Summer means outdoor entertaining. Whether you're hosting a wedding reception, a family reunion or a birthday party, you'll want to make the backyard get together memorable. Here are some quick DIY ideas to help you get ready for a fun, stress-free gathering.Lawn prep
A healthy green lawn is an inviting setting for outdoor activities. If your lawn isn't quite up to snuff, a little last minute maintenance can help. Following are some tips from Grass Seed USA, a coalition of American grass seed farmers and academics:
* Fix bare or thin spots. You may not need as much time as you think to overseed thin or bare patches - some seed germinates in just a few days. Ask the turf specialists at your garden store or university extension office for help in selecting the right seed. Seed during the early morning or evening hours, then water lightly but regularly, keeping the reseeded areas damp until the new grass grows in.
* Don't overwater. On average, a lawn needs about an inch of water per week, from rainfall or irrigation. Unless it's very hot or you have good soil drainage, don't water for two or three days before your party. A soggy lawn might ruin your guests' shoes, and furniture legs could sink into the ground.
* Leave a little length. Don't mow the grass too short before the event - a little extra length will provide more cushioning for the soil and your guests' feet. As a general rule, wait until your grass is 3 inches tall before mowing, then cut it to 2 inches in height. Trimming no more than one-third of the blade length reduces stress on the grass and leaves enough leaf to protect the roots from the sun.Creating the ambiance.
Beyond the table arrangements - linens, tableware, flowers - you'll want to think about creating a comfortable ambiance for your guests. Here are a few ideas to consider:
* Throw some shade. Set up umbrellas or a shade sail if your gathering is in the heat of the day and you don't have much natural shade.
* Illuminate the area. If your get together is in the evening, create a welcoming atmosphere by setting out candles or lanterns and winding twinkle lights around trees in your backyard. If you have the space, build a simple fire pit where you can gather after dinner to make s'mores and tell stories. Transform planters and pots into nightlights using glow-in-the-dark paint.
* Make it cozy. In addition to traditional seating, set out blankets, pillows and rugs on the lawn. Set up a low table and place rugs on the grass next to it to create a magical Moroccan evening.
* Keep bugs at bay. Annoying flies or hungry mosquitoes can take a lot of the fun out of an outdoor party. Light citronella candles to deter mosquitoes, or make natural DIY bug spray for your guests using essential oils such as peppermint or eucalyptus.Choosing activities.
Your get-together likely already has some built-in activities (eating, for one!), but depending on the type of event, you may want to have a few additional distractions planned - especially if there are kids at the party. Try a few of these:
* Revive old favorites. Classic lawn games like croquet or lawn bowling are easy to set up and are great icebreakers if not everyone knows each other. You can mix things up and create your own variations on the rules.
* Spray-paint your grass. Use ground-marking spray to create giant game boards directly on your lawn. Twister, checkers, tic-tac-toe - use your imagination!
* Play putt putt. Set up a miniature golf course with plastic cups as targets, and make challenging obstacles using whatever random objects you have on hand.
One of the great advantages of entertaining outdoors is that it's usually easier and less stressful than trying to fit a large group into your home. So keep things simple and don't worry if you don't have time for elaborate preparations - your backyard will naturally do most of the decorating and ambiance creation for you, and you'll have plenty of options for outdoor activities for kids of all ages.