Live or Artificial… Large or Small… I hope you’ll find some tips here to take a little stress and frustration out of prepping your Christmas tree this year. I highly recommend adults setting up and prepping the tree prior to having young ones participate in the actual decorating.
Choosing Your Tree
There are many things to consider when selecting a new Christmas tree that rely heavily on your own personal taste and the space where it will be displayed. Height , color, fullness and shape are all considerations… pre-lit or not? There are also safety issues to consider, and things you can look for to anticipate the longevity of your tree.
Live Trees- Benefits include: scent, natural and no storage concerns. I have friends that always insist on using a live Christmas tree. Part of their holiday tradition is going out and cutting their own. Very nostalgic. For those that don’t have that luxury, you are likely purchasing a tree that was cut and stored in a refrigerated truck back in August. No wonder there is often little scent and the needles barely make it past Christmas Eve! I’m not going to say a lot here, there is a lot of information online about things to consider and to watch out for when selecting a healthy, safe, live Christmas tree. Remember, the cost does not indicate the freshness!
Artificial Trees– The possibilities here are endless. Height, color, fullness, thick or thin… it’s out there if you look hard enough. Benefits include: Reusable, many are made from recycled materials, more cost effective over time and they are considered safer to display than live trees.
Best Tip of the Day: Strapped for Cash? Did you know there are lots of people giving away trees on Craigslist.com?
There are affordable options out there but artificial Christmas trees can be quite expensive. Remember no tree is perfect, live or artificial. Here are a few things to consider when purchasing a new artificial tree:
- Fullness and strength of branches. When buying a tree online it’s really difficult to check the quality and details. You want sturdy branches that have lots of tips for a full look.
- Check the tips for needle drops. Better quality trees tend to hold their needles because of how they are manufactured. Cup the tip (a finger of the branch) and run your hand back and forth on it. You should little or no needles fall off on a new, good quality tree. Overtime, of course, the needles will become more fragile. I have one tree that is 10 years old and it is so well made, the only way I can get any needles to fall off is to pluck them off.
- Pre-Lit or Not? Personally, I prefer a tree that is not pre-lit. Even though the lights are hidden in the branches and it makes it easier to prep the tree, the light will inevitably stop working. Finding that one missing bulb or short in the wire in nearly impossible. Removing the lights if they stop working can be difficult but you can always add strings of lights to the tree if they do stop working. NOTE: Pre-lit trees can be very, very heavy. Something to consider for moving and storage.
- Branches. Check to see if the branches are individual and have to be added one by one or if the branches are all hinged to the pole. A tree with individual branches can be stored easier if space is an issue. You have to be careful because the plastic fittings where the branches attach to the pole can crack if there is too much weight or force on the branch. The plastic also becomes more brittle over time causing breakage.
- Collapsible Pop Up Trees? They do exist! I’ve seen them in traditional evergreen styles and collapsible tinsel garland trees, that seem to be in most of the stores this year. These aren’t usually very full and most can’t hold many or even any ornaments. They are easy to set up and to store but I wouldn’t expect that these would last more than a year or two.
- As always, shop after Christmas to get your best bargains. Every tree I’ve used for the past 15 years was purchased after Christmas for 70-90% off!
Prepping Your Tree
Decorating your Christmas tree is the fun part. No one looks forward to setting up and prepping the tree, which for me, starts when I take it out of the box, through adding the lights.
Tree Stands. Whether you are using a live or artificial tree, it’s very important to have a good, strong tree stand that is the right size for your tree. It’s also probably a good idea to make sure your live tree stand can hold plenty of water. Most artificial trees come with stands appropriate for that tree. In rare cases, I’ve had to find a better stand so the tree would stand safely and securely in place. If you are reusing an old tree and have had tipping issues– you need a better stand.
Fluffing the Branches. This obviously only applies to artificial trees. Once your tree is out of the box and assembled in its stand, you need to fluff out all the branches before you add any lights or ornaments. I highly recommend wearing a cheap pair of work gloves during this process to avoid scratches and skin irritation.
Start at the bottom of the tree and work your way around and then up, fanning the tips on every branch as you go so they aren’t laying flat and clumped together. This accomplishes two things:
1) It makes the tree appear to be much fuller; and 2) It will actually help stabilize and support the surrounding branches.
(If the tree still looks thin or sparse, I’ll cover what you can do to add fullness in the next blog post– and this works for both artificial and live trees.)
Now you are ready for the lights.
Lighting Your Tree.
Stringing your lights on the tree can be one of the most frustrating parts about decorating. I’ll talk about the different types available in a minute– but here are some things to consider when actually lighting the tree: If you prefer a more sparse or uniformly decorated tree, then you want to try have your lights evenly spaced without holes or dark spots in your tree. If you use a lot of decorations, you don’t have to be as concerned with this as some of the decorations are inevitably going to block some of the lights anyway.
I find to get the best coverage, you should move around the tree completely, all in one direction. Save a few strings of lights to fill any troublesome dark spots once this step is complete. I personally prefer to to move around the tree in circles, from the bottom moving up in a slow spiral (horizonally) instead of stringing the lights up and down (vertically) on the tree. I have tried winding lights around the branches to help hide the strings, only to find: a) it’s very time consuming; b) you need a lot more lights; and c) you still end up needing to run additional strings around the tree to fill the dark spots. After I run the lights completely around the tree, I’ll take my extra strings and move around the tree diagonally, to hit the dark spots and to try and avoid creating a noticeable light pattern.
LED lights are the newest technology and also the most costly to purchase. The good news is that after a few years, the energy savings will outweigh the initial investment. If you are purchasing white, pay attention whether you are getting cool or warm white. There is a definite difference and you’ll want to avoid accidentally buying both. I’m in the process of switching over to LED lights completely. One of the best things about LED lights is that you can connect up to 40 strings together end to end, eliminating a lot of extra outlets and cords.
Mini lights make up the bulk of what most people currently use today. They can still have different covers or shapes but if you use different styles on the same tree. Make sure you spread out each type evenly or you will likely be disappointed with the result. Most mini lights can be connected end to end with a maximum of 3 strings without blowing fuses on the plugs. Mini lights are currently the most affordable and come in the largest variety of colors and styles.
C-Series lights should not be used indoors, period. These are the larger old fashioned bulbs. They are still available but designated for outdoor use only. They can get extremely hot and become a fire hazard, particularly on live trees. I will admit that I have used them on an artificial tree in the past… and they melted the needles on the branches that they were touching.
Multifunction Mini or LED lights. If you want twinkling lights, flashing or fading these are the ones you want. If you use these, you need to run them around your tree more random than uniform and overlap them to get the desired effect. One of the drawbacks is that they cannot be connected end to end and must each be plugged in separately.
White, Colored Lights or Both?.
Completely based on your individual taste, adding colored lights to your tree can create several things you’ll want to watch for. If you use all one color or use the multicolored strings, you should be fine. If you mix colored strings of lights, you need to make sure you evenly distribute the different colors evenly throughout the tree. If you don’t, you could end up with unwanted patches or blotches or color.
The other day I notice one store selling trendy pink, lime green and lavender lights (the wire was colored too.) If you decide to go with something trendy, keep in mind the cost, longevity of the trend and by all means, make sure you purchase enough to finish the job. Keep in mind that 6 strings may work this year but next year you may need 8 and they are no longer available. Then what? Back to the drawing board.
AND, make sure the lights you are purchasing are green wire and not white wire! You may need to look in the box to be sure. White wire strings of lights are very difficult, if not impossible to hide on a traditional green tree.
Now you’re finally ready to decorate!
After you have all your lights on the tree, you might want to take a moment to vacuum up any dropped needles so they don’t get tracked all over the house, especially if your family will be decorating the tree together.
One Last Thought– Say NO to Canned Snow!! The only situation where this might be a good idea would be a live tree. If you do, try and spray it outdoors or take careful precautions to protect furniture and walls if you must spray the tree indoors. Never spray canned snow on an artificial tree unless you plan on throwing it out after that use. And please, please, PLEASE… only spray a tree BEFORE you add lights or ornaments. The spray will ruin them for future use. If you want the snow effect on your tree, buy a flocked tree. They are some other options that I’ll share with you in the next installment.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me! I’d be happy to help.
Next Up: Decorating Your Tree– To Stuff or Not to Stuff?