Your small landscape might seem like it's keeping you from big, outdoor-living dreams. But with a little creative maneuvering and some solid design advice, you can better use the yard you have. Here are 10 small backyard ideas to transform your space into a well-loved, lived-in element of your home.
No space—inside or out—should be designed until you figure out what you absolutely have to have and what you'd like to have if budget, time, and space were not limits. The same is true with your landscape: Create a list and design your own backyard, figuring out how much of your landscape should be devoted to each item. Do you gather often with family? Then a large dining and entertaining space might serve you well. Are flowers your thing? Do you crave space to grow your own food? Then a mix of flower and vegetable beds might be a good solution.
Zones are the next step to creating a small backyard you love. Think about how your house and yard work together and where you could carve up the landscape to suit traffic patterns and naturally occurring spaces. For example, the small paved patio right off the kitchen could be perfect for a dining area—but not great for planting.
If you have a small backyard, you might not be able to have a giant vegetable garden that helps you preserve all the produce you'll need for a year. But that doesn't mean you have to do away with the idea entirely. Small garden designs can help you reach your landscaping goals while respecting the proportions of your landscape. For example, supplement your smaller vegetable garden with a few containers for increased harvest. Add a raised bed that mixes flowers with produce. Another benefit to smaller-scale gardening? You'll have less maintenance and reduced investment in time, plants, and materials.
There can be a rush to give everything in a landscape the same importance—but that's not how design works. Think about your interior spaces: In a living room, a central piece of furniture or artwork is probably the focus, with smaller pieces spinning off from that main item. That principle is true with landscaping, as well: A big flowerbed, a covered patio, a small shed—those are the pieces of a landscape that guide the eye and influence choices for the rest of your backyard. Backyard gazebo and fence ideas can help anchor the focal point.
A small backyard shouldn't be deprived of the extras that make landscaping a joy to use. Those little luxuries—backyard decor like cushions, pillows, umbrellas—help to create an inviting, comfortable outdoor area and make you and your guests more likely to use your backyard. Some key backyard shade ideas include gazebos, arbors, and umbrellas to keep people comfortable on a hot day.
Hard lines at the edges of a small backyard, as well as at the borders of zones within that outdoor space, can make a compact landscape feel hemmed in. Soften the edges of a border—be it a property fence or hardscaping—with plantings, either inground or in containers.
Don't be tempted to add too many materials or spaces to a small backyard: That's a surefire way to make a space feel cluttered and overwhelmed. Consolidate your flowerbeds into one, zone the kids' play space into a single spot, and keep entertaining and outdoor cooking opportunities together.
A shift in paving or landscaping material can help a small backyard deftly shift from one zone to another and also provide visual interest. Mulch and gravel are cheap backyard ideas for creating zones. Concrete slabs or pavers are more expensive but are also easier to maintain.
Just like small rooms inside a house need furniture that works harder, small backyards need double-duty benches, chairs, and tables. Outdoor decor is a simple way to refresh a deck or patio and is one of the easiest small backyard ideas on a budget. Find seating that has hidden storage to stash pillows and throws, or a table that expands for larger gatherings.
The backyard offers plenty of enviable aspects, including privacy for get-togethers. But the front yard has a definite place in an overall setup for those with smaller yards. Try integrating a reading nook under a shady front yard tree, or group a few chairs together for an intimate conversation area. You'll engage with the life on your street and make even better use of all the outdoor square footage that's yours.