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Beautiful Backyard Ideas for Making the Most of Your Space

Here are some backyard design and use ideas for homeowners and investors alike.


[Updated: Feb 04, 2021 ] Apr 08, 2020 by Marc Rapport
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There's no time like the present to make the most out of our outdoor space. Even if money's tight, there's a lot you can do out back or out front to make your yard a pleasant place to hang out or attractive to potential buyers.

Whether you're interested in selling or staying, we're here to help at Millionacres. Here are some backyard ideas to help you make the most of your outdoor space, including some life-affirming ideas about planting for the future in ways that can save on energy costs and even help combat climate change.

How to make the most of any size backyard

Don't let the size of your property discourage you from taking on a backyard makeover that will make your place more pleasant for you or more attractive to the next owner, if your plans are to sell.

And for potential sellers, the design ideas you execute on and around that lawn in back can carry over to the front and add to that all-important curb appeal.

Small backyard design ideas are ideal for DIY types with the tools to make the most out of that limited space. Here's a piece on BobVila.com that highlights a dozen ideas such as gardening in containers, using natural elements for privacy, and how to minimize the space needed for patio furniture. (Think backyard bistro table instead of seating for six, for instance.)

Meanwhile, larger yards can accommodate more ambitious, albeit pricier, projects like a swimming pool (which in many jurisdictions requires a fence) or extensive landscape additions like fruit trees or large pergolas, and maybe a patio with paver walkways, terraced hardscaping, and shrubbery. Now, let's look a little deeper at some specific moves you can make on your own that can inexpensively help you create an all-seasons living space with some creative backyard landscaping and natural and man-made accessorizing.

Outdoor living areas that spruce up your backyard on a budget

There's no shortage of design ideas for getting the most bang for your buck out of backyard landscaping. Depending on your ambition and aptitude, much of it can be DIY. A great place to start is by thinking of outdoor space you can turn into living areas.

That could be a seating area graced by a pergola to provide a little shade or a water feature involving fountains and small pools and ponds. Used items like an old watering can be creatively employed there.

Recycled materials, in fact, are a great place to turn. Take, for instance, shipping pallets. HGTV offers up a number of clever applications there in a piece titled "8 DIY Shipping Pallet Projects for Your Outdoor Space." Design ideas shared there include seating, shelves, bars, and even a raised garden and a cool little lemonade stand.

You can also consider an outdoor kitchen as a central element in your landscape design, one that adds a ton of functionality -- and maybe a ton of expense. HomeAdvisor (NASDAQ: ANGI) says the national average for one is $12,851, with a low of about $1,000 and a high-end version at $47,000. Check out their outdoor kitchen cost calculator.

But certainly, that kind of financial and space commitment isn't required to execute on a landscape design that adds a lot of pleasure and appeal, regardless of your lawn size. Decent patio furniture for seating, a paver or natural stone patio with planters, a location that provides some shade, maybe an easy DIY privacy wall, inexpensive string lights, and perhaps another solar feature or two, and you're good to go.

Investors can also get creative with their outdoor space without busting the business plan. A Millionacres piece about boosting curb appeal contains several creative suggestions, including planting in borders, mulching around trees, jazzing up stumps with flowers, gravel walkways, and even a fire pit.

Foods you can grow in your backyard to save money

Victory Gardens are back. Reviving memories of rationing and hard times in World War II, the National Garden Bureau is offering how-to vegetable garden advice under the banner of Victory Garden 2.0.

Victory Gardens grew from rallying cry to reality as the Depression gave way to global conflict. History.com says that in 1944, the equivalent of more than 40% of all fruit and vegetables consumed in the United States came from an estimated 20 million such gardens planted across the war-gripped nation.

Growing food in the backyard today sounds like a good idea, too. Besides providing some healthy herbs, vegetables (lettuce is particularly easy to grow), and fruits (tomatoes, after all, are scientifically a fruit), vegetable gardening can save you some money by limiting trips to the grocery store or farmers' market.

How much you save depends, of course, on what you grow and how much of it. An average-size plot could easily yield a few hundred dollars' worth in a season. An herb garden, meanwhile, is a natural candidate for a small, raised garden and can accommodate several species. Consider planters, too, as an addition to your small backyard design ideas.

This article from Savvy Gardening lays out nicely how to prepare a raised garden for herbs or just about any other vegetable. Local gardeners are an ideal source for info, too, since they'll likely know what grows best in your area.

The ultimate go-to for solid home garden info may well be government-funded: your county extension service. They're usually affiliated with each state's land grant or agriculture-focused university, and they sponsor the nationwide Master Gardener program, so they're both research- and experience-based. (The Old Farmer's Almanac provides this link to search for your county extension service and is itself a fun virtual rabbit hole to browse down into on a lazy day on the patio or porch.)

How to maximize the plants in your backyard to save on utility bills

Conservation, of both money and natural resources, is a bottom-line consideration whether you're maintaining or slightly modifying your backyard or engaging in a full-scale backyard makeover.

Let's begin with water usage. Plants in containers are going to require more than those in the ground, and some kinds of lawn turf require more water than others. Check with your local experts on what drought-tolerant plants work best in your area, if that's an issue for you. This applies to both vegetables and ornamentals.

Then there's that other kind of energy efficiency that comes from trees. Trees provide some essential outdoor air conditioning, consuming carbon dioxide in exchange for emitting oxygen. They also provide shade, which can have a significant effect on your energy consumption if it's your house that's being shaded.

Deciduous trees are especially good at that kind of work, since in the winter, they let the sun shine through to provide some free home heating. Of course, trees take a long time to mature, but there are also some fast-growing varieties of both evergreen and deciduous trees that can be used in a landscape design, including some that make a dandy DIY privacy fence.

The venerable Arbor Day Foundation is a great source for more information about tree planting for energy efficiency and to combat climate change. They also provide this very cool Tree Wizard for choosing the one best for your specific use.

Thinking backyard design is a year-round project

Regardless of the season, you can plan and execute on ideas around growing your own vegetables, planting your own fruit trees, and rethinking and tinkering with your overall landscape design anytime.

So, take the time to enjoy your patio or other seating area and think about how great it already is. The mental and physical work you do now will pay off with greater enjoyment of your property for you or the owner who comes after.

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Marc Rapport has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.