Decorating the outdoors for Christmas sets the stage for your interior embellishments, yet it can also be time consuming without a plan. Take a photo of your home and front yard and print an 8-by-10 copy. With colorful pens, outline your design, determining where you want lights, garland and wreaths. This gives you a visual to work with and prevents your home from looking over- or under-decorated. If you have older children or teenagers, use them as a second or third set of hands when installing lights or wrapping garland, but keep the little ones indoors.
Measure the width of the door or window you plan to hang the wreath on. For a standard 36-inch wide door choose a wreath with a diameter between 24 and 30 inches; the larger the wreath, the more dramatic the look. For windows or larger doors, size the wreath so it’s two-thirds to three-fourths the width of the window or door.
Open the window and place a double-sided magnetic wreath hanger about a third of the way down from the top window frame, positioning the hook on the exterior of the window. Close the window and hang the wreath.
Stand back from the door, note where you want the center of the wreath to hit and measure up from this point half the diameter of the wreath. Install an outdoor self-adhesive hook at this point and hang the wreath. As an alternative, use an over-the-door wreath hanger. Measure down from the top of the door to where you want the top of the wreath and purchase a hanger that works for this; most come in 12-inch lengths, although larger sizes are available.
Measure the total length of each area you want to cover in string lights to determine how many you need. This includes railings, columns, the roofline and window and door frames.
Untangle your Christmas lights and plug them in, including any new purchase. Replace any blown bulbs or replace the strand if necessary. Check that the lights are rated for outdoor use. Do not use indoor lights to decorate outside.
Measure from each location you plan to install lights to the nearest power source. Note each individual measurement; for example, the distance from the bottom corner of the front door to the power source, and the distance from the tree in the front door to the power source. Purchase outdoor extension cords that are the closest length to each of these measurements. For example, if it's 9 feet from the door to the power source, use a 10-foot extension cord rather than a 20-foot cord. Excess cords lead to tripping.
Wrap window and door frames with lights starting at the farthest point from the power source, working your way toward it. Secure the lights to the frame with self-adhesive outdoor light clips or a clip intended for your specific siding. Do not link more than three strands of light; if necessary, stop at three strands, connect to the extension cord, and then start a new strand of lights.
Clip icicle or string lights along your gutters or roof with a light clip intended for your home’s specific construction. Gutter clips, vinyl siding clips and other products are available depending on your needs. Do not link more than three strands together, and start your arrangement farthest away from the power source, working your way toward it. Use a sturdy ladder and have an adult or teenager stand behind the ladder as you work.
Weave lights around railings or set up light stands along walkways, hooking the lights in place. Wrap shrubs or trees in string lights, starting from the top and working your way down. Push the lights back toward the trunk or center of the shrub and secure the lights to the branches with small green clips every few feet.
Cover bushes with net lights, running an extension cord along the ground to a power source. Prevent the “over-done” look and take the time to pull branches or sections of the shrub through the light net, essentially pushing the lights further back into the greenery. Net lights also work well for trees.
Tape down extension cords that cross or run along sidewalks, walkways and the driveway. If there is excess cord, pull this toward the power source and use zip ties to gather the excess and keep it in place.
The Garland and Small Touches
Measure columns and outdoor railing, including just the hand rail or each spindle depending on how you want your garland to look. Multiply this by 1.5 and purchase enough garland to comfortably wrap around the railing and spindles. Wrap the garland around the columns and railings. Use thin wire or decorative ribbon to keep the garland in place. For a fuller look, twist two to three different types of garland together and use this as one piece to decorate.
Measure each side of doors and windows and purchase enough garland to wrap around these. Install the garland using clips or small finishing nails.
Hang outdoor ornaments on trees and shrubs so the landscaping is just as decorative during the day as it is at night. Install decorative bows underneath outdoor light fixtures or wrap them around garland installed along railings, doors and windows.