17 Ideas Guaranteed to Help Transform Your Backyard Into Your New Favorite Spot, No Matter What Your Budget Is
You don't need a ton of extra money to breathe new life into your backyard. If you're looking for ideas to refresh your outdoor living space, we have inspired ideas for budgets both big and small.
When the vast majority of your social life happens at home—as is the case in the world of COVID-19—it's essential to create an outdoor space you love. The right combination of hardscaping, furniture, landscaping, and detailing will make your outdoor space (whatever its size) that much more appealing. Luckily, whether you're working with a tight budget or have a healthy budget for your updates, we're sharing backyard ideas guaranteed to refresh your backyard.
Simple options—adding cozy lighting, perking up your furniture with a fresh coat of paint, adding temporary container gardens—are low-cost ways to make a big impact. Bigger investments, like professional hardscaping, custom firepits, or hardwired lighting, will increase both the style and the comfort of your already-beloved area. And high-end changes, such as building outdoor kitchens, elaborate water features, and extensive landscape designs, have the power to completely overhaul the way you look at your backyard.
Ahead, experts Shawn Fitzgerald of Davey Tree, Scott Myatt of Myatt Landscaping in North Carolina, and Jeffrey Rossen of Rossen Landscape in Virginia share their best backyard ideas on any budget. Some of these concepts include improving what you already love about the outdoor space, while others are more involved. Either way, they'll work no matter where you live—whether you're working with an intimate plot behind a city townhouse, a concrete terrace at a suburban condo, a sprawling backyard in a rural neighborhood, or a recreation-friendly lawn perfect for outdoor games, their advice will help you transform your backyard into one you've always dreamed of.
Give Your Landscape a Seasonal Makeover
The easiest and most affordable upgrades, says Myatt, are the ones that perk up the landscape you already have: pruning dead wood from trees and bushes and laying fresh mulch on garden beds. "It's simple, you can do it yourself, and it always makes a big impact on how the property looks," he says. Be sure to tend to your yard seasonally—removing debris, leaves, and weeds in the spring, summer, and fall.
Get Out Your Power Washer
After cleaning out your gardens, turn your attention to your patio, deck, walkways, fences, outdoor furniture, and siding. A power washer makes easy work of the job—just be sure to be gentle if you're cleaning a paver patio or walkway, be gentle with the power washer, otherwise you might dislodge the sand or stone dust that's holding your pattern in place. "Power washing makes a huge difference," says Myatt. "That's just taking what you have and making it better."
Tend to Your Grass
Your lawn's patchy grass, muddy ruts, and bumpy, root-filled areas aren't doing your outdoor space any favors. If you're trying to renovate a small area of the lawn, consider laying sod for immediate impact; if that's cost-prohibitive due to the size of your lawn that needs help, seed and fertilize it instead, says Myatt.
Plant a Garden
Zoning off one part of your yard for a small garden—or a large one, depending on your level of enthusiasm—allows you to grow your favorite annual flowers, shrubs, and perennials. Rossen recommends choosing local plants—not invasive species—for a sustainable, long-lasting array.
Prepare for a Future Harvest
For an old-fashioned twist on a modern landscape, incorporate edible plants, suggests Fitzgerald: raspberry, blackberry, or blueberry bushes, or apple or pear trees are among his favorites. Check the growing requirements for your zone and the size of your yard before committing—most trees require a male and female pair to produce fruit.
Make Friends with Your Neighborhood Insects
Protect your local bee populations and bring butterflies, hummingbirds, and other beautiful fauna to your yard by planting a pollinator garden of native plants that creates a haven for beneficial insects. If you have more budget and space to work with, a bee hive on your property will provide a natural boost.
Add Potted Plants and Container Gardens
If your property doesn't offer space for an in-ground garden, fill decorative containers with your favorite plants and arrange them on terrace, deck, or patio. Choose pots in the size and style that work for your space, then add striking center plants surrounded by bright fillers and draping ivy—a combination sometimes called thrill, fill, and spill. If your thumb isn't even green enough for repotting ivy, look for pre-made containers at your local garden store.
Make Your Space More Private
If your nosy neighbors prevented you from spending as much time outside as you wanted to last summer, block their view with evergreen shrubs for added privacy. Popular options include white pine, hemlock, spruce, and arborvitae, says Fitzgerald. But if you're trying to save some money, don't skimp on the size: "Buy the biggest one available," he says, instead of waiting years for it to grow tall enough to screen your yard.
Add Shade for Midsummer Days
Trees can also provide welcome shade to make your space more comfortable on sunny days, but sail shades, pergolas, awnings, and temporary gazebos offer a faster solution for cooling your yard's hot spots. "If you're looking for a shade tree, get something that grows fast," recommends Fitzgerald; one of his favorite ornamental shade trees is heptacodium, also known as seven son flower, which blooms in the autumn.
Install a Water Feature
Whether you credit science or psychology, the sound of running water from an on-site water features seems to make you feel cooler in the summer—even if you can't get to your local river or lake, says Rossen. More complex water features often require a professional installer, but solar-powered fountains, DIY stacked pot water features, and even small ponds can provide a similarly cool vibe.
Bring the Indoors Out
If you're willing to allocate some money towards a backyard project, consider adding some of the comforts off your living spaces to the outdoors: Mounting a television so you can watch baseball games and movies on warm summer nights, installing an outdoor kitchen with a sink and under-counter beverage center, or adding a grilling station are upgrades you'll never grow tired of.
Expand Usable Space
Adding any kind of patio—whether it's made from blocks, stones, or concrete—or a deck to your backyard is an improvement that can be done on nearly any budget. Call in a professional and select luxe materials if you have budget to spare, or go the DIY route and lay down affordable pavers if you're looking to save. Either way, the result is more space for you and your family to stretch out. "You've opened up a whole other room, albeit outside, but it's a whole other space you can enjoy your time in," says Myatt.
Extend Your Home
Enclosing your porch isn't a budget-friendly job—it almost always requires a professional—but it can turn a little-used area of your property into a versatile living space. Many of Rossen's clients opt to add screened-in porches under their existing decks, doubling their outdoor living space.
Install a Firepit
Firepits come in a variety of different sizes shapes and are available at price points that make them accessible to just about anyone. You can even build one yourself. Rossen suggests using small boulders and pea gravel to create a low-cost spot for s'mores, or having a mason build a permanent install that for cool-weather get-togethers. If you're short on space, opt for an inexpensive, portable fire pit that you can tuck away when you need room for extra seating or your grill.
Upgrade Your Furniture
Old, peeling paint; dingy, dirty cushions; and uncomfortable, splintering benches: These are the types of things that prevent you from truly enjoying your outdoor space. Whether you revamp a favorite piece, get out your power tools to make something new, or invest in durable, modular sofas and sleek dining sets, enhancing your outdoor furniture pays off.
Make sure you can enjoy your backyard well into the evening hours by adding cozy lighting. If you're looking for a low-cost solution, weave string lights—we like Pottery Barn's Edison String Lights ($79, potterybarn.com)—around your porch roof or pergola or buy battery-powered lanterns; if you prefer something hardwired, hire an electrician to install fixtures on the side of your house, add pathway lighting, or create a permanent landscape light display on nearby bushes.
Make It More Fun
Outdoor playtime isn't just for the kids: Increase the time you spend in your yard by adding recreational areas, suggests Rossen. Think horseshoe pits, bocce courts, cornhole boards, or giant versions of classic games tabletop games (plus, slides or swings for the little ones).