10 ways to decorate outdoor trees for Christmas with lights

Decorate outdoor trees for Christmas for a stunning display

Tree with white Christmas lights wrapped around it
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Decorate outdoor trees for Christmas using lights this year for a cozy and festive glow. We'll be controversial and say that sometimes lit-up trees look even more beautiful than indoor Christmas trees... All you need is a bit of imagination — and a lot of lights.

We've broken down how easy it is to set up your string lights, which colors to use, and where to actually place them on an outdoor tree. Plus, we shopped for our favorite outdoor lights to buy for your display. 

The best outdoor Christmas decor ideas for trees come in many colors and styles — but the most striking looks will bring your fir trees 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.

Ash Read standing against plants outside
Ash Read

Ash is the founder of Living Cozy. He's been featured by publishers like MyDomaine, Realtor, Architectural Digest, The Spruce, Homes and Gardens, and more. As a writer his work has appeared in publications like FastCompany, TNW, and Entrepreneur.

1. Go for the classic wrap around 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. Just make sure you're hanging your Christmas lights safely by getting someone to help you.

You will need a lot of fairy string lights, light these outdoor-friendly string lights available on Amazon, 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 decor if you have surrounding trees where you can re-create this curtain-like feature. You do need a larger, taller tree for the look to work, but otherwise, it's very easy to achieve.

 Curtain string lights, like these remote control curtain lights available from Amazon, 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 when it comes to decorating outdoor trees for Christmas. We really like this outdoor 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 or clear cable, like these blue LED string lights available on Amazon, 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

(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 lights (like these cool-toned white outdoor lights available on Amazon) and warm-toned lights (like these warm-toned lights available on Amazon). 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, like these multicolor globe string lights available on Amazon, 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, like this pack of multi-colored light available on Amazon, 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. 

Be sure to double-check that the lights you're using are suitable for outdoor use before hanging them up, so you're following all the Christmas lights safety do's and don'ts

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. These LED green string lights from Amazon are suitable for outdoor use and will blend in with the tree in the daytime when not in use.

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, like these LED candle lanterns available on Amazon, 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. You can pick up these bright white lights from Amazon for a similar style. 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, like these copper-colored lights available from Amazon. Much warmer in tone than traditional white lights, they look especially stunning when they also come with a copper wire. 

What to shop


How do I put lights up on outdoor trees?

Ash told 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, like this highly-rated telescoping ladder from Amazon — 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," says Ash.

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. 

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 for a DIY outdoor Christmas decor display.

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. 

Anna is a professional writer with many years of experience. She has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. She covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.