Our Editors Share Their Best-Kept Secrets for Trimming a Christmas Tree
Most people trim just one tree a year. Not so for our editors at Living. In masterminding the displays for the December issue, they experiment with multiple evergreens, palettes, and themes. Of course, we're not suggesting you go to those extremes. But you may want to incorporate some of their savvy strategies into your tree-trimming traditions. After selecting a tree, the first step is to shape it. Spruces, in particular blues and Norways, deliver the best results of all the Christmas tree varieties because of their natural tiers. The goal in pruning them is to gently mimic the form of an artificial feather tree, which has plenty of space between branches for decorations to hang freely. Your tree should be used as a display for all of the beautiful ornaments you have collected over the years.
Once the tree has been potted and pruned, it's time to decide where to put it. Choose a low-traffic spot away from fireplaces and heaters, then follow our instructions for securing it even further to the wall. Properly pruned and securely positioned, the tree is ready to be trimmed. Our editors first lay out their ornaments, and strategize about color and theme. What next? There are lights, garlands, ribbons, and everything else to consider from the topper to the stand (or skirt, or other creative container). Follow their and Martha's example, and your tannenbaum will look top tier.
Tools of the Trade
Here is a list of the supplies you will need to give your tree a streamlined shape and display it securely in your home.
- Clump moss: Use this greenery to hide pebbles and tree-stand hardware.
- Felt: Place a square of this soft fabric under the container to prevent scratches and facilitate moving the tree.
- Plastic sheeting: Line the container with this material to avoid leaks.
- Work gloves: Don a pair of these to protect hands when transporting the tree indoors and during the pruning.
- Pebbles: Pour around the trunk to stabilize the tree stand. Pebbles will also help retain moisture, so you won't need to water the tree as frequently.
- Garden loppers: The tool of choice for trimming thick branches.
- Tree stand: This device is what holds the tree upright. To prevent toppling, look for one with a wide, flat base, such as this bucket version. It should be able to accommodate at least one gallon of water. Take measurements before you make any final purchases to ensure the stand will fit inside your decorative container.
- Hand drill: Use this to make a small hole in the center of the trunk base so that the tree will take in more water.
- Rubber gloves: Wear these while you string the lights to protect your hands from prickly needles, which can be especially irritating with spruce trees.
- Floral shears: This gardening tool is perfect for pruning thin branches.
- Handsaw: Help the tree absorb water by cutting about an inch off the trunk before putting it in the stand. A saw is also good for removing very thick branches.
Choose a Spot to Display Your Tree
When you're ready to set your tree up, pick a low-traffic spot away from fireplaces and heaters, and then anchor the tree with nylon thread tied around the trunk and through screw hooks fastened to the wall.
Build a Tree Stand
The effect is a more tailored look than a tree skirt; it also creates extra room for presents. To pot your tree in a planter follow these steps: Lay felt underneath the container to protect floors. Stack bricks inside planter to raise tree if necessary. Place the tree stand inside the planter, followed by the tree. Pour pebbles into the stand for added stability (or nuts in their shells, as pictured here). Lastly, finish off with clump moss.
Prune the Tree
Norway and blue spruces are naturally symmetrical, but their branches have awkward growths that keep ornaments from hanging freely. Clean them up with a little judicious pruning: Stand the tree upright, and study it from a distance to see which areas need pruning. Prune small growths that jut straight out from the top and bottom of the branches. Smaller cuttings like the ones pictured here are the ones you'd want to trim away.
String the Lights
Lights should be added to your tree before other decorations. Our technique will play up the depth of the tree better than draping lights only around the perimeter, while also concealing the wires: Starting at a bottom bough, string lights along the underside of each branch. When you get near the end, loop lights around the top of the branch. Work back to the tree trunk, winding around branch and light strand. Continue around the tree. Reverse the procedure on upper branches (or those above eye level of an average adult), stringing lights first along the top, then back around bottom.
Turn the lights off (or down if you are using a dimmer switch) when photographing, because excessive glare will make the tree look flat.
Decorate with Ornaments
Decide on a theme or palette, then lay out your ornaments before you get started. Choose simple ornaments to create a backdrop for more ornate antiques, as well as homemade, sentimental favorites. Hang dominant colors to establish a rhythm, and then intersperse them with accents in other hues. Emphasize the vertical shape of the tree by hanging long, dangling ornaments—for example, icicles and teardrops. Suspend icicles at branch ends so that they look as they do in nature. Hanging ornaments near lights will allow the light to be reflected in the balls. Hang antique and fragile ornaments near the top of the tree, where they will be less likely to get knocked off by pets and passersby. And keep lightweight clip-on ornaments on hand; they're useful fillers at branch ends.
How to Hang an Ornament
Manufacturer-provided hooks can slip off the tree's branches, causing breakage. To make your own hangers, thread a 5-inch piece of 28-gauge wire through the ornament's loop; twist the wire around itself several times to secure. To hang, wrap the other end around the tree branch until the ornament is secure. For an artificial tree in white, use tarnish-resistant silver wire. For a live tree, use green floral wire (which disappears in the needles because of the color).
Evaluate Your Work
Every so often, take a step back while decorating to see which areas need filling. Put larger balls closer to the center of the tree, and put smaller balls on the tips of the branches. Bend the tips of the branches up, to ensure that they stay on the tree. Hang ornaments inside the tree—not just near its edges—for added dimension, and don't neglect the back of the tree.
Pack Everything Away for Next Year
Putting your holiday decorations away properly will save you time in decking the halls next year. When taking down ornaments at the end of the holiday season, organize them by color in storage boxes. A segmented archival cardboard box is great for sturdier, more shatterproof ornaments. For lights, cut a piece of cardboard to fit in a plastic storage bin (our pieces were 20 by 14 inches). Use scissors to cut a 1-inch slit at the top of one long side and the bottom of the other long side of the cardboard. Secure one end of the lights in a slit, wind lights around, and secure the other end in the other slit. Store stacked lights between layers of bubble wrap in bins. Keep them in a cool, dry location, such as on the top shelf of a spare closet.