Cool Backyard Design Ideas on a Budget

Repurpose holiday lights for a free way to add outdoor lighting in the summer.
Repurpose holiday lights for a free way to add outdoor lighting in the summer.

Making the most of your backyard can feel almost like adding a whole new room onto your house – only in this case, the room is shadier, breezier, and – in the daytime, at least – brighter than any of your inside spaces. But taking your yard from boring to breathtaking can be a pricey venture: Furniture, plants, pavers, and décor all add up. This year, give your space a mini-makeover by repurposing, buying secondhand, and paying attention to the plants you choose – you can make a little bit of money go a long way toward creating a usable space you’ll really love.

Know Your Space

If you don’t want to spend a bundle on plants just to watch them wither and die, then make sure you’re putting in blooms, trees, and bushes that are meant to thrive in your local climate. Ask for help at your local greenhouse or plant nursery, check resources like the USDA Plant Hardiness map to see what climate zone you live in and which plants will last there, and walk around your neighborhood on a hunt for landscaping you love (then knock on the door if you can’t identify the plants on your own). Invest in native greenery and watch your garden grow.

Add Inexpensive Lighting

If you want your backyard to become a place you can spend your summer evenings, you’ll need lighting. Start by using what you have: Grab those outdoor lights that you string along your front porch during the holidays and weave them into bushes or on trellises for a sparkling nighttime glow. If you’re buying new, look for LED outdoor lights (which may be more expensive at first, but will save you money in the long run) or build your own lanterns from baby food jars, wine bottles, or other reclaimed (aka: free) materials.

Buy Used

When it’s time to furnish your outdoor space, think beyond the all-in-one sets at your local chain home improvement store, and instead scout thrift stores and estate sales for furniture you can repurpose. An old wooden table with mismatched chairs painted with bright colors makes for a cozy dining area, while traditional wicker chairs with cushions covered in outdoor fabric are perfect for lounging. Stock up on spray paint in vibrant colors – orange, turquoise, yellow – to help thrifted décor and plant pots stand out, as Di Zock did during her dreamy California backyard makeover.

Go Beyond Green

Grass, trees, and bushes may be the obvious choice for a backyard – and they’re probably the least inexpensive in the short term, since they’re likely what you already have. But if you have a big yard, then installing other types of groundcover – think gravel patios, paved dining spaces, or snap-together wood decking squares – could cost you less to maintain the long run. If you aren’t interested in spending time planting, weeding, fertilizing, mowing, seeding, pruning, watering, and trimming, then investing in a maintenance-free yard at the outset (especially if you’re handy enough to DIY it) will add up to big savings over the years.

More Great Links


  • “10 Backyard Landscaping Ideas on a Budget.” How Stuff Works. (May 31, 2013)
  • “USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.” USDA Agricultural Research Service. (May 31, 2013)
  • “DIY Project: Eriks’ Recycled Wine Bottle Torch.” Design Sponge. (May 31, 2013)
  • “Dyed Glass Luminaries from Baby Jars.” Inspired By Familia. (May 31, 2013)
  • “Chic Backyard on a Shoestring.” Sunset magazine. (May 31, 2013)
  • “Building a Gravel Patio.” TLC. (May 31, 2013)