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Hanging String Lights for Outdoors

One of the best ways to dress up a patio, porch, or backyard is to add the perfect display of string lights for outdoors. It’s a simple and reasonably inexpensive way to bring much-needed illumination to your space and an instant boost of charm. There’s just something about the warm glow of the lights that elevates the ambiance of any area, whether the goal is to create a private spot for entertaining friends, relaxing with family, or adding a hint of romance for date-night drinks. To help you begin the transformation, we reveal some of our favorite ways to create a magical oasis by hanging outdoor string lights

Before You Begin Hanging String Lights for Outdoors

Before you make any purchases, take a moment to assess your goals for your balcony, yard, or patio. Do you want the lights to highlight an entertaining space? You’ll need to plan your anchor points and determine how far apart each bulb should be to illuminate a long dining table properly. Whereas a small conversation pit or cozy outdoor relaxation nook will have different needs – perhaps something softer with a more intimate glow. Whatever your goals, deciding your priorities before you shop or start to hang the lights is the key to saving money and time.                                                                             

Choose the Right Style of String Lights

Today, there are so many different styles of string lights for outdoors. You can choose ones that fit your home’s architectural style or select ones that mirror your personality. If you love vintage-inspired bulbs, you’ll find dozens to choose from, including the Edison, which is among the most popular options for outdoor entertaining. Do you have access to an outdoor outlet? If not, you’ll want to focus on battery-operated lights or solar-powered options. Expert Jeff Manning advises Martha Stewart Living that people opt for “LED lights or light ropes that are resistant to the elements—and that can change colors for occasions.” High-quality lights will stand up to surprise snow, wind, and rain. They can also handle the scorching temperatures that arrive early and stay late into the year in the south and the desert southwest. 

Find Your Anchor Points

The easiest approach to hanging outdoor string lights is to use at least one, if not more, existing anchor points. This might be your porch columns, the side of your house, trees, a pergola, or a sturdy privacy fence. The Spruce recommends using existing anchors when possible because “not only does this eliminate the job of making posts, but existing anchor points tend to be solid, permanent, and better integrated into your yard’s footprint.” 

If you have your heart set on enlivening your space with string lights but don’t have multiple existing anchor points, you do have the option of putting in freestanding posts. The Spruce explains: “Setting an 8- or 10-foot two-by-two in a concrete-filled broad-base container produces an anchor post sufficient to hold one end of a 25-foot run of overhead lights. This can be paired with another anchor post or with a solid existing anchor point.”  

Support the Cords

Try to avoid hanging your string lights by the cords alone. This can considerably strain the cords, which invites damage, particularly when weather rolls in. Instead, The Spruce recommends using “wire rope and eye bolts to support the cords.” There are also several brands of string lights for outdoor use that include loops as part of the bulb housing, making it easy to screw the bulb directly into an anchor point or run a support wire through it. 

A Word of Caution

Always choose safety first. Even when your string lights are certified for outdoor use, the experts warn Martha Stewart Living to never hang them “over recreational water spots, like swimming pools or hot tubs.” Should the lights accidentally fall into the pool, it could pose a potentially serious hazard.  

Select Your String Light Formation

You want to make the most out of your bulbs, so choosing the best formation for your space is critical. Southern Living loves using a zigzag design when working with a large backyard or garden. Why? “[This] look covers more ground than a standard linear style. Just know that if you don’t have a fence framing your yard, you’ll need to install multiple anchor points.” For larger yards, Southern Living also applauds the idea of elevating the ambiance by focusing on perimeter lights; “perimeter lighting (coupled with distinctive flooring) can help establish a separate space for dining,” although you will likely need additional table lights for evening meals. 

Simple crisscross formations are among the most affordable options as they are perfect for illuminating dining tables or square spaces with the fewest number of lights. However, if you have a fence or pergola that can anchor them, creating a waterfall effect with a cascade of string lights will yield a tremendous amount of light as a backdrop to your outdoor entertaining space, and it will dazzle your guests.

Is your conversation or dining space already beautifully framed by a garden or trees? Rather than loosely draping outdoor string lights, consider wrapping them around the trees instead. The Spruce adores the idea of creating bejeweled trees set aglow by twinkling lights. Light wrapping works on most trees, even palms, as “trunks wrapped with white or red lights show off their vertical, upright forms, drawing the eye upward toward the night sky.” Wrap from the bottom upward and ensure even spacing. Use a ladder to continue the twinkling lights up and over odd-shaped branches and limbs to put the perfect finish on this strikingly magical vision.