Susan Martin is an avid gardener and respected garden communicator for trade and consumer audiences. She enjoys gardening in Zone 6 near the shore of Lake Michigan. Follow her on Facebook @ Gardener Sue’s News.

This article applies to:



A Checklist for Summer Entertaining
by Susan Martin       #Decorating   #Misc   #Summer

Lightweight fiberglass urns overflowing with white petunias and romantic candlelight line a strolling path to the back patio, where an evening bridal shower is held. After the party, the plants will be moved back out to a sunnier spot in the landscape.

Your lovely, flower-filled landscape is the perfect setting for entertaining friends and family, but if you don’t have much experience in throwing a party it can be a bit daunting. Whether you’re hosting a graduation party, birthday bash or Fourth of July celebration, completing this simple checklist of tasks will help you organize and pull off the big event in style. Let’s get started!

A Few Months Before:

• Brainstorm ideas for the event, including where it will be held in case of blazing hot weather or rain, who you’ll invite and what you’ll serve.

• If you plan a big event, start recruiting volunteers now to reserve the date. Follow up again a few weeks before the party.

• Place a hold on any necessary tents, chairs and other items you plan to rent.

• Take a stroll around your garden, taking note of what will be in bloom at the time of the party. If a fragrant rose hedge will be in bloom, for instance, consider seating guests nearby.

• Develop a color scheme for your patio containers, window boxes, hanging baskets and borders. If you’re planning a graduation party, use the school colors. Pot up your containers soon after the last frost date so plants will be well established by party time. Reseed any bare patches in the lawn and apply a round of spring lawn fertilizer, so it will be ready for foot traffic in summertime.

• Repair or replace any hardscaping that is in disrepair, including pathways and retaining walls where guests will be walking or sitting.

Independence Day is one of the most popular holidays for outdoor entertaining. Make sure you have plenty of seating available for guests young and old.

A Few Weeks Before:

• Develop your guest list and send out invitations. Anything from fancy printed cards to a simple “save the date” email will do.

• Whether you plan to hire a caterer or provide your own refreshments, make a firm plan now. Using foods that are in season will ensure their availability, ease your pocketbook and be a tastier option.

• Purchase, borrow or otherwise gather tableware, serving pieces, linens, coolers, lanterns and other accessories you’ll need.

• If mosquitoes are bothersome in your garden, consider making an appointment with a mosquito control service to spray your yard a few days before the event. Citronella oil torches and candles will help, too.

• Power wash your patio or deck to have it looking like new for the party. If you have a pool, make sure it is clean and ready for guests, as well.

• Deadhead annuals and perennials now so new flowers will be blooming when guests arrive. Take one last look around the garden to see if any last minute tasks need to be done.

Cool nights call for fire pits, where guests can gather to warm their hands, sip refreshments and tell old stories.

A Few Days Before:

• Confirm your guest count with your caterer or shop now for the food and refreshments. Make ahead as many dishes as possible to lighten your load on event day.

• Set up any necessary tents, in case of rain. Chairs, tables and table linens can be set out the night before, if dry weather is in the forecast. Trash bins, coolers and extra seating can be set out now, as well.

• Take a walk around the yard and clean up any fallen debris, sharp stones or other trip hazards. This would also be a good time to pick up after the family dog. Do this the day of the event, too.

• Sweep the patio and clean off any furniture that guests may use.

• Consider temporarily moving some of your nicest potted plants into the space where you’ll be entertaining. Deadhead any spent blooms while you’re at it.

• Set out backyard games, such as bocce ball, badminton and corn hole, for entertainment.

• Prepare your fire pit and grill by refilling them with wood, charcoal or propane.

• Clean your house, in case the party needs to be moved inside, especially the kitchen and bathrooms, which are sure to see some use.

The finishing touches have been set and the hostess is looking forward to sharing an afternoon treat with a few close friends. It’s blueberry season!

On Event Day:

• Finish up any last minute food and refreshment preparation. Use the serving pieces you’ve gathered to create a gorgeous spread of sumptuous foods and icy drinks.

• Set up a self-serve refreshment station where guests can help themselves as they arrive.

Torches filled with citronella fuel help keep mosquitoes away.

• Set the table, including personal touches, such as beautiful cut flowers from your garden, handmade place cards, candles and other party decorations.

• Remember to take a few deep breaths, put on a big smile and something festive to wear. And have some fun!

Post-Party Tasks:

• Take down and return any rented tents, tables and chairs. While you’re at it, return any borrowed items to their generous owners.

• Send thank you notes to your helpful volunteers and for any gifts that were received.

• Do a thorough cleanup of your yard, patio and house. You really don’t want to find three-day old, half-empty soda cans filled with ants under the patio table.

• Return any potted containers you had repositioned temporarily for the party back to their usual place, so they’ll continue to thrive.

• Aerate and fertilize your lawn in the fall to help it recover if you had heavy foot traffic on it during the party.

Cool season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass and fescues are best aerated in the fall months. Allow at least four weeks of growing time for your lawn to fill back in before winter arrives.


A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Proven Winners, Susan Martin, and SRNicholl/


Posted: 06/01/17   RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Other People Are Reading