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How to Make Your Artificial Christmas Tree Look Better

Updated on July 10, 2013
Lisa HW profile image

"Lisa" , a "social sciences enthusiast" and Mom of three grown kids, writes from personal experience/exposure and/or past research

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How "Extra's" Can Camouflage the Fact that a Tree is Fake

A few days ago I read in someone's blog how artificial Christmas trees can look "sick". Well, that's true. They can. (Then again, I've seen my share of real Christmas trees that look a little under the weather, as well.) This isn't about the debate involving real-versus-fake Christmas trees, and it isn't intended to defend fake Christmas trees. The fact is a lot of fake trees do look "sick", although one reason for that can be that a lot of the fake trees we see are in stores or offices, where someone throws on some lights and some plain, glass, ball-ornaments, and calls it, "decorated". There's a coffee shop near me, and the owner hires someone to put up a big, fake, tree just outside the shop and decorate it with lights and bags of coffee (which is a nice change from the generic-glass-ball, retail or office tree - but which isn't exactly most people's idea of a beautiful Christmas tree).

You shouldn't judge the potential of an artificial tree by those you see in offices, stores, and restaurants. While malls or other places that often have large, beautiful, trees that are professionally decorated; offices, smaller businesses often decorate by employees with little say in, and/or budget for, tree decorating.

There can be two main problems with artificial trees. The first is an easy one to solve, and that it that that people can have a tendency not to take the time to shape (fluff) the branches once the tree is up.

The second problem can come in not realizing that, while real trees can generally "hold their own" with only the basic lights and ball-ornaments; artificial trees can need a little more in terms of decorations (and that doesn't mean "yet more ball-ornaments" or "yet more lights", although as many lights as can be safely added does make a fake tree look a little nicer).

In general, artificial trees need enough decorations to detract from the look of "more fake branches than ornaments" without looking like they just have too many of the same kind of ornament on them. In other words, even the nicest and most high-quality artificial tree looks better with a little camouflage. The trouble with coming up with enough decorations to camouflage a fake tree is that it can cost a lot more than you want to (or can) spend if you head out to nearest, upscale, shop that's full of beautiful extras for decorating trees.   Fake trees have more "surface" to cover than their real counterparts..

One thing to keep in mind about artificial trees is that sometimes it isn't enough to just add a decoration to the ends of branches. It can help to fill in spaces a few inches in from the ends of the branches. One advantage to artificial trees is that branches can be slightly bent to support decorations that are not hanging from strings or wires. That doesn't mean you have to "stuff" the tree with all kinds of big decorations. Still, using a "layering" approach (such as bows on the very end of the branches, glass ornaments just in back of the bows, and clumps of berries in the bare spaces that show up once the "main" decorating is done, and deeper into the tree) camouflages a fake tree most effectively.

Something else to keep in mind is that it isn't always enough to add another dozen glass balls to the two dozen you already have. Whatever your "main" kind of ornament is, it helps to add a few different types of decorations to it (at least for artificial trees).

Here's a few ideas for camouflaging ("padding") your decorated, fake, tree inexpensively:

The "Main" Ornaments

Having "main" ornaments isn't always necessary. Some people decorate trees with nothing but lights, bows, and pine-cones. Many like to have some kind of "main" ornament, like the traditional balls or other shaped ornaments. There's nothing wrong with the traditional "ball" ornament in any mix of colors; but artificial trees can often look just a little nicer if these "main" ornaments are selected with an for particular beauty.

When it comes to fake trees, less isn't always more. Often, more is more. Balls with pretty artwork, sparkles, "embossing", or "frost" can add a nicer look than the "usual" plain ornaments. Using ornaments in only one or two colors can serve as a foundation for building a color theme. Real trees can look great with the "standard" mix of colored balls. Artificial trees can look nicer if a little more attention is paid to selecting "main" ornaments on which a theme can be built. That's not saying that a theme isn't also nice on a real tree, but a carefully put together theme on a fake tree can detract from the fact that the tree is not real. In other words, fake trees need a little more thought when it comes to decorating them.

"Secondary" Ornaments

You don't necessarily need "secondary" ornaments just because you have a fake tree, but these are smaller, "supplemental", ornaments that can help fill in green spaces on the tree. These "secondary" ornaments can be a mix of smaller ornaments, or they can have their own theme (a bunch of miniature toys or gold-tone musical instruments or, perhaps, white ceramic ornaments). These look great on a real tree too, of course, but the "simple look" tends to look nicer on real trees only. The "simple look" is what can make fake trees look "sick".

Finishing Touches That Are More Than Just Finishing Touches On A Fake Tree

The following "finishing touches" are particularly effective in helping to camouflage an artificial tree. In general, they can all be used together; although, depending on the tree's theme, you may want to pass on one or more of them. As with all tree-decorating, how many of each you use depends on your preferences and the look for which you're aiming.

Some finishing-touch decorations act as filler and added color and interest, the same way they are on a real tree.  Your artificial tree needs more than a real tree would.  Other finishing-touch decorations (like bows, gingerbread men, flowers, leaves, or anything that has a lot of surface to it) actually hide more  of the artificial green.   With a real tree all that's required, regardless of your choice of decorations, is the usual adding of color and filling in bare spaces.  With your artificial tree, decorations do the job of adding color and interest, but also of "hiding" the tree, itself.

Ribbons or bows

Rolls of ribbon from a dollar store or discount-department store can be wrapped around your tree, "garland style" or used to make several bows to add to the ends of branches. Whether you choose satin-like, nylon/gauzy, velvet, sparkly, or a traditional Christmas print; ribbon makes an inexpensive and great-looking addition to a tree. White, cream, or gold tend to make a tree look more ethereal. Red tends to make it look more traditional. Nylon/gauzy ribbon adds an ethereal or elegant look. Velvet and traditional prints add a traditional flavor. Sparkly adds - well - sparkle.

Ribbons or bows may be the easiest and least expensive ways to "pad" decorations and add polish to a fake tree.

Pine cones (with or without little bows on top).

A bag of pine-cones can be purchased at a dollar store for - well - a dollar. If you live in the right area real pine-cones are free, but there's sap to deal with (and sap on your artificial tree isn't good for a number of reasons). Real or fake, pine-cones make inexpensive decorations. A hot-glue gun, some ribbon, sparkles and/or a can of spray paint can turn pine-cones from natural to whatever you want (if you prefer something a little different from natural).

Gingerbread Men

Bake them yourself or buy a box of them in the cookie aisle. (Li'l Debbie makes cute gingerbread men, eight in a box, for just over a dollar.) Buying them at the bakery will cost you quite a bit, although your grocery store's own bakery may package up several smallish gingerbread men and not charge too much for them.

If gingerbread men are too traditional for your tastes there's always sugar cookies (plain or decorated in a way that goes with your tree theme). Sugar-cookie bells or angels add less "heaviness" than gingerbread men do.

Using cookies on a fake trees means either wrapping them plastic or else cleaning the branches well after Christmas. Nobody wants to store crumbs or sugar in the Christmas-tree box in the basement all year, particularly in when bug season rolls around.

Candy Canes (of course)

One box is never enough. Buy about 24. The make great "filler", but a mere 8 won't do the job. Since candy canes come in more colors/flavors than the traditional red-and-white peppermint you can usually find just the right color for your own tree's theme. (I like the red, white, and green candy canes because they're traditional and yet less "country-looking" or "heavy looking" than the red-and-white.)

Flowers (fake or dried)

Whether it's small, particularly nicely made, artificial, pointsettias or real baby's breath; choose one kind that will go well with the look for which you're aiming and add several. Again, white or cream tends to create an ethereal look (especially when used with white lights). Red contributes to a traditional look (but also adds color the dark green). Combining red and white, or combining something like mini-artificial pointsettias with baby's breath, will create yet a different look. Of course, if you have a different color theme for your tree, choosing flowers that go along with it may mean looking for some in unconventional colors.

Artificial holly and berries make good filler.

Berries

Discount stores and dollar stores usually have bags of berries, or stems with lots of berries that can be removed. Placing clumps of berries into bare spots on a decorated tree can add color, as well as camouflage. One advantage to artificial trees is that branches can be slightly bent to support decorations that are not hanging from strings or wires.

Strings of Beads

Strings of beads, by themselves, don't do a lot to camouflage an artificial tree; but used in addition to other types of ornaments they can be an effective addition. Choose a color/type that will add to your theme.

Mini-Wrapped Gifts

Sometimes these can be purchased in the Christmas-ornament aisle, but they can be made easily with small pieces of wrapping paper, small boxes you already have or boxes you make from cardboard (or even sturdy paper plates). Choose a wrapping paper that goes well with your theme, and tie your mni-gifts with narrow ribbon and hang them with a wire ornament-hook.

Lights

Real trees can look fine with a couple of basic strings of lights. Artificial trees can benefit from having a few more lights or a little "creative" lighting.

Choose white, choose colored, or choose both (as long as you don't string together too many sets for one outlet). Using as many lights as is safe can add to the "chockful of lights" look at night. String both colored and white, to be lighted separately, can offer different lighting options. Adding white lights to rows of mostly colored lights can brighten up what are often darker strings of lights. Putting a few lights on during the day can make an artificial tree look that much nicer during the day, even if you only do this when company comes.

Tree Skirt

Real or fake, every Christmas tree needs a great tree skirt. Fake trees, in particular, need a really nice one. It doesn't have to be a ready-made, store-bought, and expensive tree skirt. The fabric and look matter more than whether or not it was made specifically for the base of a Christmas tree. If you can't find one (or find one inexpensive enough) you think is really nice, a piece of fabric from WalMart's fabric department or the right size table runner from a dollar store may do the job nicely.


No matter what theme or colors you choose, and no matter how tall or not-so-tall the tree, your artificial tree can every bit as beautiful, if not more beautiful, than any number of real trees that aren't always even full enough to support too many extra decorations.

Tip for Selecting A Pre-Lit Tree

Pre-Lit trees come with either white or colored lights, and some manufacturers aim to recreate the traditional look of the old-fashioned, darker, colored, lights (as opposed to the lights coming in the colors used since the cooler lights have become as popular as they are).  The following doesn't apply to any colored lights that are designed to have the same colors as the hotter-burning, old-fashioned, tree lights.

This could be "just me", but I've found the darker, traditional-colors, lights make me feel as if a little bit of headache is looming, and even as if a little nausea is threatening.   I haven't been able to figure out if it's mainly the red lights or if it's just the mix of dark colors.  The old "hot-burning" tree lights in the traditional red, dark yellow-orange, green, and dark blue didn't have as bright/piercing a light as the newer lights do.

Keep in mind that the darker lights look different under store lights, with different lighting at home at night, and in daylight (if you plan to have them on during daylight).

If you're prone to be bothered by something like red or blue piercing LED lights on electronic equipment you may want to pay particular attention to the color of the tree lights before buying. 

There are a few solutions to this potential problem:

1.  Buy a tree with white lights.

2.  Replace some of the darker bulbs/"lanterns" with white ones, perhaps replacing equal numbers of each color.

3.  Add a couple of strings of white lights that can be plugged into a separate outlet.  This reduces the all-dark, piercing, look of the darker lights while still allowing the colored lights you may prefer.  If the darker lights only bother you with one room-lighting arrangement or another, you always have the option of not plugging in the white lights and having those old-fashioned colors at least sometimes.

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    • Lisa HW profile image
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      Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      eventsyoudesign, thank you. I like real ones, but I don't like having to throw them out for the trash afterward. We had a real one a few years ago (for a change and because we had no plans to use the fireplace), and I found myself standing it up, leaning against a tree by the road, because I felt too sentimental about letting it lay on the ground, looking abandoned. (I can't believe I'm admitting this nutty sentimentality on something like the Internet LOL ).

    • eventsyoudesign profile image

      eventsyoudesign 6 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      Great hub. Love the video. Love the ideas. I have a fake tree even though I prefer a real one. You are right about filling in the bare spots. My problem comes with the fact that you can see the scrawny old trunk and it looks ugly. The biggest problem I have with the fake tree is hiding the wires from the string of lights. Great ideas and I will try some of them. I like the videos too. Thanks for sharing. Teresa

    • Lisa HW profile image
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      Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts

      glassvisage, thank you. :)

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California

      Wow. Now this is a great and comprehensive Hub! So many ideas I'd never considered! I love having an artificial tree, but it's true that it can lack what a real tree brings to the holidays, so these tips are wonderful. Thansk!

    • chilario1979 profile image

      chilario1979 7 years ago from Tallahassee, Florida

      great hub!!!

    • Lisa HW profile image
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      Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts

      Money Glitch, sure, same ornaments as long as you know your fake tree needs more of them; and as long as you keep you in mind that their job isn't just to adorn the tree and fill in areas that need "something else" but also to actually hide as many of the fake needles and cover up as much of the fake green as possible. Also, same ornaments as long as you keep in mind to include more than one extra that covers a lot of surface, rather than just adds color; and as long as you keep in mind that real trees can afford to have only one type of extra, but fake trees can't. Also, when it comes to those different types of extras that fake trees need more than real ones do, how many individual decorations of any of those types you use makes a difference too. A real tree can afford to have only, say, six gingerbread men. It may take twelve or twenty-four to "hide" what needs to be camouflaged on an artificial tree. :)

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 7 years ago from Texas

      Daa ha, I never thought about using the same ornaments and decorations that you use on a "real" tree on the artificial tree. No wonder I've never like artificial trees :) Thanks for sharing this will help me put up a tree next year. :) I'm rating it up for you.

    • Lisa HW profile image
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      Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts

      Laura, thanks.

    • Laura du Toit profile image

      Laura du Toit 7 years ago from South Africa

      A lot of effort put into this great Christmas Hub. Nice original ideas make for interesting reading. Well done!

    • Lisa HW profile image
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      Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts

      alekhouse, sounds really pretty. I wish there were a way for you to post a picture. I had a few years when I went with burgundy with lots and lots of antique white and gold; then I changed the burgundy to just a little bit of red with the antique white and gold. My aim in recent years (until it changes) has been to get a traditional yet sparkling/ethereal look. The tree is very much gold, white, and white lights with hints of red (and then the gingerbread men. Tree themes are like cars: You wish you could have a bunch of them because there are so many you like. :)

      Hendrika, it sounds like you use the same approach my mother did. My sister and I were "quite the creative tree-fillers" as kids. :)

      Don, thanks. I once actually found leftover needles hidden in our thick carpeting in summer! We don't live in that house any more, but if the carpet is still there I'm guessing there's still a few needles to this day. :)

      Carmen, thanks. After years of nothing-but-a-real-tree and a few years of pondering getting a fake one, my sister made the jump this year too. (Of course, this is someone who had an annual Christmas tree argument with her husband because one of them doesn't see anything wrong with weird-shaped real trees and the other one does. LOL ) For us, that year when we actually got that perfect tree and nobody even knew the difference, that was when I stopped feeling a little bad about having a fake tree. :)

    • Carmen Borthwick profile image

      Carmen Borthwick 7 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

      Good hub, Lisa. I broke down last year and bought a fake tree, much to my kids' shagrin. We always bought a live one, but my yard is getting full! I'm getting ready to decorate it this week and wasn't really feeling excited, but your hub gave me a bit of Christmas spirit.

    • profile image

      Don White 7 years ago

      Thanks, Lisa, you definitely have some great ideas here. We have had an artificial tree for the past many years and are quite happy with it. But this year, we bought a new one - a slender taller one. It is really beautiful. I don't think we would go back to the sticky, pine cone version or forest version. Thanks, Don White

    • Hendrika profile image

      Hendrika 7 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      I simply left it to my granddaughter and I must say, there is not much left to see of the tree! It gave her a lot of pleasure and it is staying just like that. When she is a little older I'll come back to your ideas to do it a little better.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Really good suggestions, Lisa and I like the way you put the whole hub together. Good job! I have a fake tree that I've been using for over 10 years. I still get compliments on it. The secret to making it look great is to load it down with decorations. We use little white twinkle lights, burgundy, cream and pink balls, gold and cream strings of beads and burgundy silk poinsettias. I wish I could leave a picture here so you could see it.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Nice hub. Good ideas.