For a holiday synonymous with candy and costumes, Halloween can end up being serious business. Just passing out treats at the door isn’t enough for some people. They feel a compelling—some might say “morbid”—urge to refashion their front yards into a Halloween tableau.
If you’re the type that likes decorating with cobwebs and papier mâché headstones, it’s important to avoid getting so carried away that you leave your trick-or-treaters with no way of crossing your yard. The Garden Club has built paths in the past (see, for example, our post on how to make a dry-laid stone walk), but putting together a path for Halloween calls for a more nimble mix of elements.
Maintaining the safety of your costumed visitors may seem vaguely at odds with the goal of creating a spooky or menacing atmosphere, but a lawsuit can be even scarier than goblins and skeletons in your yard. In the interest of keeping Halloween fun for everyone, keep in mind the following steps when designing the path through your yard.
Step 1: Define a clear path.
Ideally, this should be the first step in preparing your yard for Halloween, with all other elements in your design revolving around a well-defined path. Since most of your visitors on Halloween will already have their field of vision narrowed by masks, it’s important to give them a clear and obvious path from the sidewalk to your door. Block off your path and make sure that nothing obstructs it, particularly at ground level where trick-or-treaters might stumble over decorations, fallen branches or landscape features.
Step 2: Guide your guests.
Even with a clearly defined path, it’s a good idea to give trick-or-treaters some help in getting from the street to your door. Appropriately moody signs or prop skeleton hands arranged to point out the direction to your door can help move visitors through your landscape.
Particularly for masked visitors or the especially young, it can be helpful to have a literal guideline to hold. That can be done by placing driveway reflectors at regular intervals along your path, then stringing them together with twine or a lightweight rope. Don’t place them too low, though, or they may become tripping hazards.
Step 3: Light the way.
Darkness, being one of our more elemental fears, would seem like a natural fit for Halloween, but path lighting doesn’t have to dispel all of the menace from a scene. Particularly with steps and path corners, it’s important to let trick-or-treaters know where it’s safe to step.
If you already have electric lamps lighting your path, don’t hide them or leave them unlit. Instead, look for ways to incorporate them into the phantasmagorical logic of your décor. One method is a twist on Halloween tradition: carve holes in the bottom of several jack-o-lanterns and fit them over your path lights, with the faces pointing toward the path.
If you don’t already have lighting, you can use contained tea light candles to light the way. Battery-operated LED lights are a safer alternative to real candles with open flames. In any case, avoid fire hazards by keeping potentially flammable materials from direct contact with high temperature light sources. Hedges can be illuminated with strings of holiday lights in pumpkin orange or blood red. Or maybe now’s simply the time to buckle down and install that path lighting you’ve been meaning to get.
Step 4: Know how to close.
Doused house lights are the customary signal that a stop on the block is no longer receiving trick-or-treaters, but that may not be sufficiently clear with a heavily decorated house. Particularly if your yard is going to be littered with potential tripping hazards, you’ll want to have a completely unambiguous plan for letting guests know when you’re done for the night.
In that regard, it’s hard to beat a clear, literal sign, well-lit and placed at the entrance to your path. Even with that, you may want to keep at least a few path lights on, so as not to trip up any little monsters that might have temporarily lost their brains.
Whatever your plan, make sure it’s ready even before the trick-or-treating starts. That’s one less task you’ll have to juggle when you’re ready to have the rest of the evening to yourself.
Other tips for a safe Halloween:
- Let your pets sit this one out. You never know when a trick-or-treater might have an allergy. Halloween can be chaotic, so even normally docile pets might get spooked by all of the activity. Keep outdoor pets in the backyard, and make sure indoor pets stay in rooms removed from the door you’ll be using that night.
- Avoid unsafe shocks. Surprises are all part of the night, but don’t overdo it. You could easily send more nervous children tumbling into landscape features or decorations. Make sure you save the biggest scares for older groups.
- Stick to props. Don’t decorate your yard with real household items, such as shovels or knives, which could potentially lend themselves to injury.