USE THE RIGHT BASE: I used to secure my Christmas tree in a traditional tree stand until the fateful day the tree in my dining room crashed into the middle of my dining-room table -- right in the middle of a dinner party. That's when I switched my allegiance from tree stands to sturdy cast-iron garden urns. I love how placing a tree in an iron urn gives it added height and grandeur, leaving even more room under the boughs for stacks of gifts.
SELECT THE PERFECT TREE: I used to prefer fresh-cut Christmas trees, but these days, I've gone artificial. Today's fakes are incredibly lifelike, plus they don't drop sap and needles on my floors or get so dry that they're like kindling waiting to go up in flames.
The key to making an artificial tree look every bit as good as the real thing is to fuss with the branches, spreading out each twig and bending it into a lifelike position. Then, tuck in artificial floral picks that look like winterberries or clusters of evergreen boughs. I've found that strategically placed high-quality floral picks can make even an inexpensive artificial tree look like a million bucks.
LIGHT LIKE A PRO: Have you ever noticed how trees in beautiful commercial displays seem to glow from within? Your tree can be every bit as luminescent and lovely. Just wind a string of lights around each branch, starting from the trunk of the tree and working your way out. The process takes a bit of time, but is well worth the effort. (Or you can skip this painstaking process by purchasing an artificial tree that's pre-lit, like I did.)
PICK A THEME: Some folks like trees that have special themes or color schemes. Others love to fill their trees with a topsy-turvy collection of sentimental ornaments collected through the years. The only "right" way to decorate a tree is the way that makes you smile. This Christmas, I'm going with a woodlands theme in my dining-room decor, so the tree in my dining room will echo the woodsy, winter look I'll create on my dining-room table and buffet.
DECORATE: Now it's time to cover your tree with a blanket of beautiful garlands and baubles. To dress up the woodlands-themed tree in my dining room, I'll unwind an inexpensive honeysuckle wreath and twist the vines throughout the branches of the tree to give it added texture and color. Then I'll use a variety of ornaments in multiple layers to give the tree pizzazz. First, I'll hang large tree balls (8 to 10 inches wide) far back in the branches, near the trunk, and from the lower limbs of the tree, where there is lots of space between branches. Then I'll fill in with some smaller balls (5 to 6 inches wide), hung near the end of the branches that are located in the middle and top of the tree. I'll finish off by placing more expensive and more interesting ornaments on the outer tips of the branches, where they can be admired more easily.
Mary Carol Garrity is the proprietor of three successful home-furnishings stores and is the author of several best-selling books on home decorating. Write her at email@example.com. For more stories visit scrippsnews.com.