Tree Lighting 101
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Tree Lighting 101

Are you stumped when it comes to lighting your Christmas tree? These tips from professionals will show you how to light your tree efficiently and beautifully.

General Tips

Putting lights on a Christmas tree isn't hard. Following a few basic safety rules is easy, too.

  • Consider using miniature clear (white) lights for your base lighting, then add strands of the new cool-burning large bulbs for color and variety. Or, add sets of novelty lights, such as flicker-flames, flashing lights, bubble lights, or other shapes.


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Buy lights with the same
kind of plug, either
stacked (like the white
plugs above) or end to
end (like the green plugs).

  • Christmas tree lights are either stacked (like the white plugs in photo) or end to end, also called string to string (like the green plugs). Check the boxes of lights before you buy to make sure they're all compatible. By using stacked plugs, you can join more strands than you can with end-to-end type plugs. Be sure to check the box for the manufacturer's recommendations, however. Usually you can string together three 100-light strands or six 50-light strands.
  • For safety's sake, never plug more than two extension cords together. Instead, buy them in the lengths you need and make sure they can handle the wattage of the bulbs.
  • Make sure the wattages of all the lights you use are the same; this prevents power surges and prolongs the life of the bulbs.
  • Plug in the lights before you remove them from the box so you can see if they work before you put them on the tree.

Lighting a Fresh Tree

Plan on using three 100-light sets for every foot of your tree's height. Arranging your lights for best effect calls for both patience and this trick of the trade:


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Use these tips to light your way.

  • Instead of wrapping the lights around the tree in a maypole style, mentally divide the tree into three triangular sections, from top to bottom, around the tree's cone.
  • Plug in the first string of lights and nestle the last bulb on the string at the top of the tree next to the trunk. Weave the lights back and forth across the triangle, being careful not to cross the cord over itself. When you reach the end of the first string, plug in the next set and continue weaving the lights back and forth until you reach the bottom, connecting no more than 300 lights end to end. Repeat this procedure for the remaining triangles.
  • Step back from the tree and look at it with your eyes crossed, or squint until the tree is blurry. Wherever you see dark holes on the tree, rearrange the lights as necessary to fill in. To remove the lights without tangling them, work in reverse.

Lighting an Artificial Tree

Creating a magical glow of lights on an artificial tree isn't difficult, but it demands patience.


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Take your time lighting
your tree, and you'll be
happy with the results.

Artificial trees come in sections that open like an umbrella. If you use miniature lights, you can wrap them around the branches and leave them on permanently. Just be sure to light each section separately (that is, don't cross a section, or point of assembly, with a strand of lights).

Use 50-light strands: the 100-light strands are two 50-light strands wired together, and the 50-light strands are easier to work with as you wrap the tree branches. In addition, the 50-light sets are less likely to burn out or have electrical problems.

For Subdued Lighting:
artificial branch with light
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Photo 1

  • Use about 12 boxes of 50-light strands for a 6-foot tree and about 20 boxes for an 8-foot tree.
  • Begin at the bottom of the tree close to the trunk. Allowing some slack or leader cord in the first strand of lights, separate the cord near the first bulb so it forms a loop. Slip the loop over one of the branchlets or greens near the trunk, and wrap the cord a few times around the green to secure it.


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Photo 2

  • Pull the string of lights taut to the tip of the branch, then work back toward the trunk, wrapping the cord over itself and the branch.
  • Separate the cord again when you reach the trunk, and slip the cord over a branchlet to secure it. Carry the cord over to the next branch, wrap it around a green near the trunk, and pull it out to the tip. Wrap the cord over itself and the branch as before.
  • Continue wrapping branches in this manner until you come to the end of the string. Plug in the next set, and keep going until you reach the point where the tree comes apart. Work any extra lights back along the branch rather than crossing the section. When you wrap the top section of the tree, don't wrap the lights around as many branches so the tree will look evenly lit from top to bottom.

For Moderate Lighting:

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Photo 3

  • Use 20 boxes of 50-light strands for a 6-foot tree and 30 boxes for an 8-foot tree.
  • Follow the same procedure as for subdued lighting, but wrap the cord around some of the greens along the branch as you work back toward the trunk.

For Showcase Lighting:

  • Use 40 boxes of 50-light strands for a 6-foot tree and 80 boxes for an 8-foot tree.
  • Wrap the cord around every green as you work back along the branch.

Outdoor Lights

Whether you're trying to have the brightest home on the block or just want to add a bit of seasonal cheer to the trees or shrubs in your front yard, follow these guidelines for lighting outdoor areas.

  • If you use floodlights to show off outdoor evergreens, use white, blue, or green lamps. Red, yellow, amber, and pink lamps will make the trees look a muddy brown.
  • Don't try to hang strings of lights from the eaves with cup hooks -- in a strong wind, the wires may swing loose. Instead, use plastic gutter clips that hook onto the gutter and hold the wire tightly in place. Look for packages of gutter clips in crafts stores and hardware stores, near the tree lights and supplies.
  • Be sure you have outdoor electrical sockets to plug into when you use outdoor lights.
  • Don't worry about hiding the electrical cords -- just keep them organized neatly, and no one will notice them.

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