16 Small Backyard Landscaping Ideas That Will Make the Most of Your Space

From creating a flower garden to adding a dining area, these ideas will transform your backyard.

No matter how small your backyard may be, it’s still brimming with landscape design potential. Something as simple as adding a water feature or planting climbing vines along a fence can instantly elevate the look and overall character of your backyard space. While it may feel like a challenge to create room for guests to gather or plant that garden you always dreamed of, you can easily transform your small backyard into an outdoor oasis with a few smart landscaping changes.

Create a Pergola

Table set in garden under pergola

Building a pergola is a smart way to add shade to a sunny spot of your backyard without taking up too much precious ground space. “A pergola is a great option if you want to add some cover to your space, as well as a beautiful backdrop,” says Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes at Belgard. “Pergolas act as a shade structure so you get some sun protection and are the perfect spot for added greenery.” Dress your pergola up with light fixtures, vining plants, hanging baskets, or planter boxes to make it more visually appealing.

Plant Trees

Freshly cut grass in the backyard of a private house.

If you want to add more greenery to your backyard, consider planting a few trees. Not only do they work wonders as a design element, but trees can provide shade and privacy when planted along a fence. “Using fastigiate (narrow growing) trees for height is an effective way to add a vertical element to the yard and also attract wildlife,” says Jeff Lorenz, founder of Refugia.

Display Hanging Planters

Colorful violas in hanging basket.

Maybe you don’t have enough room in your backyard for an entire garden of flowers, but hanging planters can also fill your space with colorful blooms. “Hanging planters are fine choices when in-ground planting space is limited,” says Lorenz. “Trailing edibles such as strawberries will beautify a less attractive fence or wall while feeding you all summer long.” Note that while they provide vertical interest, hanging planters will require more attention and watering as they tend to dry out easily.

Make a Water Garden

Water hyacinth

Grow aquatic plants or create a miniature reflecting pool in your backyard by implementing a watertight pot or basin. “Black dye can be used to prevent algae, and mosquito dunks will stave off mosquito growth,” says Alexandra Correia, senior horticulturist at Longwood Gardens. “Flowers and leaves can be floated on a water basin to create floating flower displays, or topsoil can be added to the pot to provide a growing medium for aquatic plants.” A simple pot allows you to incorporate water without connecting to a water source or doing invasive installation work, which can be tricky in a small backyard.

Add a Bird Bath

Swainson's Thrush Getting A Drink From Birdbath

A birdbath is a wonderful way to welcome wildlife into your backyard. “The quiet splashes of water are known to ease the mind and create a tranquil environment, without taking up too much space,” says Paige Leven, horticulturist at Longwood Gardens. “Birdbaths can fill a gap where perhaps you can’t fit a traditional garden bed.” Just make sure you change the water out regularly, so the birds have access to clean water when they’re in need of a drink.

Consider Grass Alternatives

Spring brings the blossom of thousands of clovers.

If you’re looking for ways to make your backyard more sustainable, you may want to consider replacing your turf grass with an equally attractive alternative option. “Low maintenance, low irrigation plantings are key for small backyards with minimal equipment storage or street access,” says Lorenz. “Ditch the mower and replace traditional turf grass with no-mow native species such as fine fescues and low-growing sedges that are extremely drought tolerant and require just an annual fall haircut.”

Create Built-In Seating

backyard furniture with pillows and decor

A small cushioned love seat is an easy way to make your space feel cozier. Consider an option that doubles as storage space—use it to stash gardening tools, blankets, and other backyard items that can make small areas look busier.

Add Bistro Seating

Sheltered outdoor garden patio oasis for afternoon backyard relaxation

Even small outdoor spaces can handle an intimate seating arrangement. “In a backyard where permanent seating is too prohibitive, consider stylish, foldable bistro chairs and tables that can be hung against a fence or stored inside during winter,” says Lorenz. It’ll become your new favorite spot to enjoy your morning cup of coffee or a glass of wine in the evening.

Layer Your Lighting

fence lighting

Layering your lighting outdoors creates a space that is inviting but still prioritizes functionality. “Consider up lighting on significant trees, backlighting to create a silhouette, and additional accent lights like torches, lanterns, and string lights,” says Leven. When choosing lights for your backyard, opt for warm-colored tones, low lumens, and lights that operate on a timer.

Install a Fire Pit

Gravel fire pit and metal barrel

Fire pits are a great way to anchor your outdoor space and many options also double as a table to enjoy a meal around. “Fire pits function as a great focal point in a backyard space and extend the backyard enjoyment into the evening hours and even into the cooler days of fall,” says Mike Montgomery, the host of Modern Builds on Smart. Healthy, Green, Living. For smaller backyards, consider buying or DIY-ing your own portable option since they’re compact and easy to move around.

Lay Paving Stones

Stone walkway in garden

Add structure to your backyard with pavers. “Pavers give a space a very elevated look and are available in a variety of styles,” says Raboine. “Homeowners also can play with a combination of textures by combining them with wood, stone, glass, and metal to elevate their backyard from typical outdoor designs.”

If you do choose to lay paving stones in your backyard, permeable options are a must—especially if you live in an area with heavy rainfall. “By laying pavers or steppers over crushed stone with space in between, you will allow heavy rain to percolate and leave your property rather than flood your home,” says Lorenz. In small settings, pavers are most commonly used to create a patio or walkway for guests.

Install Path Lights

Night View Of Flowerbed With Flowers Illuminated By Energy-Saving Solar Powered Lanterns Along Path Causeway On Courtyard Going To The House

If you use pavers to create a walkway, be sure to illuminate it so you and your guests can easily navigate the space at night. “Path lights, or small low lights placed along a walkway, create an inviting footpath that welcomes the user into and through the space,” says Leven.

Fill Window Boxes With Flowers

Flowers in window box Image Name: window-box-flowers-0422

Window boxes offer a simple yet beautiful way to fill your backyard with bursts of blooming beauty, says Linda Vater, garden designer and plant expert on behalf of Butterfly Candy and Southern Living Plant Collection. Most importantly, they can instantly transform the look and feel of your home, bringing a touch of nature to small backyards while utilizing vertical space.

Use Containers for Plants

Idyllic garden corner with colorful flowers on round iron table.

Whether you want to grow flowers or vegetables in your backyard, containers are a great way to create your dream garden without taking up too much space. “Containers are an excellent option to expand your planting space with versatility, says Kelly Funk, president of Park Seed and Jackson & Perkins. “Place containers on balconies, patios, or wherever you can fit them.”

Create a Border Garden

Beautiful red tulips with dark green leaves in flowerbed.

Flower beds are a beautiful way to elevate your backyard, but they can take up a lot of square footage depending on the layout you choose. Maximize space by planting a narrow flower bed around your backyard’s border to add color without taking up too much space, says Funk.

Grow Ground Cover Plants

Sedum blooming in the garden

Ground cover plants are a valuable addition to small backyards for many reasons. “They add aesthetic appeal, creating interest and bringing texture to the backyard,” says Funk. “Ground covers are also helpful in suppressing weeds, protecting soil from erosion, regulating ground temperature, and retaining ground moisture.” What’s more, these plants provide habitats for insects and other small creatures.

Madeline Buiano