13 Landscape Ideas to Upgrade Your Backyard and Improve Your Mood

Adding elements of peace and play to whatever space you're working with boosts your mood, and your backyard is no exception.

While we often design our front yard with the public in mind, our backyard is the place to express ourselves and unwind. Whether you prefer a cozy place to read or a space for outdoor games, the backyard is yours to make of it whatever you'd like.

Depending on your comfort level with designing outdoor spaces, staring at an empty backyard can feel like an exciting opportunity or an intimidating challenge—or both. Whichever, we rounded up some landscaping inspiration to help kickstart the brainstorming process. Even if you live in a hot desert climate, a small urban lot, or a sprawling property in the hills, these backyard landscape ideas help you transform your outdoor space into an extension of your home.

01 of 13

Create a corner for relaxation

hammock in backyard
Getty Images

Carve out a space to relax in the backyard. After all, it's your own personal nature retreat. Hang a hammock between two trees or find a shady nook for a lounge chair, and then grab a glass of iced tea and breathe it all in.

02 of 13

Add a water feature

backyard fountain
Kim Toscano

One of the simplest ways to make a space more inviting is with a soft trickle of water. And the best thing about water is the birds it attracts to the garden.

If you're looking for landscape ideas for a backyard with a slope or hill, consider a cascading water feature tumbling downhill. To incorporate a water feature onto a patio or back deck, try self-contained units that don't require any digging.

03 of 13

Build a fire pit

backyard fire pit
Getty Images

There is something about fire that brings people together to share stories and friendships. A wood-burning fire pit, especially, can recreate the campfire experience and add ambiance. While you can invest in an expensive fire feature, a simple ring of rocks also does the trick. Some communities require an elevated fire pit, but they don't need to be complicated either.

Remember to check local regulations regarding outdoor fires, and pay attention to the weather conditions and related burn warnings for your area. Once you've taken all the right safety precautions, you're ready to gather around, roast marshmallows, and make cozy memories. S'more, please.

04 of 13

Take advantage of containers

container gardening

Kim Toscano

Make the most of a small backyard by adding containers to empty spaces. If you live in a desert climate, or an area with heavy clay or rocky terrain, container gardening can help you overcome challenging soil conditions and bring more plant life to your space.

Use container plants to soften hardscapes, brighten a dark corner, or make an open area more private. Think about lining a stairway with potted trees or hanging baskets from a porch overhang, whatever way you can to turn lemons into lemonade.

05 of 13

Build a rock garden

rock garden

Kim Toscano

Another way to overcome challenging planting sites is to build a rock garden. It provides a way to stabilize a slope or hillside while creating a unique planting environment. In places with poor soil, rock gardens lift plants out of the native soil, improving drainage. In desert climates, well-placed rocks add interest to minimally planted slopes. 

06 of 13

Keep things simple

Sedum planting in large container

Kim Toscano

When you think about good landscape design, you might imagine a vibrant mix of plants in different colors, sizes, shapes, and silhouettes, but it doesn't have to be that complicated. Single-species plantings can be just as attractive and interesting as more dramatic combinations. This sedum planting, for example, brings plenty of visual intrigue to a hot desert garden or a Midwest backyard, and it's a breeze to maintain.

Use the keep-it-simple mantra for landscaping on slopes or hillsides, too. Rather than a design with a wide variety of plants, opt for mass plantings of soil-stabilizing plants that provide a fuss-free option to manage erosion. 

07 of 13

Create a shady oasis

shady backyard with trees and chairs around a fire pit

AZ Plant Lady

If you live where there's year-round sun, create a shady oasis where you can escape the heat while still enjoying the outdoors. In this Arizona backyard, courtesy of AZ Plant Lady, a palo verde tree provides much-needed shade in the day, and overhangs a simple fire pit for evening gatherings.

If you live where trees are scarce or your plantings are still young, consider building an arbor or hanging windsails for shade. When possible, make use of built structures to provide shade by placing seating areas on the north or east side of your home, walls, and fences. 

08 of 13

Include space to play

Outdoor aiming target game corn hole
Rafael Ben-Ari/Getty Images

Avoid the "all work and no play" mentality by purposefully creating room for fun in your backyard, and it doesn't need to be excessive. Take the classic DIY route and attach a tire swing to a sturdy tree, invest in a jungle gym or trampoline to keep kids entertained, or transform a gravel path along the side yard as a bocce ball court. Imagination is key here and fun is the goal.

09 of 13

Add color with hardscape

Colorful hardscape in desert backyard
Kim Toscano

In many climates, flowers don't bloom year-round, but you can still create design interest in the backyard by incorporating colorful containers, fountains, chairs, and other bright elements. In this desert garden, painted hardscape adds vibrant color and provides a backdrop to a diverse palette of plant material.

10 of 13

Break up the space

backyard with stone pathway and arch

Kim Toscano

Designers love to use the concept of "hide and reveal" in the landscape. The basic idea is to break up views so that you can't see the entire landscape from a single vantage point. It's like the opposite of an open-concept floor plan, but for outdoors, where garden visitors experience different elements as they walk through.

You can implement this idea by using large shrubs, tall grasses, and even hardscape materials to break up the view along a curving path. This strategy also calls for dividing your yard into different "rooms," creating a distinct area for grilling or eating, another for playing, and perhaps another for relaxing or sitting around the fire.

11 of 13

Light up the night

Outdoor Lighting
Outdoor Lighting. Martha Stewart

The addition of outdoor lighting to your backyard extends its use into the night and considerably ups its cozy factor. In the heat of summer, evening is often the best time to relax outside.

Outdoor lighting options abound—from footpath lights to hanging lanterns to soft-white, Christmas-style strings—and can be installed as temporary or permanent fixtures. Look for solar-powered lighting for the quickest, easiest solutions, and don't overlook spotlights that target your yard's best features so you can enjoy them after dark.

12 of 13

Focus on the floor

Waverly Contemporary Indoor/Outdoor Rug

The Spruce / Sarah Vanbuskirk

Just like they do indoors, rugs help define a space, add color, and up the cozy factor to any outdoor area. Specially designed to stand up to weather and wear, outdoor rugs are ideal for exposed or high-traffic areas and are oh-so-easy to clean.

Use an outdoor rug to freshen up a tired-looking or cracked cement floor, bring attention to an overlooked space or garden feature, or add a pop of color near an all-too-green hedge.

13 of 13

Build-in privacy

Willow fence and white wooden bench with decorative pillows in front of fence, purple flowers in pot next to bench

It's hard to relax among noisy neighbors, gawking walkers, and uninvited onlookers. To create a private space to unwind, you might assume that fencing off your entire backyard is the only answer, but think small.

Designate a secluded area within your backyard as your sanctuary, and then isolate it using outdoor curtains, screens, plants, or even...a fence. Consider a vertical garden of fragrant herbs, easily accessible salad greens, or attractive flowers that offers privacy, color, and vertical interest.

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