Kelly Roberson and Savanna Bous for Better Homes & Gardens on ideas to improve a small back yard.
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Use our small backyard ideas and design-smart landscaping tips to help your outdoor space live big.
No matter of size of your yard, patio, or balcony, it’s easy to create an outdoor oasis that’s perfect for spending time with friends and family. Whether you’re hosting a Fourth of July barbecue in the yard or sipping your morning coffee on the patio, it can be a struggle to fit all your outdoor wants and needs into one tiny backyard. Start by making a list of priorities for the space, then find ways to personalize it for your lifestyle.
Sometimes living large means thinking small. If your outdoor space lacks square footage, it might seem like your outdoor entertaining dreams are far fetched—but with a little creative thinking, solid design advice, and clever additions, you can make the most of the yard you have.
1. Multifunctional Outdoor Bar Cart
Fear not if your outdoor space is too small for an outdoor bar. Create your own portable drink station with a weather resistant cart. It’s easy to add your favorite drinkware and beverages for easy access during a backyard get-together, and you can roll the cart into the house or garage when you aren’t using it. When planting seasons hits, use it as a garden cart. Or, load it up with snacks if the kids are hungry from a long day of playing outside.
2. Go Green
Having room to grow can be tricky with a small yard. For a backyard with with a concrete patio or no space for plants, added greenery can help liven up the space. It can be hard giving up precious square footage for landscaping, but with this backyard hack you won’t have too. Utilize every inch of space in your backyard by installing vertical planting boxes. Attach them to the back of your house or a fence, then grow flowers, greenery, or seasonal plants in this low maintenance, space saving option. If you choose to create a succulent garden, make sure you can bring them inside when the temperature gets too cold.
3. Bring the Heat
Whether it’s a warm July night or a chilly October evening, entertaining by a fire is a backyard staple. Manage your outdoor living space by creating a small cement fire ring, which creates an obvious focal point for gatherings. For a more portable option, buy a standalone fire pit to get all the perks of having a fire pit with none of the commitment.
4. Build a Bistro Nook
A bistro set is an adorable way to include seating in a small space. Although it only sits two, it makes a cozy spot to have coffee with a friend, read a book, or enjoy some sunshine. Whether it’s perched on a tiny patio or an apartment balcony, any space can be elevated with this seating arrangement.
5. Cook Up Some Style
Fill your backyard with laughter, friends, and good food by creating a grill area for simple dinners with easy cleanups. This small backyard idea is perfect if you’re cooking for friends on the weekend or whipping up a simple dinner like grilled chicken for your family. Dedicate a corner of your backyard to a grill and side table in an L shaped layout.
6. Make Different Zones
Think about how your house and yard work together, then decide how to divvy up the landscape to best suit your family’s needs. Then, create different zones in your small outdoor space. Putting a play area away from an entertaining space will lead to fewer accidents (and fewer headaches), and having designated areas around the small space will keep it from looking cluttered. Keep in mind the traffic patterns of the area—if it’s hard to navigate, people will probably use it less. For example, the small paved patio right off the kitchen could be perfect for a dining area—but not great for planting.
7. Plant a Vertical Garden
When growing out isn’t an option, think about growing up! Gardens take up space. 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. Use a wooden pallet to hang plant pots off of. Place a bench below to stack larger garden boxes. Prioritize planting your favorite garden goodies. Make sure to do some research to pick fruits and veggies that do well in containers and small spaces.
8. Entertaining Space for Everyone
There can be a rush to give everything in a landscape the same importance—but that’s not how design works. Think about your living room. Usually, there’s a central piece of furniture or artwork that serves as the main focus of the room, with smaller pieces to support it. That principle is true with landscaping, as well. Make a statement in your space with a seating area, flower bed, or grill area, then fill in with potted plants or functional decor items.
9. Brighten with Pops of Color
Just because your backyard is quaint doesn’t mean you can’t decorate it! Functional decor pieces like patio furniture sets, outdoor rugs, and colorful planters will help to create an inviting, comfortable outdoor area no matter how small. You and your guests will be more likely to use your backyard with these cozy details. And don’t forget the shade! An outdoor umbrella is all it takes to the scorching days at bay.
10. Streamline Small Spaces
The smaller the space, the more streamlined your outdoor area should be. Clutter or lack of function will make the space unpleasant to use. Prioritize what you want more. Outdoor entertainment or a veggie garden? If you can, consolidate your flowerbeds into one, zone the kids’ play space into a single spot, and keep entertaining and outdoor cooking opportunities together.
11. Update Backyard Landscaping
A change in paving or landscaping material can help a small backyard deftly shift from one zone to another. This could be a space for kids, an area for entertaining, or a spot for grilling. Mulch and gravel are affordable materials to define different spaces in your backyard. If you’re looking for easier to maintain materials, concrete slabs or pavers are easy to clean, but more expensive.
12. Multipurpose Furniture
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 budget friendly way to refresh a deck or patio. Find seating that has hidden storage to stash pillows and throws, or a table that expands for larger gatherings.
13. Utilize The Front Yard
The backyard offers plenty of enviable aspects, including privacy for get-togethers. But if your short on space, look to the front yard for some extra square footage. Try incorporating a reading nook under a shady front yard tree, an outdoor swing, or group a few chairs together for an intimate conversation area. You’ll take advantage of all your outdoor space and become a part of the hustle and bustle of life on your street.