Landscaping for an Outdoor Event: What You Need to Know

Apr 20, 2021

A guide to picture-perfect grounds, whether you have 3 months, 3 weeks, or 3 days.

We get it: after months cooped up indoors, you’re ready to spread your social butterfly wings and warmer temps have you dreaming of hosting an outdoor event.

If the only green spaces you’ve traversed in the last several months are the ones on your Peloton virtual trek, you’re in desperate need of some time in the Great Outdoors. With many people electing to entertain at their personal home, your outdoor living space or friend’s firepit might have all the makings of the perfect venue, but you may find yourself with a setting that needs freshening up and little time to tackle the project. Not to worry, we’ve called in the experts to help us map out a guide to solve your landscaping woes.

We chatted with Claire Kelly, Master of Landscape Architecture Candidate at The University of Texas, to get her recommendations for to-do lists to get you party-ready, whether your occasion is a few months out or just a few days away. So go ahead and send out the invitations, grab your sun hat, and mix up a pitcher of margaritas- these pro pointers are sure to earn your al fresco festivities two green thumbs up.

3 – 6 Months | How Does Your Garden Grow

Contrary to popular myth, the key to achieving a sumptuous, inviting look with landscaping is not the number of plants planted in a space, but time! While you can’t do much to make flowers and plants grow faster, giving plants time to mature and “fill in” goes a long way in making an outdoor space look effortlessly lush, as opposed to newly-planted and sparse. If you’re doing a major landscaping overhaul in preparation for an event, aim to make changes such as hardscape installation (incorporating built structures like pathways and pergolas) sodding, bed restructuring, and planting at least three months out.

This may seem like a long time, but having an extra few weeks accomplishes a couple of things: it allows adequate time for plants to get established and grow, plus it allows time for any necessary adjustments to be made. New sod not thriving? Greenery looking leggier than expected? Issues like these can be addressed properly – not just hastily disguised – when there is ample time before an event.

Also, expect some attrition with new plants – unfortunately, not all of them will survive after installation. This is normal, and having more lead-time before your event will work in your favor, should you need to replace a piece to keep the landscaping looking its prettiest.

2 – 4 Weeks | A Feast for the Eyes

Two to four weeks is ample time to go beyond minimal maintenance and really spruce up a space, albeit strategically. It’s a good time to assess anything in your yard or venue that might need replacing – you can shop for new outdoor linens, dinnerware, lighting, and accessories; all of which you and your event planner can usually procure within this timeframe.

Additionally, larger maintenance tasks such as mulching or power washing should also be done in this timeframe. You can do some planting as well, but leave items like mowing or pruning for closer to the event date, as plants will still have time to grow noticeably in the coming days.

You’ll want to make sure that the layout of the space is finalized at this point, so you can know which areas should receive the most attention as the event draws near.

2 – 3 Days | So Fresh and So Clean

It’s officially crunch-time, but there are many small tasks that can be accomplished in just a two-day window to get your outdoor space event-ready!

Two to three days ahead of an event is the perfect time to focus on general maintenance. Have gardeners (or yourself and a friend) mow, weed, clear beds of debris, and trim wandering stems from vines and hedges. You can also do some last-minute, small-scale planting if you have time – just be sure to water new plants adequately so that they do not appear droopy on the day of your event.

Don’t forget your non-planted elements, either; make sure your space is extra clean and ready for people to enjoy without distraction. Sweep porches, patios, and decks, remove cobwebs from overhangs, dust off outdoor furniture, and refresh linens day-of. If you need to up the ambiance, citronella candles pull double duty as mosquito deterrents and mood lighting.

What are key questions to ask your venue’s maintenance team to get a better understanding of how they care for, and maintain, the grounds before your event?

It’s always wise to be aware of the fertilizing schedule for your venue or space. Regular fertilizing is an essential part of maintaining healthy soil, which is key to growing beautiful trees and plants; however, whether it’s organic or synthetic, fertilizer tends to have an unpleasant smell. The same goes for mulch. You do not want fresh fertilizer or mulch at the time of your event, so discuss the timing of this maintenance with your team or venue manager.

Keep in mind that many parks and larger outdoor venues go as far as to cordon off their lawn spaces while grass seeds germinate and grow, even if the lawn is a major part of the space. This means that although you may be permitted to host an event at these venues year-round, you may not always have access to key areas, which can impact the flow and overall feel of your event.

Finally, if you’re hosting in your own space, make sure to adjust your sprinkler system so that sprinklers don’t accidentally go off during your party! Run sprinklers in the wee hours of the morning (4 – 5am) for optimum water absorption and drying time before daytime gatherings.

Want more tips like these? Be sure to check out part one of our conversation with Claire, where we share industry secrets for perfecting outdoor entertaining.