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5 Ways to Extend Outdoor Living Season

Sweater weather doesn't mean it's time to close up the patio and head indoors. Far from it. As outdoor living continues to gain momentum, homeowners are looking for ways to stretch the season well into fall. These five doable ideas will allow you to linger longer.

1. Add a Fire Feature

Adding some heat is the surest way to extend the use of your outdoor living space in cooler months. A fireplace or firepit both score big on ambience, with the flame becoming a warming focal point. Add in some sticks for roasting marshmallows, and you'll be hanging out in your backyard getaway past twilight.

For most people, a firepit is the practical and easy solution. Their popularity soared the past few years as people looked to create casual outdoor gathering spots. As Oma Blaise Ford, Better Homes & Gardens executive editor, noted in the September 2021 magazine, "Firepits are the new coffee table."

Before you start planning to gather round, though, consider these questions:

•What's your style? A firepit can be portable or a permanent. An off-the-shelf model (like the one above left) is a round, metal container, usually with a domed lid. A chiminea—essentially a small, freestanding fireplace—has similar ease. For more permanence, have an above ground unit installed (like the two above right).

•Where will it go? Select a safe site, at least 10 feet away from your house or other structure. The firepit should be set on a level, nonflammable surface, such as concrete, stone, or gravel.

•What are the local laws? Not all communities allow open burning. Some cities may allow fires only if used for cooking. Others require permits. And some have codes on how close a fire can be to existing structures and property lines. Bottom line: Do your homework before you buy or build that firepit.

If an open-flame feature isn't an option, you're not out of luck. Bring the warmth with patio heaters, which are available in tall freestanding models and compact tabletop versions. Those fueled by propane are common and easy to move around so you can direct the heat where it's most needed.

2. Bring On the Mood Lighting

Aside from a crackling fire, the best way to amp up the ambience to draw people outdoors is to add mood lighting. Drape string lights overhead to define a dining or sitting area. They'll provide visual warmth and make a cold space seem a little magical, almost like being out under the stars. Choose waterproof and shatterproof models, and make sure the lights are rated for outdoor use. Then bring that mood lighting closer to eye level with lanterns that add a soft, subtle glow. Solar or battery-operated versions are easy to find, and also keep the living easy. Place them at different heights—on tables and the ground, for example—for layered illumination.

3. Change Up the Menu

Palates change along with the seasons, so adapt your menu accordingly. Burgers and hot dogs scream summer. Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches? Yum! Plug in a slow cooker to warm soups, and fire up the grill for grilled cheese sandwiches. We're not talking the usual plastic-wrapped cheese between white bread. Elevate the offerings by using Texas toast, focaccia, or other artisan bread and unexpected add-ins such as blackberry jam, red pepper jelly, or roasted tomatoes. The key to ooey-gooey goodness is to cook sandwiches low and slow, either directly on the grate or in a cast iron skillet. If the bread is browning too fast, move the sandwich to the top rack of the grill.

Drinks should shift with the season, too. Thermoses or slow cookers filled with hot chocolate, hot cider, or coffee will warm you or guests from the inside out.

4. Cozy It Up

Fall is the season of layers—not just for your wardrobe, but for your outdoor space, too. Break out the blankets to drape across chairs and sofas, or at least have them in arm's reach stored in a big basket. Accent pillows won't keep you warm, but they still have that snuggle-in quality. If you've been toying with the idea of rolling out an area rug in your outdoor space, fall is the ideal time. It's instant coziness and an extra layer of warmth on concrete, stone, or a wooden deck. For small decorative accents, it doesn't get much easier than sprinkling a few gourds around a space.

5. Transition Potted Containers

Summer's geraniums that are on their last leg can ruin the vibe of a fall-friendly outdoor space. Instead of holding on to summer, embrace fall. Mums are a natural, but also consider more intriguing arrangements. Ornamental grasses (ones with feathery plumes are especially fun) can be planted in containers to add height, privacy, and intimacy. A large pot filled with ornamental kale and black-eyed Susans (above, top right) will thrive well into fall. Twigs or leafy branches can be used as freebie bouquets or in pots to provide more natural texture. If you've tired of watering and maintaining potted plants, a basket of mini pumpkins placed on a large container or drum-style accent table is a no-maintenance sub to add fall flair.

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