10 Landscape Ideas to Upgrade Your Backyard

Add some elements of peace and play to whatever space you're working with.

<p>Bespalyi/Getty Images</p>

Bespalyi/Getty Images

While the front yard is often designed with the public in mind, the backyard is your place to express yourself and unwind. Whether you prefer to create a cozy place to read or factor in room for outdoor games, the space is yours to make of it. However, 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. So, we rounded up some landscaping inspiration to help kickstart the brainstorming process. Whether you live in a hot desert climate, a small urban lot, or a sprawling property in the hills, these backyard landscape ideas will help you transform your outdoor space into an extension of your home.

Create a corner for relaxation

Getty Images
Getty Images

First things first, carve out a space to relax in the backyard. After all, this is your own personal nature retreat. Hang a hammock between two trees or find a shady nook for a lounge chair. Then grab a glass of iced tea and breathe it all in.

Add a water feature

Kim Toscano
Kim Toscano

Speaking of relaxation, one of the simplest ways to make a space more inviting is with the soft trickle of water. And the best thing about water: the birds it attracts to the garden. If you are looking for landscape ideas for a backyard with a slope or hill, consider a cascading water feature tumbling downhill. Or, to incorporate a water feature onto a patio or back deck, try self-contained units that don't require any digging.

Build a fire pit

Getty Images
Getty Images

There is something about fire that brings people together to share stories and friendship. 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 these also don't need to be complicated. 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.

Take advantage of containers

<p>Kim Toscano</p>

Kim Toscano

Make the most of a small backyard by adding containers to empty spaces. That might mean lining the stairway with potted trees or hanging baskets from a porch overhang—whatever way you can find to turn lemons into lemonade. 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.

Build a rock garden

<p>Kim Toscano</p>

Kim Toscano

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

Keep things simple

<p>Kim Toscano</p>

Kim Toscano

If you think about good landscape design, your mind may first picture 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. The sedum planting above, for example, would bring plenty of visual intrigue to a hot desert garden or a Midwest backyard alike, and it's a breeze to maintain. The keep-it-simple mantra can also be utilized when landscaping on slopes or hillsides. Rather than trying to design with a wide variety of plants, opt for mass plantings of soil-stabilizing plants that will provide a fuss-free option to manage erosion.

Create a shady oasis

<p>AZ Plant Lady</p>

AZ Plant Lady

If you live somewhere with year-round sun, you'll need to create a shady oasis where you can escape from the direct heat while still enjoying the outdoors. In the Arizona backyard shown above, courtesy of AZ Plant Lady, a palo verde tree provides much needed shade in the day (and the simple fire pit for evening gatherings is also worth noting). If you live where trees are scarce or your plantings are still young, consider building an arbor or hanging wind sails for shade. And, when possible, make use of built structures to provide shade by placing seating areas on the north or east side of the home, walls, and fences.

Include space to play

Rafael Ben-Ari/Getty Images
Rafael Ben-Ari/Getty Images

Avoid the "all work and no play" mentality by purposefully creating room for fun in your backyard. This 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. Utilize a gravel pathway through the side yard as a bocce ball court. Imagination is key here.

Add color with hardscape

Kim Toscano
Kim Toscano

In many climates, flowers don't bloom year-round. So, keep things interesting 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.

Break up the space

<p>Kim Toscano</p>

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 a closed-concept floor plan, for the outdoors.) Instead, a viewer experiences different elements as they move through the garden. Large shrubs, tall grasses, and even hardscape materials can be used to break up the view along a curving path. This strategy can also be used to divide 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.