It’s been a long, cold winter, but happily the weather is starting to warm up at last. Your thoughts may be turning to enjoying your backyard again by planning outdoor get-togethers, parties, and cookouts for friends and family. Before you can send out the invitations though, you’ll need to take some time to spruce up your outdoor area so that you can present your best entertaining face.

Evaluate and Clean
Get Ready for Outdoor Entertaining

The first thing is to train a critical eye on your outdoor space. After the winter, it may be covered in leaves, kids’ toys, and the gardening tools you forgot to put away. Start by bringing anything that doesn’t belong out there into the house or garage. Stash loose outdoor items into decorative containers.

Next, neaten up with a good raking and sweeping. If you have a floor that is made of anything other than dirt — wood or cement, for example — you’ll also want to give it a scrub. You can rent a pressure washer to take care of the entire area quickly, but remember that cement floors require a different cleaning regimen than wood. Research your options carefully so you don’t cause any damage to the finish.

Then it’s time to clean out any planters that you might have. Remove dead and dying plants and replace them with fresh ones. You may also want to take a moment to rethink your planter placement and add new ones to the area.

Lastly, don’t let your guests trip over a misplaced garden hose — there are many decorative solutions for storage, from pots to holders that hang on the wall. You can easily find one that matches your home’s aesthetic.

Add a Rug
Get Ready for Outdoor Entertaining

If you want to start fresh or just change up your backyard’s look quickly and easily, a great option is an outdoor rug. This can define a space and bring it all together. These rugs are made to be durable, to hold up to all types of weather, and to resist everything from sun and rain to mold and animals. Plus, they’re usually very simple to clean. Look for one in a solid color or a fun design to make your outdoor space comfortable and party-friendly.

Assess Your Outdoor Furniture
Get Ready for Outdoor Entertaining

After you’ve cleared out the area, take a look at the outdoor furniture you already own, whether it is wood, resin, wicker, or metal. Did it make it through the winter unscathed? If it was stored in a basement or shed or under a quality all-weather furniture cover, it’s probably in good shape. If it faced the elements outside all winter without protection, it may need a bit more work to get it ready to go. No matter what, give all of your pieces a good cleaning at the beginning of the entertaining season.

If you’d like to refresh the furniture you already have, add pillows to make old chairs feel brand new. You can either buy them ready made or use fabric intended for the outdoors to create exactly the right size, shape, and style you choose. If you go in that direction, have fun with it — pick a color theme and then choose several different styles, such as polka dots and stripes, for a mismatched yet pulled-together look.

Let Everyone Sit
Get Ready for Outdoor Entertaining

Try to estimate the number of people you’ll be inviting to your parties, and make sure you have adequate seating and tables for everyone to be comfortable. Are you a fan of having just one or two friends at a time? Look for a small table with an umbrella as the centerpiece. If you’re more likely to invite large groups, it may be time to update your outdoor seating options. If you only have single chairs, add benches or couches so people can sit in groups.

Whether you are adding to or upgrading your existing furniture collection, include pieces that are both stylish and sturdy. Keep an eye out for furniture that is labeled “all weather” or something similar. And don’t forget to use either furniture covers or a designated storage space to save time on cleaning and repairs.

Upgrade Your Lighting
Get Ready for Outdoor Entertaining

Finally, remember to check on the lighting in your backyard area. If you already have it installed, ensure that all of the wires are secure and that all of the bulbs are working and replace those that are burned out. If you haven’t considered it before, think about adding festive lights to both brighten a party and give your outdoor area a general finishing touch.

Once you’ve pulled everything together, you’ll feel relaxed and ready. Start planning your menu and creating your guest list for your next outdoor party!