How to Hang Outdoor String Lights—Plus, Inspiration for Your Own Yard

Your magical retreat is a weekend project away.


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Spending time under the dim glow of outdoor string lights can take your backyard experience from mundane to enchanting. It instantly adds warmth, provides more light in an otherwise dark space, and invites you and your guests to linger longer. 

“There is nothing that makes a space feel more magical than lighting,” says Jung Lee, event architect and founder of Fête. “String lights are among my top choices for bringing instant fantasy to your space.” 

Feeling motivated to string up your own? It’s a great weekend project that doesn’t take too much time but still offers quite a bit of impact. Ahead, we’re explaining how to hang outdoor string lights in a few different ways, then offering up some patio string light ideas for your own space.

How to Hang Outdoor String Lights

While hanging string lights is quite simple, there are a few things to take into consideration before hanging them up. You’ll want to think about walking pathways, electricity, and bolstering the lights so they can withstand the elements.

Hanging Outdoor String Lights From a Patio, Deck, or Railing

One of the easiest ways to hang outdoor string lights is to use structures already put into place, such as patio posts, pergolas, or deck railings.

  • Take measurements. Decide how you want your lights to hang and measure. For example, maybe you want to zig-zag the lights or cover just a small space. Planning and measuring in advance will help you determine how many strings of lights you need to purchase. “Make sure the lights are overhead or out of the way of human traffic areas to avoid a ‘clothesline hazard,’” says Coleman Cosby, project manager at Yardzen.
  • Purchase your lights. String lights come in many different forms, so choose the type that fits the ambience you prefer, whether that's tiny fairy lights or strings of Edison bulb lights. Whatever you choose, make sure you buy lights approved for outdoor use.
  • Start near the electric outlet. Hang your lights near the closest outlet with maximum wattage. If the outlet isn't close, then use an extension cord approved for outdoor use and get creative with hiding it. “Always make sure to use power cords and lights that are meant for outdoor use and are waterproofed and grounded,” notes Michele Armstrong, interior designer with Freemodel. “Hardware stores carry them in green and black and they are labeled as such.” Keep them away from water.
  • Hang your lights: Hang the lights across your patio posts, trees, pergolas, or railings, making sure they’re evenly spaced. You can wrap them around poles or branches and/or use small hooks to secure along the way.
  • Bolster with guy wire: If you’re using heavier lights or draping them over a long distance, use guy wire and turnbuckle hooks. “This prevents your lights from sagging or falling over time,” says Lee. Use clear zip ties to connect the string of lights to the guy wire so they aren't noticeable.

Hanging Outdoor String Lights with Posts

If you don’t have an existing structure, you can still enjoy outdoor string lights. You’ll just need to install one or more posts to drape your lights from. 

“First, secure some tall wooden posts in a planter filled with rocks or concrete,” says Ursula Carmona, interior designer and HomeGoods style expert. “Be sure to choose a planter that will really be eye-catching.” She recommends ceramic, metal, or terra-cotta. As an alternative, you can wet the ground, dig a hole, and secure the post within the ground. 

Once your posts are hung, you can follow the same steps as above. Place a drive ring or screw eye hook at the top of the post, then use guy wire and turnbuckle hooks to secure your lights.

Hanging Outdoor String Lights On a Tree

As an alternative to placing posts, you can use a tree in your yard, Carmona says, “The best way to hang outdoor lights from your trees is to loop a piece of cable wire with turnbuckle hooks to tighten it.” 

To ensure you don’t damage the tree, place a bit of tree-strap webbing between the tree and the looped wire. Also, Cosby recommends adding a spring to account for the tree swaying in high winds. 

For an extra magical touch, try twisting rope lights going up the tree (or posts) to add to the beauty of the lights hung from above and help create more illumination in your yard.

7 Patio String Light Ideas to Try

Feeling motivated to hang some patio string lights? Let these beautiful designs inspire your own backyard.

Minimalist Lights Strung From Posts

A set of simple wooden posts in the ground can provide a place to string your outdoor patio lights. You can even connect some of the lights to the house for more light. A minimalist design shows that even a simple design creates a lot of impact. 

Campfire & Twinklies

If you’re lucky enough to have a wooded portion on your property, consider creating a cozy, tucked away firepit with twinklies above. The addition of large lanterns on the ground adds to the magic. Michael J. Wurm, founder of Inspired By Charm, has even more ideas for patio lights on his website.

Tree & Deck Lights

Use your home's structure and nearby trees to hang outdoor string lights. Even a few zig-zags of lights can lend a lot of whimsy. Check out Making Manzanita’s impressive before-and-after of this space and learn how they created this simple paver patio and fire pit.

Cozy Greenhouse

A greenhouse doesn’t just have to serve as a space for your plants. Lifestyle content creator Julie Aldridge shows how it can double as a cozy, secluded sanctuary. The singular strand of string lights and assortment of planters complement each other beautifully.

Planter Posts and Curtains 

Carmona created an easy design using string lights and curtains that you can re-create pretty much anywhere, including snug patios and decks. She says, “Hang semi-sheer curtains from a rope for a cabana-like feel. It’s a quick and easy DIY trick that provides a bit of extra shade and that soothing cabana-like vacation feel right in your backyard.”

Pergola Lights

A pergola provides the perfect places to string up some lights. Simply drape your lights through the slats and secure the string with screw eye hooks along the way. For an extra touch, add a central light fixture in the center. 

Vines and Lights

If you prefer a lush feel and enjoy cover from the sun, grow a vining plant and train it to hook through your pergola. A few string lights mixed in creates a fairytale-like secret garden aesthetic.

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