20 Easy Backyard Updates You Can Do in a Day
Want to jazz up your outdoor space, but don't have a lot of time or money for an elaborate landscape design? Set aside a Saturday or two to take on a few small projects that can make a big impact.
There’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars and commit to several weekends of backbreaking work to improve the look of a drab backyard. From adding potted plants to building a bench, there are many simple projects you can complete in an afternoon—and on a tight budget—that will help give your yard a facelift. Need some inspiration? Our experts have some high-impact ideas for you.
1. Build a Trellis
Bringing lush greenery to a space-starved backyard is as easy as building and staining a DIY trellis and then planting some climbing vines. This bit of garden ingenuity allows plants to grow up instead of out, allowing you to conserve valuable outdoor space but still enjoy a verdant retreat.
2. Mulch or Compost Your Garden Beds
It’s not fancy, but adding mulch or compost to landscaped beds can freshen up your backyard. “Adding a compost improves your yard’s aesthetics because it has a very dark black, brown undertone,” says David Angelov, CEO and founder of PlantParenthood, a landscaping company based in Newton, Massachusetts. “It’s also great for your plants because it acts as a mulch and decomposes into nutrients.” If you go with mulch instead of compost, Angelov suggests using a bark mulch that will add nutrients to plantings while also beautifying your backyard.
3. Pour a Patio
Why confine your family to a tiny patio space? With a few tools and a bag of concrete mix, you can make a bigger, DIY backyard patio by adding a new concrete slab. To create a safe, skid-resistant finish, gently brush a broom over the freshly poured concrete once it has lost its sheen.
4. Display More Potted Plants
Adding a few potted patio plants is a simple yet effective update that’s budget-friendly, doesn’t require much work, and is easy to maintain. “You can really make your backyard more inviting by just adding a pot or two next to a column or the door, or right in between two chairs,” Angelov says. He suggests bypassing the big-box stores and instead visiting a local nursery that offers plants and shrubs native to your area, and therefore equipped to handle the weather.
5. Add Color to a Concrete Patio
This easy DIY transforms a bland patio into a fun and modern outdoor hangout. To get this look, spray paint a few concrete patio tiles in the colors of your choice, and place them at random, or in a predetermined pattern. The best part is that it’s easy to pull the tiles up next season and update your color scheme.
6. Piece Together a Prefab Shed
Storage shortage is a common conundrum inside and outside the home, but here’s a way to make extra space in a hurry: A small garden shed is perfect for sheltering your lawn mower, garden equipment, and off-season items. With so many prefab sheds on the market and available for pickup at your local home center, this DIY addition is as easy as an afternoon’s worth of assembly.
7. Assemble a Plant Pot Fountain
The tranquil sound of running water can help turn a backyard from a play zone to a space to zone out. To turn your outdoor space into a Zen sanctuary, consider installing a DIY garden fountain. This three-tiered version is made from repurposed planter pots. All you need to complete this fountain project is a small pump, 1/2-inch hose, a drill, rocks, and a little bit of time.
8. Add Lighting
A simple way to make your backyard more inviting and functional at night is by adding lighting, says Kody Ketterling, landscaping expert and founder of irrigation company K-IT Products. “You can get inexpensive solar lights in different styles and types and colors,” he says. “By adding them to your beds, decks, patios, trees, and other areas, it gives you a night oasis that looks pretty when it gets dark.” Not only does outdoor lighting add ambience to your backyard, it also helps to enhance safety.
9. Give Your Garden an Edge
Landscape edging helps to define the border between the flower bed and the lawn, and prevents soil erosion in a sloped garden bed. There are any number of edging materials from which to choose, including concrete, PVC, wire, bricks, and stones, and all can be installed in an afternoon. For an eco- and budget-friendly solution edging, insert wine bottles neck-down into the ground. The bottles’ glass bottoms will reflect sunlight, and give your garden a unique look. Bottoms up!
10. Put in a Fire Pit
Add a cozy fire pit to your backyard where you can enjoy technology-free quality time with the family, roasting marshmallows and telling campfire stories. You can assemble one in a few hours by either purchasing a kit or building one with landscaping bricks. Not thrilled with the idea of hauling heavy pavers to your backyard? Buy a metal or copper fire pit, which you can install in minutes.
11. Create Shade With Curtains
While a sunny backyard is an asset, a west-facing deck or patio may soak up more rays than your party guests can handle. To keep the cookout going, consider building a budget-friendly DIY shade that doubles as a privacy screen. To make the space even more inviting in the evening, hang string lights on the posts to illuminate the space. (For added stability, we recommend using canopy weights around the structure’s legs.)
12. Erect a Cinder-Block Bar and Planter
Clever if a little austere, the look of this cinder-block bar is softened by succulents planted in the holes of the blocks. (Chicken wire and landscape fabric support the soil and plants.) Before building your own backyard bar, plan your dimensions and location, and then join everything together with concrete adhesive. For a rustic finishing touch, stain a wooden board to serve as the bar top.
13. Replace Old Plants
Ketterling suggests updating tired landscaping by replacing mature plants that are unhealthy or overgrown with fresh plantings. “Changing out old plantings with new ones changes the scenery with something different, adding to the look and appeal of your yard,” he says. Ketterling advises his customers to make changes in landscaping every 3 to 5 years.
14. Construct a Cinder-Block Bench
If you have 20 minutes, then you have enough time to build this outdoor bench for your patio. In fact, it may take longer to purchase the materials than put them together! The sturdy seat consists of wooden posts that have been slid through the holes in the cinder blocks. Colorful cushions enhance comfort and liven up this utilitarian bench.
15. Tidy Up
One easy way to improve the look of your backyard is to get rid of all the junk that’s crowding it. Gather up any bags of mulch, garden tools, stray building materials, athletic equipment, and toys, and then stow everything neatly away. Next, take some time to weed out garden beds and collect any dead sticks or branches that are littering the landscaping.
16. Raise Up a Garden
Raised garden beds make gardening easier and more successful: They prevent soil compaction and provide good drainage, and the structures help keep pests and weeds to a minimum. If you’re planning on growing any edible plants, don’t build your bed with pressure-treated lumber, which is imbued with harsh chemicals. Instead, opt for a rot-resistant hardwood, like cedar.
17. Build a Sandbox With Seating
This DIY kid’s sandbox is made parent-friendly (and cat-proof) by the addition of built-in seats that fold to cover the box when it’s not in use. The smart design prevents leaves and debris—as well as local wildlife—from getting into the sand, and the seats provide a comfortable place for both kids and adults to perch.
18. Decorate With Repurposed Planters
When it’s time to select new planters for an outdoor container garden, the options are endless, but they can set you back a pretty penny. Save your money for the plants themselves by recycling household items into whimsical planters. Explore the house and garage for likely candidates, such as old tires, a no-longer-used wheelbarrow or wagon, discarded furniture, or galvanized tubs. To repurpose old tires, use chicken wire and landscape fabric to cover the hole at the base of each tire, paint the tires, and then arrange them in your garden for cheerful pops of color.
19. Provide a Bird Haven
Wildlife enhances the natural beauty of a backyard. Angelov suggests attracting birds by installing a small solar-powered bird bath fountain. “They add sound and tranquility, and give you something interesting to look at,” he says, adding that you can often find secondhand bird baths for cheap on Facebook Marketplace and similar sites.
20. Show Your Yard Some TLC
Angelov says one of the easiest and cheapest things you can do to improve the appearance of your yard is to spend a little time on maintenance. He suggests using an edger to create a clean delineation between the lawn and landscaped beds, scraping soil and moss off brick edging, and filling any holes animals may have dug in the ground: “This is low-hanging fruit you can do with basic tools to improve aesthetics and the health of the plants.”