Having lived in a major city (New York) for many years, I understand the meaning of small spaces. I also know just how precious that backyard space can be, even when it's small. While the average home in the US has a backyard of about 10,000 square feet, even that "average" sized backyard would leave many drooling—particularly if you live in a major city or pretty much anywhere in California.
There's good news for those with small backyards, however. It only takes one or two DIY or budget-friendly touches to really transform that small outdoor space into a place you'll want to spend all of your time. Remember that these are just ideas, and we encourage you to bring your own personality outdoors to make it your own signature space. Without further ado, here are X budget-friendly ideas to help you with your next small backyard before-and-after transformation.
When decorating a backyard, it also helps to have methods handy for maintenance like weed removal—you may be interested in our guide on how to remove weeds between pavers and other small crevices.
Because your space on the ground is so limited, you'll want to try not to clutter it up with too many pots or outdoor items. Instead, think about innovative ways to place plants, planters, mini vegetable gardens, and other outdoor things—so that you won't take up that valuable ground space.
Here are a few options to give you some ideas.
DIY verticle succulents box planter
Even if you don't have room on the ground for lots of plants and flowers, you can hang a couple of these box planters filled with succulents for an easy-to-manage bit of green in your background. You make a DIY version using a shallow, wooden box or pick up a relatively inexpensive box planter to house your succulents. Just make sure to pack them tightly and spritz then water occasionally. They don't need much.
We love DIY projects that can add a bit of personality to your overall backyard look. And better than that, these fence planters will make a great activity to do with kids. All you need to make these fence planters are small, plastic bottles with the bottoms cut out. Then, you can line them with some wrapping paper or colorful plastic wrap. Lastly, you'll fill them with soil and plant your favorites to line your fence!
Family vacation DIY miles-to sign
Another great DIY project to do as a family is to keep track of your vacations and travels with these wooden signs that point toward your vacation spots. This project will take up a minimal amount of space in your yard. They can be mounted on a large wooden stake or simply hung on a wall or fence. Have fun making the signs with outdoor paint and some wooden arrows. The arrows can be purchased online or made from scratch.
DIY pallet projects are all the rage! And for good reason. Pallets are premade wooden structures from which you can hang objects and other things. They're also easy to paint and stain. We recommend that you weatherproof the wood if you're keeping the pallet outside for a pallet planter. Some people hang plants from them, while others plant directly inside of the pallets.
Where to find a pallet?
Most stores that stock heavy items will have extra FREE pallets lying around. Try bars, furniture stores, pet stores, liquor stores, and grocery stores. Just ask if they have any extra pallets they'd be willing to give you for free.
Cinder block corner planters
We love the industrial feel of the cinder block planters and how easy they are to get set up. All you need are a few cinderblocks (which you may even have already), and you have a great planter that can fit even in the tiniest of spaces in your backyard or patio. Simply stack them to your liking, fill them with soil, and plant in them. Get creative by spray painting stencils on the side to add some color.
"Good fences make good neighbors," Robert Frost said in a poem, and he was right that a good fence gives you a sense of comfort and security for your home. However, the problem with fences in a small backyard is that they can make it feel even smaller. In a tiny yard, they can make you feel boxed in, which is never good. Here are some ideas to make those fences do double-work to open up that boxy space a bit.
Unless you desire total privacy, then consider keeping your fence see-through, at least partly. There are various ways to do this with widely-spaced pickets, for example or a combination of metal fencing with wood posts. It really will help to give you a sense of space when your sitting in your back yard and can see a distance greater than a few feet.
Hanging fence plants / fence planters
Add a few splashes of color to your fence by using hanging flowers and plants. You might choose to space them evenly across your entire backyard or just one wall. Haning plants run anywhere from $20-40, so consider how many you can afford before planning the design for these.
If you're feeling artistic, we challenge you to make your own unique stencil to give your backyard a personal and meaningful quality. Spray painting a stencil on your fence will add a nice sense of color and depth to it—and it is a really inexpensive design. If you're not feeling artistic enough to create your own stencil, then there are a variety of great stencils online.
Hit your local antique or vintage store to find some great items for your vintage fence. Of course, you could put anything of meaning to you and your family along the fence. Just make sure it will withstand the weather. You can dedicate a section of your perimeter fence to something like this or place a small piece of fencing to section off your yard.
Vintage door fence
We're wondering where you even find this many vintage doors?! Okay. So maybe you won't be making this vintage door fence, but we had to include it for all the ideas that it might spur in you. We're wondering what other unique things can be used to create a perimeter in your small backyard!
Cozy and romantic! That's how we like a backyard. And the best way to create romance in a backyard is with proper lighting for the evening. Think about it...if you're only using your backyard in the daytime because you don't have good lighting, then you're only getting half the use out of your backyard. So get a good string of lights and set the mood for your next romantic evening or nighttime shindig!
Hang globe lights strategically
Globe lights make us think of romantic patios at a fancy restaurant. Why not create that cozy, romantic space right in your backyard! Use globe lights to highlight the best features of your backyard, even if it's tiny. For example, if you have a nice brick wall, then hang globe lights to light that up. Or if you have a beautiful tree, use globe lights to draw attention to it at night.
Lighting is even more important on your porch. Think of the many beautiful evening you can spend on your small porch and deck. Just make sure it's properly lit for the occasion. We recommend using some old-school lanterns to create an old-world feel outdoors.
If you took our advice earlier and added some bamboo to your backyard, then complete the style using paper lanterns for your backyard lighting. Just make sure that if you're hanging these where they can be rained on, you use good weatherproof lanterns—not the cheap decorative kind. Either way, these might be best under an awning or porch.
Instead of taking down those white Christmas lights at the end of the holiday season, why not find an innovative way to use them for some backyard lighting? On idea is to fill glass mason jars with small sets of white lights and hang them with some twine from your porch, patio, or fence. But it's all about finding ways to innovate sometimes with a small space.
Even in a tiny yard, a tiki torch can set the festive mood! You can even fill them with mosquito-repellent oil to keep away the pests. Just be careful with the spacing of these and make sure that kids can't get burnt by them. But the tiki torch is a must-have for small backyard parties and cookouts.
In a small space, you absolutely want to consider the different kinds of textures you're using when decorating. You'll want to mix wood with stone, metal, cloth, rattan, etc., to create depth and texture in your backyard. Also, consider that materials like wood and cloth are more inviting than metal and stone, particularly in a small space.
DIY stone firepit
A firepit serves as a place of gathering for friends and family. Who doesn't love a good fire and toasting marshmallows? Even in a small yard, a firepit can help centralize the space and make a gathering area. You'll just have to get creative with how you store your firewood. Instead of spending lots of money on a firepit, take a look at our DIY firepit that you can make for only $75!
Wooden table on a stone patio
If you have a stone patio or landscape in your backyard, then wood is the best material to use for your table. We'd stay away from metal, as that can make your backyard feel too cold. If you live in a city and have a concrete backyard, then a colorful metal table and chair can be okay; just make sure it's colorful!
Metal table and chairs
These look great set out right in the middle of the yard or on some brick or stone. If your backyard is REALLY small, then these may be your best option. For those living in cities, you can also put a set of metal tables and chairs on the roof of a building to create a romantic, hip space to have brunch on Sundays!
Use waterproof cushions and other soft materials
We can't stress enough how inviting soft materials are in your backyard. They will work to create comfort and remain relatively cool, even in high heat. Make sure your soft cushions are waterproof, or they won't last even one rainfall. And we recommend getting some that are light in color, so they won't get too hot in the sun.
Why is bamboo a stand-alone small backyard hack? Because bamboo is one of the easiest (and least expensive) plants to take care of and rugged enough to survive even in urban backyards. It's a great addition to a backyard that is mostly concrete or stone, as bamboo needs only a little soil to grow quite large. It immediately adds a beautiful, lush feel to your garden-scape and serves to freshen the air, as well.
Bamboo backyard perimeter
Even with a decent fence around your yard, adding some green to your backyard's surroundings will create the feel of a lush, tropical oasis. Bamboo creates a sense of tranquility. It also works to purify the air in your backyard by filtering some of the air coming in. And maybe you'd prefer a view of bamboo plants, as opposed to whatever houses surround your yard.
Bamboo fencing holds up surprisingly well, and in some cases, is even stronger than a traditional fence. It's also a much more natural way to separate a space like your backyard. If you're going for a more exotic look to your backyard, then a few rolls of bamboo fencing will go a long way. It can even be used to separate parts of your backyard, as opposed to the perimeter.
Vines are some of the easiest plants to grow in your backyard, and they look beautiful—particularly if they flower. The most expensive part of growing vines or hanging flowers is the trellis, which can cost more than $100. But you can create your own DIY bamboo trellis with just some long bamboo stalks and strong twine. Map out how you want your trellis to look, and tie together the joints of the trellis with the twine tightly.
Hiring a professional landscaper to create a retaining wall or garden edge will definitely be pricey. If you're looking for a great way to highlight your landscaping patterns, then bamboo adds a nice natural look. It's also very weather resistant and strong. Best of all, you don't have to hire anyone to hammer the stakes into the ground. It's quite easy. There are various premade bamboo garden edgings available if you don't want to make your own.
If there's one thing we recommend investing in, it's good seating for your backyard space—no matter how small it is. What's the point of fixing up your backyard if you're not going to have properly comfortable places to just plop down and relax. We'll give you a few options to match how you prefer to relax in your backyard! So take a seat and enjoy!
Adirondack chairs might be the most comfortable and durable loungers you can have in an outdoor space like your backyard. They're a classic for a good reason. The problem is that they are super expensive! But, if you're okay with a resin or plastic Adirondack chair, then you can find a good one for a little more than $100. When you put two of these smack in the middle of a small backyard, you'll find yourself sitting back there a lot more often.
You might think that benches are only for parks and boulevards, but a bench is a really useful piece of seating to have in a small backyard. For one, you can put a bench along a fence or wall, keeping space in the center of your yard. A good bench also allows you to entertain couples without needing to take up space with extra chairs. However, they can be quite pricey, but you can find a good metal bench for under $100 online.
Rattan furniture is naturally weather-resistant, inexpensive, and creates a light, natural look to your backyard or patio. Rattan furniture and chairs can be moved around easily when entertaining, and the natural lightness of the furniture helps to create a feeling of openness in your small backyard.
If you plan on entertaining or grilling with friends, then you'll want to make sure you have ample places to sit and eat. A good classic picnic table is all you need most of the time for your outdoor get-togethers. You can use tablecloths and paint to make the picnic table match your decor if you choose. You can find classic picnic tables at most hardware stores, or you can try to make one yourself!
Think of your outdoor seating as a golden opportunity to make a statement. If you invest in just one thing to tie everything together in your backyard, why not make it a great piece of furniture and art. There are lots of great options at patio furniture stores, but you might even look online to find really unique pieces. Again, we recommend you go with something weather-resistant and light.
Adding even a few splashes of bright color to your backyard can help create a sense of depth and space amidst all of the other neutral colors in your backyard. There are hundreds of ways to add splashes of color to your outdoor color scheme. Just keep in mind the colors that are already in your backyard and try to find colors that contrast with them.
Backyard brick or stone mosaic
Laying down a proper brick or stone structure in the ground is definitely a project—but it's worth it. The most expensive thing should be the cost of the stone itself. We recommend thoughtfully thinking about the design for your colorful stone mosaic or structure ahead of time to ensure you don't overspend on brick or stone.
Use brightly colored flowers in your garden
This may sound obvious, but I can't tell you how many backyards I've seen that are just green on green on green. That can be okay, but consider thoughtfully curating your flower and plant selection based on color. Go for some bright blues, yellows, and reds to add some nice contrast throughout your backyard, and consider flowering vines that blossom all year long.
DIY backyard graffiti project
Are you an artist? Are you an aspiring artist? Do you know someone who is? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you have a great reason for creating an awesome backyard graffiti mural. This works well if you have a concrete wall or brick wall in your back yard that's just asking for some sweet graphics of tags. Most graffiti artists use stencils nowadays, so consider designing a good stencil for your own artwork.
Colorful chair cushions
If the only bits of color you have are on the cushions of your chair, then that's just fine. Most outdoor furniture comes in either a natural color or white, so consider the color of the cushions for your chairs. We recommend going for something solid, bright, or floral instead of a written design. And use that color to build around when planning the other pieces in your small backyard.
Kids these days...all they want to do is stay in the house and play video games! But if you turn your backyard into an outdoor kid paradise, then you'll certainly be doing your part to encourage them to get outside and get some all-natural Vitamin D. Won't this make your backyard really just a kid's backyard? Yup. But let's face it...that's what life is for parents!
Child's veggie garden
If you have kids, then a wonderful project is creating a vegetable garden with them. You can teach them that sustained effort at a project like growing vegetables will have a reward. And kids will absolutely love eating and giving away their amazing tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and more. Just make sure to make it a fun activity and teach the kids to water their plants regularly! Even in a small backyard, you probably have some space to make a small veggie garden.
You might be thinking...a backyard playset...in a small backyard?! Absolutely. If the idea is to have a backyard that your children will want to play in, then feel free to take up almost all of the space with a dynamic playset for them. It will give them their own "room" in your backyard and encourage them to put the iPad down for a while.
It's a classic. If you don't want to invest in a full-on playset and have a tree in your yard, then a good tree swing will be just fine. (It's also great for photos of your child!)
To make a simple DIY tree swing, screw two heavy-duty eye hooks into a strong upper branch of your tree. Then, bore 4 holes in a strong, thick wooden board. Loop the string through the eye hooks and then through the bored holes. Tie thick knots to secure the rope so that it won't pull through the holes. Space it evenly and at the right height.
Kids love playing in the sand! And in a small backyard, you still have plenty of space to make a nice sandbox or sandpit for the kids. One bonus is that sand is very inexpensive to buy, and you don't need a lot.
To make your own sandpit, dig about a 4x4 hole a few feet deep. Line the hole with some gravel and a piece of tarp. Fill it with sand. You might get creative by finding a way to hold the tarp down over the hole, maybe with some logs or pieces of wood, as pictured above.
Avoid the trampoline
Yes. They're undoubtedly fun. But in a small backyard, they will likely take up the entire yard. And I can't tell you how many families claim to have used the trampoline once and then never used it again. They're also dangerous, with kids getting injured from trampoline-related accidents each year. So...hold off on the trampoline.
We tend to collect...things. Sometimes we don't even notice these things until they're preventing our drawers from closing or spilling out onto our floors. The same is true for our backyards. If you have a small backyard, then it's extra important to keep it tidy and neat. That alone will add space to an already cramped situation. Here are some of our best ideas for storing those useful (and not so useful) things in your backyard!
Convert your shed or garage into a gazebo
Maybe you moved into a house with a shed in your already cramped backyard. Unless you really feel like you need to use that shed for storage, then why not turn it into a small gazebo where you can get some shade and relax. It creates a second little room in your house in your backyard! And it makes a small backyard a more inviting place to traverse.
Under deck storage
Make use of that space underneath your deck! We've seen whole tiny homes built underneath decks. We've seen large, pull-out drawers constructed underneath a deck. So there's no limit to what you can do both beautify and make use of all that space.
Bicycle storage shed
Did you know that many trash and recycling storage containers are actually the perfect size for a couple of bikes? And if that's all you really need outdoor storage for, then why invest in a full-size shed? These kinds of storage containers also tend to be relatively inexpensive and withstand the weather very well. You could even go all-out and get a really nice storage shed designed specifically for bicycles.
You'll have to think about every bit of unused space in tiny yards to store things like a hose and garden tools. We already mentioned how a bench is a great addition to a small backyard for entertaining guests, so why not use the space under the bench for storage. There are a variety of great-looking storage benches you can find online, or you can choose to build your own if you're handy!
Just like with the storage bench, the storage planter makes sense when you have limited space. From planters that hide your hose to planters that can easily store your entire garden tool kit, it's innovative things like these that can help give you the extra space you need and keep your small backyard tidy.
There's no rule that says a yard must have grass, as nice as it can be. There are beautiful backyards that combine stone with brick or brick with wood chips, for example. A small backyard actually benefits from rethinking the plain grass landscape. Creating a multi-textured landscape will add depth and a modern look to your backyard, so ditch the grass if you can stand to.
Combine different types of landscaping to create multiple spaces
Turning one larger small backyard into a series of smaller backyards will make it feel bigger by creating different feelings in different parts of the yard. The grass part, for example, could be for play, while the stone part would be for lounging and eating. Think about how you plan to use your backyard and landscape accordingly.
Paver stone walkways
Getting these paver stones professionally installed will be expensive, so that makes this suggestion the most expensive thing on our list. You can build this yourself, however, if you can spare the time and effort to do so. It will likely save you more than a thousand dollars. But they're worth the effort. LIke varying textures, a walkway added depth to your yard, the way a road creates a sense of depth to a landscape.
Consider xeriscaping for a maintenance-free lawn
If you live in California, you know about xeriscaping a lawn because of the ban against watering lawns. But you don't have to live in California or a drought-prone climate to xeriscape a lawn and lose the grass entirely. Combine stone gravel with sand and succulents to create a maintenance-free desert-style paradise in your backyard.
Woodchips and mulch
You might think that building garden beds and tree beds with mulch and wood chips would take away space from your backyard, but, like the walkways mentioned before, these kinds of lines create depth to the yard. They're also just plain great for the plants and trees themselves, as the mulch helps trap moisture into the soil, preventing it from evaporating.
Use geometric shapes
Think squares and circles here. Using geometric shapes turns your backyard into an immediately more modern space to enjoy. Those shapes also tend to be calming and will help you relax while outside. Even in a small yard, they can signal how the space is meant to be enjoyed, with a circular fire pit in the center and a square patio to the side, for example.