10 ways to decorate outdoor trees for Christmas with lights

Decorating outdoor trees for Christmas is a must for holiday spirit. Wrap your trees in lights for that covetable festive glow in your front or backyard.

Outdoor trees decorated with multi-colored lights
(Image credit: Lights4fun)

To create a show-stopping look in your yard this festive season, you'll want to decorate outdoor trees for Christmas using lights for a cozy and festive glow. We'll be controversial and say that sometimes lit-up garden trees look even more beautiful than outdoor Christmas trees... All you need is a bit of imagination – and a lot of lights.

The best outdoor Christmas decor ideas for trees come in many colors and styles – but the most striking looks will bringing your firs and entire home to life throughout the holidays.

How to decorate outdoor trees for Christmas like a pro

Let's face it: the dark around Christmas time is really very dark, and any opportunity to brighten up the exterior as well as the interior of your home is an opportunity worth taking. Ash Read, interiors expert and founder of Living Cozy says: 'As the days become darker, the twinkling allure of Christmas lights can help to brighten our homes and outdoor spaces, whilst also helping to lift our spirits.'

Trees look especially magical with the best outdoor Christmas lights on them. You pretty much have ready exterior decorations with all those bare branches, you just need to choose the right design and the correct type of outdoor lights to go with them. Whichever color/tone of lights you choose, you must make sure that you get ones that are suitable for outdoor use. Indoor lights won't be weatherproof and typically run off different batteries. 

1. Go for the classic wraparound design

Outdoor tree wrapped in warm white Christmas lights

(Image credit: Peacock Graphics / Alamy Stock Photo)

This is by far the most popular look we're seeing everywhere on social media these days. The wraparound tree lighting creates an unbelievably beautiful glow on any tree, but is especially mesmerizing when used on established trees with many branches. You will need a lot of fairy string lights to achieve this look, and a lot of patience to wrap every single branch, but the result will be well worth it.

2. Create a stunning display with a cascade of string lights

Decorative outdoor string lights hanging on tree in the garden at night time

(Image credit: piyaphunjun juntraverot / Alamy Stock Photo)

This look will add magic to your winter yard or even Christmas front porch if you have surrounding trees where you can re-create this curtain-like feature. You do ideally need a larger, taller tree for the look to work, but otherwise it's very easy to achieve. Curtain string lights are ideal for creating this design – they will save you time having to individually attach strings of fairy lights to each branch. 

3. Enhance an outdoor Christmas tree with deep blue lights

Outdoor blue Christmas lights on a Christmas tree

(Image credit: Jim Lambert / Alamy Stock Photo)

If you are lucky to have a fir or spruce growing in your yard, the world's your oyster where it comes to decorating outdoor trees for Christmas. We really like this outside Christmas tree idea complete with blue fairy lights – it really stands out in the dark and contrasts beautifully with other shrubs and trees decorated with other colors. 

Top tip: Use blue lights with a black cable for this deep-blue look. Also looks gorgeous on bare trees.

4. Mix and match cool and warm lights

Outdoor warm and cool fairy lights on bare trees

White and warm string lights on tree, Lights4fun

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Can't decide if you should go for warm or cool white lights? Why not try both? There really aren't any rules – you can go for whatever you want. 

We really like the way this trio of lights has been decorated with cool-toned and warm-toned lights. It gives the ensemble a more contemporary look than having them all decorated the same way would have allowed. 

5. Create a pastel marvel with white-cable lights

Outdoor lights in pastel tones in a large garden tree

(Image credit: Jim Lambert / Alamy Stock Photo)

If you want full-on fairytale magic in your garden this festive season, you need to look into decorating with pastel fairy lights. Choose globe-shaped ones on a white string for a really bright, glowing effect. Pastels don't pair well with other looks, so this would need to be your festive centerpiece tree.

6. Make your garden merry with multi-colored lights

Multi-colored outdoor tree lights

(Image credit: Jim Lambert / Alamy Stock Photo)

Have a large yard with many trees and shrubs? Why not create a whole symphony of color with multi-colored lights? From soft lilac-and-green combinations to blazing reds and oranges, you have so much choice. Think of your yard as a canvas for creating a spectacular light display. You could even draw a color map before you start decorating. 

7. Create a bewitching tree outline with green lights

A tree decorated with green outdoor lights

(Image credit: agrofruti / Alamy Stock Photo)

If you want an outdoor tree that won't look like everyone else's, choose green lights for a neon-like effect. This is a more contemporary and minimalist look than traditional white fairy lights; it's also suitable for those who don't want anything too bright in their garden. 

8. Stick to just the trunk for an easy festive look

LED lights on tree and lanterns around tree

(Image credit: Twinkly)

Can't bring yourself to do all that wrapping on every single branch? We hear you, it's not for everyone. But you can still bring a little Christmas magic to your outdoor tree by wrapping just the trunk. You'll still get that desirable glowing look minus the hassle of the extra-arduous wrapping. Accessorize with lanterns for even more interest on the ground.

9. Go for a crisp white design

Cool white string lights on a large tree in winter

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

We can't think of a more striking look if you live somewhere that actually snows in winter. The crisp, white lights enhance both the tree and the surrounding landscape. Very simple and very beautiful. 

10. Add warmth with micro lights in copper

Mini LED copper lights on a front garden tree

(Image credit: Wayfair)

On the other hand, if what you miss the most in winter is the warm sunshine, you can create a warm and sunny effect with copper fairy lights. Much warmer in tone than traditional white lights, they look especially stunning when they also come with a copper wire. 

How do I put lights up on outdoor trees?

Ash tols us that 'hanging lights, whether that be on your Christmas tree or in your garden, can be a little tricky if you haven’t done it before!' 

To master hanging outdoor lights on trees, do it from the trunk up – this is 'the most widely used technique when it comes to decorating trees', according to Ash. This will also make taking them down much easier. Ideally, you want no more than three separate light strings per tree, especially if you're using an extension cord to plug them into.

If you are attempting an intricate wraparound design, make sure you have a sturdy outdoor ladder – or two ladders if you are decorating the smaller branches of a taller tree. Decorating a taller tree is a two-person job, always – you will want to have someone holding the other end of the lights as you wind (or vice versa). 

If you're not confident doing this yourself, it's best to hire professional light installers to decorate your outdoor trees.

How many lights do I need to wrap an outdoor tree?

The last thing you want is to realize that you don't have enough lights – and end up with a patchy or lopsided look. Ash recommends 'using 100 lights for every foot of your tree's height. A good tip to check if you have used enough lights is to step back and look at your tree with your eyes squinted, this way you will be able to spot where the darker gaps are and where more lights need to be placed.'

You should also measure your tree before buying your lights – you need to know the height and the width of the trunk. As a guideline, a single wrap around a tree trunk can easily use up 30-40 lights, so if you're doing a full wraparound design, plan to get (a lot) more than you think you need. As a rough guideline, multiply the height of your tree by the number of thicker branches you plan to wrap by the trunk circumference. You've got a rough estimate of how many lights you'll need. 

Anna is Consumer Editor across Future's home brands. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening.

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