“If I had a free afternoon, I would play music, sit in my backyard, and drink coffee.” – Aja Naomi King
Many homeowners spend their lives dreaming of the day they own a backyard. Having an outdoor space all to yourself is a huge luxury, no matter the circumstances. But not all backyards come with acres upon acres of wide-open space.
It certainly doesn’t help that popular landscaping magazines and TV shows only seem to focus on the biggest lawns imaginable. This can leave those of us on the hunt for small yard ideas feeling lost and alone.
Of course, you’re far from alone — countless people across the world own and adore small backyards of their own. So keep reading for the best small backyard ideas you can implement in even the tiniest space.
No past landscaping experience required!
1. Small Backyard Patio Ideas
If you plan to use your backyard as more of an outdoor living space than an actual lawn, building out a small patio is likely the best use of your limited acreage.
Choose a focal point to arrange your patio furniture around. A water feature or above-ground fire pit are a couple of good ideas if your backyard doesn’t already have something. You can add shade with a vine-covered trellis, umbrella, or shade sail.
Swapping your backyard for a patio doesn’t have to mean abandoning all hope for greenery. Line the edges of your patio with garden beds filled with ornamental shrubs or vibrant annuals. You can also add dimension to the space with hanging baskets and large containers filled with hardy perennials like hostas and hydrangeas.
Unless you live in the middle of a dense city, your backyard patio is going to need some supplemental light sources. String lights are a classic fixture of urban patios and come in various styles and brightness levels. Solar-powered lanterns are also a great option, especially if you don’t want to deal with running cables to-and-from the house.
2. Small Backyard Garden Ideas
There’s no need to choose between a traditional lawn and a plentiful garden in your small backyard. You can use wood containers or stone borders to section off small garden beds for ornamental plants or vegetables. Or blend your grass into your perennial bushes and trees for a wild-grown aesthetic.
Incorporate plants of various heights to add depth to your landscape design. Fill out the majority of your garden beds with hardy, low-maintenance perennials that will come back year-after-year. You can fill the gaps with smaller annuals come springtime — a nice touch because you can change up your garden’s color palette each year.
When selecting your garden plants, especially perennials, think about how your backyard will change throughout the year. Plant species that flower in the spring, summer, and fall for a diverse garden design that naturally updates itself with the seasons.
As always, the ground is just one design surface at your disposal. Hang wall- or fence-mounted planters around your backyard for flowers, herbs, or vegetable plants. Trellises make great living dividers when planted with fast-growing vines.
3. Small Backyard Ideas with Landscaped Gardens
The best garden designs feature more than just plants. Seemingly simple elements like fountains, sculptures, and even natural rocks can bring a whole new level of artistry to a small backyard.
Break up flower beds with large stones. You can also use rough-edged rocks to build a “natural” bench, staircase, or path that blends right into the rest of your garden.
Water elements are guaranteed showstoppers but can be a hassle to maintain. If you’re not up for cleaning and winterizing an in-ground pond or waterfall each year, stick with a standalone fountain instead. Some fountains even run on solar power, so you don’t need to worry about wires, and can double as a birdbath for the local wildlife.
While small backyard landscaping involves much more than plants, don’t forget to use them to your advantage. For example, you can plant mini hedges in place of traditional borders to divide your patio from your lawn.
4. Modern Small Backyard Ideas
Your backyard might be small in size, but it can still be big in style. In fact, adding modern design elements to your backyard will be easier and less expensive since you’re working with limited space.
Incorporate plenty of geometric shapes and clean lines throughout your backyard design. Your lawn should have clear-cut boundaries marked by wood or stone edging. If you use stepping stones, measure the space between them carefully. Everything should be symmetrical and even.
Use above-ground garden beds or containers to add vibrant plant life to your yard. Choose uniquely structured plants — boxwood, palms, bird-of-paradise — and space them out rather than planting in tight clusters. Stick with just one or two varieties of landscaping plants to maintain uniformity.
Outdoor furniture should be simple and straightforward. Again, opt for items with sleek lines. If desired, you can add some intrigue to your backyard layout with a piece of funky accent furniture, water fountain, or fire feature.
5. Narrow and Small Backyard Ideas
In some neighborhoods, especially in large cities, all you might be able to call a “backyard” is a narrow strip of land between you and your neighbor’s house. This can make decorating your outdoor space logistically tricky in more ways than one.
Place outdoor furniture, garden containers, and other items along the edges of your backyard to free up as much central space as possible. Opt for slim rectangular planters instead of round or square ones. Hang additional potted plants on your fence or home’s exterior.
If possible, invest in furniture that collapses or folds away when not in use. With enough of these items, you can create a backyard with two personalities (that doesn’t take up any more room than one).
If you have enough room, section off one end of your narrow backyard for a makeshift patio space. Splitting the space will help break up your yard and prevent it from feeling too awkwardly long and narrow.
6. Small Backyard Pool Ideas
Owning a pool is a luxury most homeowners fantasize about at some point. But fitting a pool into an already small yard is no easy task. With a few design tricks, however, you won’t even notice the lack of space.
Whatever style of pool or hot tub is in your backyard, line the perimeter with plant life. Avoid unwanted leaves and other debris in your pool water and go with tropical plants like palms, cacti, or even bamboo for your pool’s landscaping.
Do you need to cross turf to get to and from your pool and back door? Lay down stone pavers to avoid tracking grass clippings and mud into your pool or home.
If you’re in the process of buying your first pool, be sure to choose one that best fits the available space. While rectangular pools are the norm, installing a round or oval pool can help preserve some of your backyard. In the grand scheme of things, a slightly smaller pool is hardly noticeable compared to losing your entire backyard space.
7. Simple Small Backyard Ideas
A full backyard renovation isn’t always an option, and that’s fine. From renting to living in a harsh climate, not everyone has the luxury of a lush yard or the ability to bring their favorite landscaping idea to life.
Set aside part of the yard as a basic lounge area with either an outdoor sofa or dining set. Invest in a freestanding fire pit to serve as a centerpiece. If you don’t need full-size patio furniture, a classic picnic table is always a great option.
Containers are the best way to replace grass and in-ground plants in your yard. Use planters of varying sizes and heights to accommodate your favorite perennial shrubs or flowers. If you live in an arid climate, you can even use large containers to grow plants that wouldn’t normally survive in the native soil.
8. Small Backyard Design Ideas
Far too many homeowners worry about getting creative with their backyard ideas because of limited outdoor space. Adding gigantic design elements to your yard can indeed cut into the space as a whole. But wouldn’t you rather have a beautiful backyard oasis than an empty patch of grass?
Breaking a tiny backyard into two levels can make it feel larger and more versatile. It’s easy to do with a raised wood, brick, or concrete patio. Use the raised platform for outdoor entertaining or as a family dining area.
Even with a super small space, don’t hesitate to add functional items like a playset, pergola, or fire pit. It’s also almost always better to sacrifice a little bit of yard in favor of a seating area. If outdoor storage is an issue, tuck a tiny garden shed into one corner.
Last but certainly not least, take a look at the vertical space in your backyard and how you can improve it. Cover unsightly fencing or external walls with wood planks or trellises for a more attractive backdrop. Choose materials that are easy to drill into for hanging garden art, bird feeders, or hanging baskets.
9. Small Zen Backyard Ideas
Traditional Japanese rock gardens provide the inspiration for amazing zen gardens, and these spaces promote relaxation and meditation. Today, the zen garden aesthetic has become an outdoor design trend all its own.
To keep their zen garden as authentic as possible, many homeowners opt to use solely Asian plants and decor in their small backyard design ideas. These plants are great, and there’s no shortage of inspiration to pull from. But it’s also totally fine to create your own interpretation of a zen garden that fits your native plant life or personal taste.
Either way, research your new plants carefully. You’ll want to introduce species that will thrive in your climate with little help. While zen gardens encourage meditative tasks like pruning, some of the most beautiful landscape designs emerge by letting things grow a bit wild.
Koi ponds are a staple of zen gardens but require more upkeep and space than some can provide. Rather than overwhelm yourself with live fish, add a self-contained water element like a fountain, waterfall, or lily pond. You’ll be able to enjoy the tranquil sound of running water without any of the stress.