How to make a sea shell tree

Flex your mussels

sea shell tree

How to create a fun and easy seashell tree

By Phyllis Ford

This craft project is a fun way to turn your sea shell collection into a cute tree, perfect for the holidays or year-round. It’s easy enough to do with kids, and it makes a great gift for a friend or teacher—or a coastal decoration for your own home.

seashell craft supplies

What you’ll need:

  • Mussel shells, or any medium sized shells in your collection 
  • Hot glue gun & glue sticks OR E6000 glue (more sturdy)
  • Styrofoam tree form
  • Round candle holder or wood base
  • Pearls, shells, or starfish for decorations
  • Clear acrylic coating spray
  • Parchment paper

How to assemble your shell tree:

sea shell tree decoration steps

1. Collect 100-150 shells—mussels, scallops, abalone, or whatever you have on your beach. Rinse them clean, then soak in a weak bleach solution for a few minutes, and then set them out to dry.

2. Sort the dry shells onto parchment-lined cookie sheets by size—small, medium and large. Protect your work area (preferably outside), spray the inside of the dry shells with acrylic spray, and allow to dry.

3. Glue a candle holder or round piece of wood that is slightly smaller in diameter than the Styrofoam tree form to the bottom of your form. This raises the cone up so you can have the shells hang below the bottom edge.

steps to make a sea shell tree

4. Starting with the larger shells at the bottom of the tree, put a small amount of glue on the “hump” at the top of the outside of the shell and glue it so that it’s widest part is just below the bottom edge of the cone. Shells curve either left or right and come in many widths, so try several shells until you find one that fits well with the first shell. Add glue and attach it next to the first shell, butting its widest point closely against the first one. Continue around the form.

5. When you get close to being back to the beginning shell, take time to select the final two or three shells so that they will fit without gapping or overlapping.

holiday sea shell tree decoration how to steps

6. Start the next row of shells so the bottom edge of the second row of the shells overhangs to cover about half of the first row, and the top of the shell is vertically aligned between two shells below. Use similar size shells in each row, gradually switching to medium and finally small shells as you go up the tree. Use as much glue as needed to ensure a secure fit, being careful to keep it on the back only so it doesn’t show.

7. Plan the last couple of rows so you have the correct number and size of shells to complete your rows. You may want to glue a shell on the top of the cone to have some place to attach the topper and your final rows of shells.

8. When you are done, coat the tree all over with acrylic spray. After it is dry, you can add pearls or small shells and add a shell or starfish topper to give your tree a winter holiday feel, or keep it as-is for a year-round coastal look.

shell craft tree

sea shell christmas tree craft

This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine November/December 2018 issue.

Make art with your beach finds

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Learn how to make art, jewelry, and fun home decorations with seashells, sea glass, beach rocks, and more. Articles ›

Coastal and Beach Décor Ideas:

beach house interiors and decor

Check out how some beachcombers incorporate their love of seashells, sea glass, beach rocks, and more into their home décor. Articles ›

No live shelling: Be sure shells are empty and sand dollars, sea stars, and sea urchins are no longer alive before you bring them home.


I wrapped a ribbon around my styrofoam form and secured it with straight pins because the glue kept melting as I applied the shells. It seems to be working, so I think I will do another one using the same technique. The mussel shells are so beautiful. Best!

Pat May 08, 2024

I love your trees. I had never seen anything like this and I made something similar but used the shells in the opposite way with the backs showing. It was Ok, however, yours is so much better. I thought I was uniquely clever but found out real crafters know what they are doing. My next one will be better. Thanks!!!

Grace January 22, 2022

Very interested in making one of these trees for my daughter for next year (she collects small Christmas tree decorations). Can you give me an idea of the cost might be for a 9" lipid shell tree? Also where I can get the shells at a good price in bulk. And how many shells I would need?
Thanks, Fran

Francine Mueller November 30, 2021

These trees came out beautiful! Are use muscles, to make round mirrors and clocks. Will see you can make dolls… There are so many things to do with Seashells! Working with seashells is my happy place🥰

Cari Hraska July 29, 2021

Thank you for the idea. I made one and it came out amazing!


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