A step-by-step guide to your most festive tree ever.

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Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling Elly Poston Cooper

How to Pick a Christmas Tree

Your tree sets the tone for its decorations, so be sure to choose one that suits your personal style: Real or artificial? Flocked or plain? Green or pink? Scale matters, too: A teeny tabletop tree may be better suited for a small apartment, while a grand living room can play host to an equally grand tree. Should you opt for a larger tree, be sure to keep height in mind: There should be at least six inches of space between the top of the tree and the ceiling—more if you’re planning to include a razzle-dazzle topper.

Choose The Best Base for Your Christmas Tree

While we’ll always love a classic tree skirt, there are plenty of ways to get creative with your tree stand. A Chippendale planter will give your Christmas-scape a shot of preppy, Palm Beach flair, while a woven basket will ground the decor in no-fuss, traditional vibes. You can get especially creative with smaller tabletop trees: Think painted pots, galvanized buckets, and burlap bags tied up in ribbon.

Light It Up: How to String Lights on a Christmas Tree

While tinsel or flocked trees don’t necessarily need lights to make a statement, big green trees can almost always benefit from strands of lights. Lights add depth, plus they keep ornaments from disappearing into the shadows. White lights win on a traditionalist’s tree, while multi-colored lights amp up fun, retro vibes.

If you’re struggling to determine just how many boxes of lights to buy, a good rule of thumb is 100 lights per foot (a 7 foot tree, for example, would need 700 lights). As for actually stringing the lights on the tree, there are a couple of different camps you can be in: Some swear by hanging them vertically, while others stick to the old-school bottom-to-top approach. If you hang your lights in a base-to-topper spiral, take care to pull the lights out to the edge of the branches in some places, and tuck them back into the tree in others, in order to give the tree depth and texture.

One final tip: Plug the lights in before you start stringing. This will identify any dead spots before you begin, plus it’ll be easier to see your progress as you go; every few minutes, take a couple steps back to make sure your lights are twinkling everywhere you want them to.

Grab the Garland: How to Put Garland on a Christmas Tree

As with lights (and perhaps even more so), garland is purely a matter of preference. If you’re going all-out with lights or ornaments, garland may carry your tree into too-much-of-a-good-thing land … or not. But if you opt for garland, there are a number of different options to choose from, from old-fashioned popcorn and cranberries to something a little more newfangled. Wired ribbon makes an especially easy and effective garland: It’s how The Greenbrier’s Director of Social Activities Betsy Conte manages to deck each of the hotel’s 75 trees in just 20 minutes (she uses 10-inch thick ribbon and recommends going easy on decorations on the wall-facing side of the tree to save time and resources).

If you’re looking for a more natural look, try wood bead garland or shell swag; for something more playful and kid-friendly, try felt pom poms. Whichever you choose, be sure to trim the tree in garland after the lights and before the ornaments. Then, you can tuck the ornaments in and around the garland for a full, layered look.

Deck the Halls with Christmas Tree Balls

Simple Christmas ball ornaments are an inexpensive way to fill out your tree and rev up the color. Choose globes in a variety of sizes to give the tree texture and dimension, but stick to just 2 or 3 colors (or ombré shades of just one hue) in order to make this first layer of ornaments feel like a cohesive base for the rest of your more colorful ornaments. If you’re more of a traditionalist (red only!), hanging ball ornaments in different finishes (think glossy or matte), but the same color, also makes for a more interesting tree without introducing competing hues.

Dial Up the Personality with Ornaments

Macaroni-noodle wreaths, hand-me-down Santas, a porcelain bride-and-groom for “Our First Christmas”—it wouldn’t be the holidays without the nostalgic ornaments you’ve collected over the years. While they may not be the most beautiful, and though they don’t necessarily go with your chosen color scheme, these are the ornaments that make your tree your tree. We say, “Hang them with reckless abandon!”

Now, if you just can’t bear to clunk up your otherwise attractive tree with a motley assemblage of ornaments (and we understand this too), it’s still fun to layer in unique ornaments that give your tree a little more character and personality. Choose a theme, and decorate accordingly … Hummingbirds and butterflies anyone?

Top It Off with a Unique Christmas Tree Topper

Finally, crown your glorious Tannenbaum with your preferred topper: Go glitzy with a shining star; think traditional with a sweet angel; or design-minded with a big bow made of wired ribbon. (And if you think of any other dynamite topper ideas, let us know. We’re always on the lookout.)

WATCH: Join The Grumpy Gardener As He Shops For The Perfect Christmas Tree

May your holidays be grumpy and bright.