Smart Side-Yard Solutions

Take a little-used space and turn it into a private, relaxing domain.


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Side yard with path and arbor
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Link Your Front and Back Yards

    If you've landscaped your front and back yard, link them with an attractive side-yard garden. For the best effect, match the style and use some of the same plants on the side that you do in the front and in the back.

    Test Garden Tip: Leave a partial view from the front to the back to create an illusion that makes your yard feel larger.

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Create Drama

    Side yards don't have to be plain. Here, black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) creates a beautiful screen and casts lovely filtered shade. It makes a fantastic textural contrast to steel planters filled with asparagus fern. While it's beautiful, the combination is also ultra-low maintenance.

    Test Garden Tip: If you plant bamboo, select the type carefully. Clumping types, such as black bamboo, spread more slowly than aggressive "running" types.

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Decorate with Containers

    Spatter your side yard with containers if space is at a premium. If you securely attach them to walls, containers provide a wealth of color and texture. Plus the right pots serve as works of art by themselves.

    Test Garden Tip: Know exactly how much sun your area gets before setting out containers.

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Leave Yourself a Work Area

    If you screen it with a fence or shrubbery, no one has to see your side yard -- so it's a perfect place for a potting bench or makeshift nursery. Place new plants in holding beds until you decide where to put them or to start delicate new plants.

    Test Garden Tip: Save space by storing old potting mix, tools, etc., under your potting bench. If you buy or build one with doors, you can hide these items from view when not in use so you can keep it tidy.

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Make a Room

    This side yard has a distinct courtyard feel thanks to lush plantings around the edges. It's made even more fun thanks to geometric paving patterns and a bold focal point: a lush container garden.

    Test Garden Tip: Pay special attention to your side yard's floor. The paving can create as much interest as any of the plantings.

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Tame a Slope

    If you have a sloping side yard, make it easy to mow by getting rid of the grass. Simple paving options along with some low-maintenance plants make it a breeze to keep up and easy on the eyes.

    Test Garden Tip: Keep your slope from eroding by starting out with a good layer of mulch or groundcovers beneath your other plants.

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Relax in Privacy

    A side yard can be a great place for a patio where you can relax with a good book or spend time with the kids. Or get double duty from it by entertaining guests. Install a fence or hedge if there's not already one there, then add a patio made from the material of your choice.

    Test Garden Tip: For extra privacy, plant strategically to block the view from a neighbor's windows.

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Add Some Style

    Give your side yard a distinct feel from the rest of your landscape. With a couple of fences, you can create a lush cottage garden, a relaxing Zen garden, or a classic country garden -- no matter what the rest of your yard looks like.

    Test Garden Tip: If you're going to try a new garden style, use a fence or plant shrubs to create a visual barrier so your side yard doesn't clash with the rest of your landscape.

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Grow Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs

    It's fun to grow your own produce, but if you don't want a fruit or vegetable garden in the front or back, stick it on the side. Note: Most fruits and veggies need at least eight hours of direct sun a day.

    Test Garden Tip: Save space by growing vines (such as cucumbers, squash, or beans) on trellises up the side of your house, a fence, or other structure.

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Create a Shady Escape

    A shaded side yard might seem like a hopeless situation, but you're not out of luck. Give yourself a secret, shady place to cool off and escape the hot summer sun. Make a path, then plant around it with shade-loving plants suited to your area.

    Test Garden Tip: Use columnar trees to add shade and height without losing precious horizontal space.

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Make a Grand Entrance

    A narrow side yard is a great place for a pergola. Run it the entire length of the space or just in the very front to create a bold, welcoming look.

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Run a Dry Stream

    Keep water from collecting along your narrow side yard by forcing it out with a dry stream bed. Plus, it makes an attractive landscape feature in dry weather.

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