16 Things You Need to Know to Pull Off an Outdoor Wedding

bride and groom kissing beneath trellis of pink flowers
Harwell Photography

Ah, to celebrate your wedding outside! The bright blue skies, the natural décor, the romantic breeze—at least, that's how you envision the your ceremony and reception. The reality? A lot can happen on the day of, especially if you're celebrating en plein air. Everything from out-of-nowhere wind to last-minute thunderstorms can disrupt the wedding day's events, unless you plan for the unexpected well in advance.

To prepare for your outdoor celebration, begin with your wedding locale. The venue you select for your nuptials, whether it be a private estate, a public area like a beach, or your own backyard, will play a major roll; remember, its scenery becomes your built-in décor. Because you'll be outside, it's also critical to consider the area's environment. Provide parasols and standing umbrellas to help your guests beat the summer heat or blankets and heaters during cold-weather seasons. Another pro tip? Always invest in a back-up tent, just in case inclement weather strikes. The climate will also impact other celebratory elements, such as your food—especially your wedding cake. Keep your big-day confection fresh and ensure other perishables stay chilled from the cocktail hour all the way until dessert.

Whether you are having a large gathering or an intimate affair, you'll want to ensure you and your loved ones are comfortable for the duration of your outdoor event. Taking the necessary precautions to ensure a seamless guest experience will also help you stay stress-free on the day of the wedding. After all, you shouldn't have to worry about the weather or a last-minute plan B on the happiest day of your life. Looking for more ways to plan and execute the ultimate outdoor wedding? Here, we're sharing some of our best tips.

01 of 16

Consider Your Locale: The Beach

couple during wedding ceremony with white floral arches
Julieta Amezcua

Close your eyes and hear the sound of gently lapping waves. Feel the warm sun on your back. Need we say more? There's nothing quite like getting married at the beach, but you do need to take some extra care if you choose to tie the knot on the sand: A steady sea breeze means taking precautions to secure décor, keep candles lit, and (most importantly!) your hair in place. Expect to be billed for everything but the view—from tables, chairs, and tents to catering equipment. Also take the time of year into account: You'll want to avoid hurricane season, of course, but if yours is a lakeside affair, find out when the area experiences particularly high winds or attracts a lot of bugs.

02 of 16

Consider Your Locale: A Winery

bride and groom outside under olive branch and roses wedding ceremony arch
Natalie Bray

Excellent wine and rolling hills—winery weddings are popular for a reason. Plus, these locales often have lovely private spaces (think charming courtyards or sun-splashed patios), and with vineyards popping up in nearly every state, finding one has never been easier. During the summer months, most vineyards can be hot and dry, which means you'll need to provide ample shade and refreshments. And though California's Napa Valley is known as wine country, most wineries there actually don't allow weddings (the irony!). Nationwide, many are in residential areas, where a noise ordinance may force your party to end at 9 or 10 p.m. Another note: If you're hoping for a full bar, you may be out of luck. At a winery, vino is the name of the game.

03 of 16

Consider Your Locale: The Backyard

outdoor ceremony set up with wooden chairs and chuppah
Kristen Marie Parker

Securing an all-inclusive reception venue can eat up to 50 percent of your budget, but site fees will be a nonissue if you're considering a loved one's yard or your own. What's more, the sentimental value can be priceless. And while you will save on those aforementioned site fees, be prepared to shell out for rentals, including portable restrooms, a dance floor, and possibly even a tent (if inside the house isn't a viable rain plan). If the home's kitchen doesn't suit your caterer's needs, add cooking equipment to that list, too. Pests can present problems in backyard spaces, so spend time in the yard to determine where they like to swarm (the last thing you want is the neighbor's bug zapper going haywire). Then suss out parking, permits, and liability insurance, which covers personal injury and property damage.

04 of 16

Stick to a Budget

wedding couple posing for portrait at park
Kati Rosado

Just because an outdoor area like a beach, campsite, or park is open to the public doesn't mean it's free for use as a wedding venue. To stay on budget, ask these questions, suggests event designer Claudia Hanlin, founder of The Wedding Library: Is there a site fee or a "suggested" donation? Find out ahead of time to avoid any after-the-fact surprises. Is your location remote? You may incur extra delivery fees if the site is a long way from the nearest road or parking lot. Are you expected to pay for sanitation services? This is almost always the case at parks, where you're required to return the site in the condition you found it. Will you need valet parking? If the nearest public lot is blocks away, it may be your only option. Should you hire security? It might be required, especially if you have a large guest list.

05 of 16

Highlight Lighting

outdoor engagement party with string lights overlooking the mountains
Lorin Kelly Photography

The scenery comes courtesy Mother Nature, but the lighting, sound, and temperature control? That's all you. If your site doesn't have electricity, you'll need generators for your caterer's kitchen appliances, and amps and speakers for your band or DJ. There's also the issue of lighting (because after sunset, then what?). And no matter the time of year, fans, air-conditioning, or portable heaters are almost always necessary. Your best bet: Have an electrician survey your setup so you'll know exactly how much power you need.

  • How to Ensure the Lighting You Choose for Your Wedding Will Efficiently Illuminate Your Space
06 of 16

Have a Plan B

couple portrait on steps holding white umbrella in the rain
Astrid Photography

We get it: The last thing you want to do while planning your wedding is plan another wedding. But worst-case scenarios happen, and you'll want to be organized. "You have to move fast to set a rain plan in motion," says Hanlin. Don't tempt fate (and major day-of meltdowns): If there's no indoor option, put a deposit on a tent, just in case. And should you wake up to drizzle and a bummer forecast on the big day, don't wait until right before guests start arriving to make the call. The more time you have to prepare, the better. One tool that can help in the planning is the AccuWeather app, which provides a minute-by-minute forecast that zeros in on what's happening at your exact address.

07 of 16

Keep Guests Dry

Corbin Gurkin

Sprinkles or an afternoon shower may not be enough to move everything indoors, but people will still get wet. Have a stash of umbrellas to offer shelter. In case of a downpour, place a stack of fluffy towels in each restroom.

08 of 16

Help Loved Ones Cool Off

purple tufted wedding chairs with gold legs and fan on the seats
Jessica Mangia

In hot months, "shade is key," says Peter Callahan, owner of Peter Callahan Events, in New York City. "Offer plenty of it, whether you set out fans and big floppy hats for the ceremony, or place huge outdoor umbrellas over tables at the reception." Prioritize hydration with a help-yourself lemonade or iced tea stand, says Sean Ryan, co-owner of Shindig Events, in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

09 of 16

Or, Keep Them Warm

wicker basket of slate blue pashminas
Jeremy Chou Photography

Even if it's pleasant during your vows, "temperatures can dip as much as 20 degrees after sunset," says Hanlin. Your solution: Space heaters inside tents—a must in the fall—and, for an elegant touch, pashminas for the ladies (bonus: the scarves can double as favors).

10 of 16

Prioritize Seating

outdoor wedding ceremony wooden seats with floral arrangements
Esther Sun Photography

There's nothing worse than standing stock-still in stilettos while craning your neck to see the action. If your ceremony will last more than 10 minutes, provide chairs or benches. Even if it's five minutes, don't make Grandma and eight-months pregnant Aunt Judy stand at all. Have some chairs on hand for people who really need them.

11 of 16

Take Grass Precautions

bridesmaids showing their colorful shoes and dresses
Nato Tuke of Weddings by Nato

Getting married on grass? Distribute plastic heel protectors, which stop shoes from sinking into soil, to your bridal party.

12 of 16

Create an Easy Flow

thuy kahn wedding wooden sign in garden
Meiwen Wang

"The best way to get from Point A to Point B is usually the shortest," says Hanlin. But there are other things to note when directing foot traffic from altar to bar to dinner tables and dance floor. For starters, designate a wide route that's easy to walk on, which might mean putting down stepping stones or carpet on grass. Don't lead partygoers past restrooms or trash bins. Instead, make the journey pretty and fun: Construct cute "right this way" signs, use luminarias to light up paths, or have bubbly-bearing waiters point the way—guests are sure to follow when there are corks popping.

13 of 16

Bug- and Wind-Proof Your Venue

reception table setting with blush pink plate and gold utensils
Rebecca Yale

When picking flowers, remember that hardy blooms like roses, zinnias, and dahlias stand up to gusts and rain better than delicate blossoms, says floral designer Sierra Steifman, owner of Poppies & Posies, in New York City. Keep in mind, too, that baby's breath, scabiosa, and peonies are particularly attractive to pests. To deter insects, incorporate natural pesticides, like sprigs of rosemary, lavender, mint, and thyme. If your wedding is near mosquito-attracting water, you'll need something more powerful, like citronella torches or candles. Tying the knot on your own property or at a family member's house? Go the exterminator route, and have the site sprayed 48 hours beforehand so the chemical smell dissipates; you can learn about alternative green treatments at EcoSmart. Avoid lightweight vases or centerpieces that can tip over in the breeze, or opt for wilt-proof beauties like potted plants or fruits and vegetables that will help weigh down arrangements. And unless you want someone to spend the night striking matches, keep lit candles in tall, breeze-blocking vessels.

  • How to Stop the Wind from Ruining Your Wedding Décor
14 of 16

Master the Seasonal Menu

chef serving variety of gourmet appetizers
Anya Kernes

"In warmer weather, steer clear of rich, heavy foods, like risotto and gratins, and showcase refreshing produce, such as tomatoes and watermelon," says Callahan. Cheese is always a crowd-pleaser, but it can melt and attract pests during a steamy afternoon; he suggests serving it with dessert, after the sun goes down.

15 of 16

Put It on Ice

oyster appetizer at wedding
Gracie Byrd Jones

If you're serving shellfish, trust us—you don't want to leave it out in the sun. For a twist on the ever-popular raw bar, "have waiters pass 'mini' raw bars—trays of bite-size seafood on ice," says Callahan. Other chilled choices that are surefire hits include boozy ice pops, snow cones, ice cream, or a frothy cocktail like Callahan's signature Sgroppino: prosecco, ice-cold vodka, and lemon sorbet.

16 of 16

Keep Dessert Safe

five-tiered white fondant wedding cake with yellow flower decor
Stella Yang Photography

Beware: Fluffy buttercream frosting can turn gooey and runny in the heat. "Go with smooth fondant for your cake, and ask your caterer to bring it out right before you slice it," says contributing editor Wendy Kromer of Wendy Kromer Confections, which is based in Sandusky, Ohio. She doesn't recommend displaying your cake if temps are above 75 degrees, but if you simply must show it off, protect it from bugs and the scorching sun by enclosing it in a screened-in area.

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