Projects To Upgrade Your Backyard

Updated: Jan. 16, 2024

Whether you want to turn your backyard into a space for retreat, relaxation or recreation, here are some upgrades you can start on now.

Backyard Gettyimages 1452751854Joanne Dale/Getty Images

Your backyard is your personal part of the great outdoors, and that means different things to different people. For some, a backyard is a retreat from the bustle of the world. For others, it provides the opportunity to bring the world home.

It can be a place to play, a food and flower garden area, an open-air gym, or all of these. It’s a blank slate to craft whatever picture you want.

Backyard upgrade projects range from inexpensive and DIY-friendly, like planting a garden or building a trellis or a DIY picnic table, to major operations like installing a pool, building a backyard basketball court or building a fireplace.¬†Some are one-offs, but many aren’t. It’s common for one project to lead to another as you gradually create your retreat or gathering space.

Here are some upgrades you can do this year to get things started.

Projects To Make Your Backyard More Comfortable

Plant gardens

Start your backyard makeover by establishing in-ground gardens, placing container gardens around the yard and planting trees and shrubs.

Plants and gardens subdivide your yard into specific areas, and they take a while to grow. Planting is also one of the least costly backyard projects, as long as you don’t mind doing the work.

If you want to group plants into mutually supportive companion clusters, container gardens are a good way to go. You can build containers out of wood for about $25 to $50 per square foot, or buy easy-to-assemble container kits online.

Improve drainage

If water pools in your yard or digs deep trenches as it flows from one place to another, make drainage control one of your priorities. Backfill depressions with dirt and topsoil, level uneven ground with a rake and shovel, and install French drains where standing water collects. Control drainage gives you more real estate for planting and building.

Build a shed

If you do a lot of gardening, you’ll need a shed to store your tools and supplies. You can build a simple plywood shed with a composite roof for $16 to $22 per square foot, or purchase one and drop it onto a gravel or concrete foundation. An 8- by 10-foot pre-fab workshop shed with T1-11 siding costs about $3,000.

Establish a hang-out area

The most common ways to establish permanent seating areas in your backyard are by building a patio or a deck.

A patio is easier. Excavate an area in the yard to a depth of about six inches, backfill with drain rock and tamped sand, lay concrete or stone pavers or bricks, backfill with sand and add a border. Unless you opt for high-end stone pavers, costs should range from $4 to $10 per square foot, without labor.

For sloping or irregular terrain, a deck might be a better choice. You probably won’t need a permit if you build low enough to the ground to avoid railings. The deck materials can cost from $7 to $16 per square foot, depending on whether you use pressure-treated wood, composite, cedar or redwood.

Create some shade

Planting trees provides shade, but it takes years. If you want the shade ASAP, build a structure. It can be a pergola with a slatted open roof, or a gazebo, with a solid roof. Both projects are DIY-friendly, although a gazebo calls for more carpentry skills.

If you prefer, go the easy route and purchase a pre-fab 10-by-10-foot gazebo kit that assembles in a couple of hours.

Install a hot tub

Nothing brings more relaxation to your home than a hot tub. If you have the budget, you can build one in-ground for $6,000 to $21,000 or more. An above-ground model, on the other hand, runs $2,000 to $10,000 depending on material and size.

No hot tub is complete without decking, which you can make yourself from redwood or cedar. You’l need a minimum of eight square feet for a hot tub. Add at least two extra feet on each side with decking.

Wondering if your neighbors can have security cameras towards your house? Find out here.

Deliver some warmth

Your idea of a comfortable space may include warmth for chilly nights, like a fire pit. You can go the simple route and purchase a portable wood-burning or propane fire pit for around $100, then make a sitting area around it. With a little more time, money and space, you can build a permanent stone fire pit from a kit for about $600.

An outdoor fireplace is more expensive and challenging, with kits available from $3,000 to $5,000. By comparison, a fully equipped outdoor kitchen with plumbed gas lines and electrical service runs around $13,000.

Add lights

Lighting adds a lot to any landscape. Low-voltage landscape lighting is easy to install. You place the lights and dig shallow trenches for the wires leading to the transformer, which plugs into any available exterior 120-volt receptacle.

Solar lighting is even easier, although you must place them where there’s plenty of sunlight for recharging.

Next: Find out about transformer box in the yard.

Projects To Add Backyard Privacy

Build a fence

So many fencing options are available that it’s hard to establish a price range.

Wood, composite and vinyl privacy fences cost from $15 to $37 per linear foot, with wood surprisingly the cheapest material. The cost depends on height and design. If you value privacy most of all, go with a flat panel or shadowbox design at least six feet high.

Construct hanging screens

Your yard may already be partially isolated by foliage, and you may just need to cover some areas with outdoor privacy screens to get full privacy.

A simple way to do this: Extend a cable from tree branches or poles set in concrete and hang inexpensive fabric screens. You can also hang the screen from a 2×4 header set on posts. You probably can cover a 10-foot opening for less than $200.

Plant trees or shrubs

Vegetation establishes privacy in an organic way. But even fast-growing varieties take years to mature, so take on this project with an eye toward the future.

Most common privacy trees are hardy in most USDA Plant Hardiness Zones, including Leyland Cypress, Thuja Green Giant and Emerald Green Arborvitae. Hydrangea, lilac and yew are popular shrubs that can provide privacy in a year or two.