How to Set Up a Real Christmas Tree in 8 Steps

So you read our Ultimate Christmas Tree Buying Guide and picked up the perfect tree for you - now what? 

Man holding wrapped Christmas tree

Learn how to set up your tree and keep it fresh all season long by following these 8 simple steps. 

What you’ll need:  

  • Christmas tree (check out our Ultimate Tree Buying Guide in case you haven’t bought one yet) 
  • Hand saw for trimming the tree trunk 
  • Hand pruners for shaping the tree branches 
  • Garden gloves or work gloves for handling the tree
  • Tree stand for holding your tree 
  • Watering can or large cup to water the tree 
  • A helper (optional, depending on the size of the tree)

Step 1: Cut off at least ½ inch from the bottom of the trunk  

man trimming trunk of christmas tree

trimmed based of christmas tree

The first step to preparing your live tree is by cutting off at least ½” from the bottom of the tree trunk with a handsaw. Doing so will help to preserve your tree by ensuring that it can take in water from the base.

Cut the trunk at a right angle, so that it sits squarely within your tree stand, and ensure that enough height is left on the trunk so that it doesn’t sit too low within the stand. I try to leave at least 12-16” on the tree so that presents can fit underneath and there’s space for watering the base.

Some garden centres and tree farms will do this for you, so you can look into this at the time of purchase.

You can skip this step if you’ve cut down your tree from a tree farm within the last 8 hours.


Step 2: Trim away branches from the bottom of the tree 

pruning bottom branches from christmas tree

Tidy up the bottom of the tree by removing any dead or broken branches with a hand pruner. If any branches would get in the way of watering the tree, it’s best to remove those too. If any branches are too thick to remove with a pruner, carefully remove them with a handsaw. 


Step 3: Prepare your tree stand

Tree stand

Now that the bottom of your tree is nice and tidy, it’s time to prepare your tree stand. Place the stand in a spot that’s clear from heat and electrical outlets. Tip: if you think you’ll be shifting the placement of your tree around, it’s a good idea to place some fabric or felt underneath the stand. 

Ensure that any fasters leave enough space for the trunk of the tree to be placed inside the stand. 


Step 4: Secure the tree in the tree stand 

Securing a christmas tree in tree stand

Now it’s time to put it all together! You’ll want to ask a friend for help and wear garden gloves or work gloves for this part if your tree has prickly needles. Depending on the size of the tree, you might also want to ask help from a friend to help with keeping the tree straight. 

Grab your tree and carefully place it inside the tree stand. Ensure that the tree sits straight within the stand, and secure any fasteners that will hold the base in place. 

Step 5: Water the tree 

Once your tree is secure, fill up your watering can or large cup with water and put it into the stand. Add as much water as possible, since some trees are especially thirsty after being cut. 

Do not use additives in the water, including floral preservatives, molasses, sugar, bleach, soft drinks, aspirin, honey, or other concoctions, as this has no additional benefit. 


Step 6: Remove any wrapping, and let branches settle 

unwrapped christmas tree

Now it’s time to remove any wrapping on the tree and allow the branches to settle. Some people wait for 24 hrs to let the branches naturally fall into place, but if you’re short on time, you can gently open up the branches yourself. 

Step 7: Shape the branches 

Pruning christmas tree branches

Depending on the variety, some trees will be naturally symmetrical and others will need a bit of pruning. If your tree requires shaping, simple trim away any branches using your pruners.

Trim the top vertical branch if your tree topper requires a shorter branch to rest on.


Step 8: Decorate! 

Child decorating christmas tree 

Now comes the fun part! Your tree is all prepped and ready for decorating. Grab some hot chocolate, turn on some Christmas music, and enjoy the process. :) 


Bonus tips

Water your tree every day 

Keep your tree fresh for as long as possible by watering it every day. You’ll be surprised how quickly these trees drink up water, so be sure not to let it try out. Dried sap will form a seal over the cut stump within several hours if the water level falls below the base of the tree

Keep away from power outlets, heaters, and fireplaces

Live trees can become very dry over time, creating the potential for fire hazards. To reduce risk of a fire, ensure that the tree is clear from power outlets, heaters and fireplaces. 


Keep those branches! 

For the DIY-ers, keep the branches that were trimmed and use them to create a Christmas swag to spread more holiday cheer in another spot of the house. You can add more elements, like another type of evergreen, pinecones and some holly, or just type it up with a thicker ribbon for a simple, classic look. 

Trimmed tree branches


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