Side Yard Upgrade: 14 Ideas for Transforming This Forgotten Outdoor Space

It’s easy to overlook the side yard when landscaping, but with a little effort, this neglected space can make as big a splash as its curb-facing counterpart. 

By Teresa Odle | Published Apr 18, 2022 5:49 PM

side yard ideas

Photo: istockphoto.com

Style on the Side

Side yards often are narrow and more utilitarian in nature (think faucets and hoses, garbage or recycling containers, and storage). But with a little planning and creativity, you can make your side yard both useful and appealing, whether it shows to passersby or just from your window. Here are 14 creative ways to turn your side yard spaces from awkward to awesome.

1. Install a Welcoming Entry Gate

flickr.com via Field Outdoor Spaces

This side-yard gate is tall enough to provide privacy, yet the warmly colored wood and playful lattice lend a friendly touch. Bonus: A rustic rain barrel adds charm and helps save on water usage.

2. Add a Stepping-Stone Path

side yard

istockphoto.com

If your side yard is more like a path to your backyard than it is a space unto itself, embrace its function. Install a stepping-stone path to make this stretch of lawn easier to traverse, and to ease wear and tear on your turf.

RELATED: 25 Ways to Beautify Your Yard Without Planting a Thing

3. Choose Low-Light Plantings

side yard

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Because it’s sandwiched between your own house and your neighbor’s, your side yard probably doesn’t get a lot of sunlight. Your best bets for lush garden beds in the side yard are plants that do well in low-light or partial shade conditions in your area.

4. Think Vertically

side yard

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Garden space can be at a premium in most side yards, but you don’t have to limit yourself to filling the garden bed. Instead, install a trellis and plant vines and other varieties that can be trained to climb.

RELATED: 15 Beautiful and Functional Trellis Ideas for Climbing Plants

5. Grow Ground Cover Between Flagstones

side yard

flickr.com via Patrick Standish

More memorable than a concrete walkway but lower maintenance than an ordinary patch of lawn, a flagstone path edged with low-lying ground cover is a classic choice for the side yard. When selecting a ground cover, look for a variety that will stand up to foot traffic and grow densely enough to block weeds.

RELATED: 10 Genius Ways to Make Your Backyard a Blast

6. Construct a Compost Bin

side yard

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Steal a little real estate from your side yard for a compost bin, and your entire garden will reap the rewards, because the nutrients in compost can greatly enhance your soil. Because an out-in-the-open compost pile can be unsightly, buy a container or build your own to keep compost corralled.

7. Set Up a Potting Bench

side yard

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Put a quiet, shady spot to good use on the side of the house and set up a workstation for potting plants and storing garden tools. You can buy one, like this bench fromYaheetech, which was a favorite in our researched guide to the best potting benches. Otherwise, you might build your own from old pallets or a repurposed dresser.

8. Build a Trash Enclosure

side yard

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Nothing’s more unsightly than oversized trash and recycling bins, but they’re a necessary evil. Build or buy an attractive wooden enclosure to keep them tidily out of sight in your side yard.

9. Put in a Putting Green

side yard

istockphoto.com

Here’s a no-maintenance way to keep the side yard green year-round: Add a putting green. Because they’re typically long and narrow, side yards serve as the perfect spot for this outdoor activity. Conveniently accessible, yet out of the way of the main outdoor living spaces, a side-yard putting green is sure to provide hours of entertainment for the whole family.

10. Update Your Fence

side yard

istockphoto.com

The fence along your side yard adds privacy and keeps kids and dogs confined. But if your side yard feels drab, update your fence. You can stain or paint your side of a drab fence without worrying whether the neighbors like the color, and have a pretty backdrop for plants or hardscaping.

Add a natural element with vines or a hedge, choosing plants that can handle the sun exposure. Or, update the material or raise the height, only after checking with your neighbors and following both code restrictions and fence-replacement etiquette.

RELATED: How to Stain a Fence

11. Add Creative Containers

side yard

istockphoto.com

Even if your plant choices are limited in a side-yard setup, you can add containers to make the area more visually appealing. Choose several pots (typically in groups of three or five) of varying heights to place together, or line up three bright matching containers for a more synchronous look. The real key is to add color and texture with the containers and you can get nearly as much color pop and enjoyment from the containers as from the plants they hold.

If ground space is at a premium, mount a few containers like these rustic steel planters on the fence or a shed wall and fill them with succulents or annuals.

RELATED: 6 Secrets to a Successful Container Garden

12. Display Yard Art

side yard

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Release your personal creativity, interests, or love of location by displaying some yard art on the fence or along your side yard path. It’s always fun to search for colorful yard art when traveling to remind you of your trip. Those less excited about plant care can get plenty of joy from metal flowers or sun sculptures.

Some yard art mimics plant textures or shapes, and can go in the ground or a container in those shady, narrow side yard spaces. These metal agave sculptures add interest but need no watering at all!

13. Add a Side Seating Area

side yard

istockphoto.com

Side yards often have more shade than front or back patios, so why not add a small seating area so you can be outside for your morning coffee or evening drink without blazing sun in your eyes? Since space can be at a premium, add a simple outdoor sofa, wooden bench (with storage even, like this waterproof bench), or a bistro table with two chairs. You even can turn a colorful container (matching the others you placed) upside down to serve as a small side table.

RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Outdoor Furniture Brands

14. Light It Up

side yard

istockphoto.com

Even if your side yard remains more of a functional space than an outdoor living one, putting in lights can make it safer and more attractive. If the spot gets enough sun for a charge, place solar lights along your path, like these from BEAU JARDIN, the top pick in our guide to the best solar path lights. Or put in a low-voltage light system along the narrow space. String lights are popular, and should be easy to hang from the side of your house. Add a motion detector if you like to automatically light up winter nights when you have to take out the garbage or to scare off possible intruders.

RELATED: The Best Places to Install Solar Lights in Your Outdoor Space