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Style: Tips for trimming your tree

Mary Carol Garrity

Years ago, I made the switch from a traditional tree stand to a large black iron garden urn, after an ill-fated dinner party when my tree stand failed and the tree came crashing down on the dinner table.

Experimenting with new ways to hold my tree more securely, I tried one of my garden urns, empty for winter. The urn not only held the tree tight, it gave it a stately air. With the tree elevated, we also had plenty of floor space for gifts. Now, all the Christmas trees at Nell Hill’s are displayed in iron garden urns.

(Tip: To secure an artificial tree in a garden urn, just press the tree in until it won’t go any farther. The bottom branches will bend up and stick out of the urn. Just fold those branches down over the urn’s mouth.)

This holiday, we are putting up a forest of brightly decorated Christmas trees, each different from the last. I asked Beverly, our uber-talented floral designer, to share her secrets. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Light it up

When lighting your tree, Bev says, the rule of thumb is to have 100 lights for every vertical foot of your tree. So, a 7-foot tree would need enough strands for 700 lights.

For a brilliant tree, Bev suggests winding every branch with lights. “Start at the middle of the branch, then wrap your lights around the branch, working toward the front,” she says. “Depending upon how bright you want your tree to be, do that for every single branch or every other branch.”

Bev suggests taking all the ornaments you’re considering using on your tree and laying them out on the floor where you can see them all. Then, sort them into groups. Place like-kinds together, such all the bulbs, in one pile. Then, sort those collections into sizes, with different piles for the large ones, the medium and the small.

When she starts to add the ornaments to our trees at Nell Hill’s, Bev works in sections, finishing one part of the tree at a time. To give the tree added depth, she puts several ornaments on each branch, the largest in the back.

Styling tip: I cannot guess how many zip ties Bev uses as she builds our holiday displays. On our trees, she uses the ties to secure each ornament snugly to a branch, so none fall off on accident. If you have kids or pets, this might be a good idea for you, too.

Experiment with colors, textures

“Someone told me once that decorating a Christmas tree is like doing a painting,” Bev shares. You need to experiment with colors and textures, working them together until you achieve the finished look you want.

Styling tip: For a fuller, more interesting tree, add a variety of floral picks, inserting them between the branches.

Add an element of surprise

Add a bit of fun to your tree with a surprise element or two.

For one inspiration tree at Nell Hill’s, our theme was blue and white pottery. Bev and Dillon, the logistical manager for our displays, figured out how to add blue and white urns to the tree. They started with a oval mirrors used as shelves. Dillon secured the mirrors in three different places to the tree’s inside pole using picture hanging wire. Then, they rested the urns on the shelves. Wow, what an impact!

Finish with ribbon

The very last layer Bev adds to her brilliant trees is ribbon, like a pair of earrings that finishes off a great outfit. She suggests getting holiday-themed ribbon that looks attractive on both sides. Then, she cuts the ribbon into manageable sections, and twists it into loose spirals. Instead of winding the ribbon around and around the exterior of the tree,tuck the ribbon twists in and around the tree branches, willy-nilly.

This column is adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog on