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Ah, the sweet, sweet start of summer. The perfect time to show off your hostess skills. But judging by the sand piled up in your car and that faint smell of chlorine in your hair, we’d have to guess that party planning is low on your list of priorities. Fear not—we’ve gathered tips and tricks from 11 real women on how to throw the best outdoor fete in a jiff. Take notes.

wooden table on deck
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Create a Bug-Free Zone
“The only way I’ve found to really keep bugs from bothering you during an alfresco meal is by setting up fans to blow a gentle breeze across the party. This also doubles as a fantastic way to keep things cool on a hot day.” – Abby H.

…And Prevent Them from Biting
“Make a homemade bug repellent that goes on like lotion. Not only does it smell nice and not overpowering, but it won’t spray chemicals into the food. Make enough jars to leave one on each table so guests can apply as needed.” – Cristina G.

Keep It Casual
“Fill a trough or pretty metal bucket with ice instead of using an unsightly cooler to chill drinks. Also, DIY flower arrangements using backyard clippings and funky vessels, like vintage creamers or sundae glasses. My rule: Summer entertaining is casual!” – Grace H.

Sponsored smithfield heirloom tomato caprese salad recipe

Lean on a Foolproof Recipe
“Testing a new recipe on a large group of people is not something I recommend. Instead, I like to prepare a dish I know will be a crowd-pleaser. My go-to is a simple heirloom caprese salad with Smithfield bacon. It’s refreshing, light and beyond easy to put together in a pinch.” – Rachel G.

Let Your Guests Help
“Ask two guests to go into the yard and pick some flowers or greenery to tie onto garden twine to make napkin rings for cloth napkins. Or just do this with paper towels if your cloth napkins aren’t clean or pressed. It makes your table look pretty, gives guests something to do before dining and, best of all, gets people out of your way in the kitchen!” – Dana D.

Don’t Go Overboard
“The cheapest and most plentiful snack? Freshly popped popcorn. People always love it, and you can just keep refilling it throughout the party. Easy and crowd-pleasing.” – Carolyn S.

purewow frozen rose recipe
Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

Make Your Own Cocktails
“Use a baking sheet to make frozen cocktails. It won’t take up much room in your freezer, plus you can make it the morning of the party and then just scrape the slush into cups as people arrive. It’s way easier and quieter than a blender.” – Lindsay C.

Set the Mood
“I always make a special playlist to turn on during dinner. It’s nice background noise while people are chatting, and it helps to create a fun atmosphere. I have multiple playlists depending on the type of party and the time of year.” – Paige B. 

Decorate Your Space
“This isn’t anything novel, but hanging twinkle lights will instantly make any outdoor space look Pinterest-worthy. I like to place candles throughout the space to add even more of a special glow.” – Alexia D.

backyard fire pit
svetikd/Getty Images

Check Your Stock Ahead of Time
“I can’t stress this enough: If you’re barbecuing or having a fire, make sure to check your propane tank and wood pile. The worst thing to find out in the middle of a party is that you ran out of something essential. A day or two before your party, check your supply levels and buy anything that needs replenishing.” – Janice G.

And No Matter What…
“Always have a backup plan just in case it rains.” – Caitlin G.

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