some closer to the front to create depth.
  5. A dead zone of lights occurs when you connect one string of lights to another: Hide the unsightly green plug by pushing it deep into the branches.
  6. If your lights aren’t hanging exactly where you want them, Walter suggests wrapping a little floral wire around the cord and branch to hold it in place. Bend the loose ends of the wire towards the back of the tree to prevent any injuries.
  7. If you have a branch that’s drooping or unattractive, simply remove it by clipping it from behind with a pair of florist shears.