How to hang outdoor string lights in 6 simple steps

Outdoor string lights are the perfect way to spruce up your yard, patio or deck this summer. We asked the experts how to hang outdoor string lights like a pro.

Outdoor string lights hung from a tree in a yard against a balmy evening sky
(Image credit: Getty)

Make the most of the warm summer evenings and use your outdoor space after dark. String lights create a beautiful, warm ambiance that makes al fresco dinner parties, evening drinks, or relaxing with friends even more special so knowing how to hang outdoor string lights is a must.

In bars and restaurants, fairy, festoon and all stunning types of outdoor lighting always create the best ambiance, looking so effortlessly elegant. 

Alas, when you try and recreate the look in your yard, you soon discover it’s harder than it looks... Fear not, we got the lowdown from Kim Tokarski, outdoor furniture expert at Frontgate, who shared her foolproof step-by-step instructions on how to hang string lights in your yard. 

Everything you'll need to hang your string lights is available online, at the Home Depot or at another hardware store. 

You will need:

1. Zip ties that match your string color: these UV Rated ties from Amazon come in black or white

2. A wire Cutter: we used the IGAN-P6 ones

3. Hooks: choose some for indoor outdoor use

4. Extension cords to power your lights: This cord from Amazon comes in a range of lengths)

5. Airplane Wire Kit: This one comes with clips and a screwdriver

How to hang outdoor string lights step-by-step

Follow these simple steps and your outdoor string lights will look like you hired a pro to hang them.

1. Make a plan and measure the space

First and foremost, Tokarski says, ‘Plan out how you would like your patio lights to hang – this could include a rough sketch with measurements and plug locations.’

It is essential to measure the space and think about how you would like your yard lighting scheme to look before purchasing anything. Also, think about whether you want to hang your lights loosely for a more casual feel or tight to give your space a polished look? Do you want them to zig-zag across or go around your patio? What style of bulbs and color of string would you like?

Next, consider where your power outlets are. Measure your space and calculate approximately how long your string lights and extension cords will need to be.

Edison Outdoor Commercial Lights by Frontgate in a green outdoor dining area with an outdoor rug on patio and plants on the step

(Image credit: Frontgate)

Make sure you purchase all your lights from the same store so they look continuous, especially if you need to connect a couple of reels to create the right length. 

Struggling to pick a style? We love these warehouse-style Edison Outdoor Commercial Lights from Frontgate.

2. Find your anchors

Next, find anchors like a tree, gazebo, or fence where you can install hooks to hang lights. If you're in a rented space and don’t want anything permanent, try to find things you could wrap lights around or zip-tie lights to.

3. Assemble any poles and install your first hook

If you don’t have many natural anchor points, Tokarski suggests assembling some poles for support. If this works best in your yard, be sure to include the poles in your plans. Once you know how everything is going to work in your space, your poles will need to go up first.

Outdoor string lights on covered patio hanging from hook in wooden ceiling panel

(Image credit: Emily Grant)

You can DIY a pole using a planter. Pick a heavy planter filled with your favorite greenery, place it in the corner or your deck or patio and push a sturdy post firmly into the middle. Make sure your pole is stable before you hang your lights. A patio umbrella can also work well as an anchor for your lights. Plus, you get some shade during the day.

Whichever anchor points you’re planning to use, mark out where you want your hooks to go. Then go ahead and attach your first hook. Don’t install them all just yet, it’s best to do this as you go.

4. If using airplane wire, hang this first

Tokarski explains, ‘Using airplane wire can prolong the life of your light strings by removing the tension that is created on the string as your patio lights hang over time. Use wire-cutters to cut the airplane wire to length and Cord-Clamps (included with most airplane wire kits) to terminate the ends into loops for ease of hanging.’ 

String lights look great all year round. If you plan to keep your outdoor lights up beyond the summer season, using airplane wire is a great idea. If you take a closer look at lights in bars and restaurants, they are usually strung up using airplane wire. It helps your lights keep the right amount of tension so they look smart and stylish.

Airplane wire can also be a fantastic solution if your yard lacks anchor points to hang your lights. For example, if you want to hang string lights around your patio, but you only have a tree down at the end of the yard to hang them on, you can hang the wire from the patio through to the tree and only attach the lights up to the perimeter of the patio.

6. Hang your first patio light string

Tokarski’s next step is, ‘Hang your first patio light string with the male plug closest to your outlet’. Be sure to double-check your lights work before you begin to hang them. 

You can use tape to temporarily hold lights in place so you can keep experimenting, before attaching the next hook. Keep going until you come to the end of the light string.

Testing outdoor string lights with extension cord on patio

(Image credit: Emily Grant)

5. Use zip-ties or hooks as needed

Tokarski continues, ‘Use zip ties or hooks between each bulb as needed on deck railings or other structures. If applicable, attach the strings to your airplane wire with zip-ties as you go.’

If you are using airplane wire, zip-ties are perfect, preferably in the same color as the light string. Attaching each bulb with a zip-tie on either side is super secure. It’s best to attach hooks one at a time, in case you want to make any changes. This allows you to experiment with the tension in the lights as you go.

If you want to install outdoor string lights temporarily, you can use a carabiner at the point you want to attach the lights. Use screw eyes and clip your lights in place so you can easily clip and unclip whenever you like.

Outdoor string lights on covered patio hanging from hook in wooden ceiling panel

(Image credit: Emily Grant)

6. Connect the next light string

For the final step Tokarski says, ‘If working with multiple light strings, finish hanging your first run and then connect the male end of the second string to the female end of the first and continue going in this way until all strings are in place!’

Ideally, you don’t want to have many of these connecting points too visible. If you can find some lights that are the right length, perfect. If you need to connect strings together, include this in your planning. Using the right amount of tension can help to hide the connections.

Plug your patio lights in and enjoy the ambiance!

Outdoor string lights against a balmy dark summer's night sky

(Image credit: Getty)

Want to spend even more time out in your yard this summer? Hanging lights to surround your outdoor dining table or one of the best outdoor projectors will mean that you can even enjoy a convivial atmosphere, or even watch your favorite show outside, in true style.

Emily Grant

Emily Grant is a British ex-pat living in Squamish, Canada. She has written about all sorts from interior design and gardening, to travel, tourism, and pets. When she’s not writing, she loves finding DIY ways to beautify her rented space. She has become an expert in making small apartments feel like home and has written features on smart storage solutions, organization ideas, and seasonal decor. She also loves spending time out in the backyard, relaxing in the hammock on her beautiful patio. In addition to Real Homes, her work has featured on Gardeningetc and Homes & Gardens.