15 Small Backyard Landscaping Ideas

landscaped small backyard

Depending on where you live, acreage may be in short supply. But, good things come in small packages — including small plots of land. Read on to learn about 15 small backyard landscaping ideas.

Whether you live in a townhouse, up on a hillside, or in an urban setting, landscape design ideas for your small backyard can include plentiful greenery, a welcoming dining area, and innovative garden plans. 

Basic Backyard Design Principles

No matter the size of a space, it should be fashionable and functional. Keep the following design principles in mind, and you’ll achieve the right balance:

  • Follow a base plan. A base plan lets you know where your property begins and ends, as well as the locations of your utility lines, walkways and driveway, and other features.
  • Consider scale. Installing plants that are too large or too small for your yard will affect its curb appeal.
  • Frame your house with trees, but be careful not to block the view of the house.
  • Balance the landscape. Don’t overplant in one area while neglecting other areas.
  • Create a focal point with a water feature, fire pit, ornamental, or statue — scaled to your space, of course.

15 Awesome Backyard Landscaping Ideas

1. Use Fine-Textured Plants

textured evergreen plant
Photo Credit: OlliUlli / Canva Pro / License

Give your backyard a sizable look with large accent pieces, such as oversized planters, and fine-textured plants — pretty sedge, tall verbena, and baby’s breath. Spiky, low-growing succulents like blue chalk sticks are also good for small gardens.

2. Create an Outdoor Venue

backyard patio
Photo Credit: Nyplanting / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Whether it’s an alfresco dining area, a reading nook, a play place, or a hot tub or sauna, give your small backyard purpose. Doing so helps this realm feel more like an addition, rather than a subtraction of space — an extension from the inside, out.

To establish such a “room,” simulate floors, walls, and ceilings using a mix of lawn space, flower beds, shrubbery, and trees. Define “rooms” further with a pergola, fencing, small patio, pavers, string lights, and outdoor furniture.

3. Maximize Multifunctionality

retaining wall seating
Photo Credit: Peter Griffin / Needpix

Make your hardscaping pull double duty as décor and storage. That stone retaining wall? It can serve as extra seating, too. And that wooden bench? It’s the perfect place to keep holiday decorations, tools, potting soil, toys, and anything else you need to hide from view.

4. Embrace Vertical Space

vertical planters on wall
Photo Credit: Jon Tyson / Unsplash

The perfect weekend DIY project? Transform that blank wall trellis or backyard fencing into an urban garden of its own. Pick up a set of vertical planters online or at your local store, and fill them with colorful flowers or grow an herb garden. You can also repurpose empty plastic containers, bottles, or tin cans to be used as planters.

For more garden ideas, think wall art, and install a living still life, such as this vertical garden.

5. Take the Plunge

backyard plunge pool
Photo Credit: Taylor Simpson / Unsplash

Make your staycation dreams a reality by constructing a small plunge pool out back. Able to take on just about any shape and size necessary to fit into your small space, plunge pools can be built right off your patio, deck, or even the wall of your house.

Water gardens are another option for a more tranquil vibe.

6. Install a Fire Pit

Photo Credit: Robert / Adobe Stock

Besides providing warmth on a cool, fall evening, fire pits also create a natural gathering spot. Assemble friends and family for ghost stories and s’mores or wine and cheese. Or, light it purely for added ambience.

7. Hang String Lights

string lights over backyard seating area
Photo Credit: Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

When the sun goes down, it shouldn’t stop the party. Use lighting to set an overall mood, brighten the space, or accent your favorite backyard feature — think patio, fire pit, or dining area. Available in an array of colors, shapes, and styles (solar or electric), these lights can be strung overhead, wrapped around tree trunks, or draped over garden hedges and shrubs.

8. Forge a Path

garden pathway
Photo Credit: leeyiutung / Adobe Stock

To enjoy the different “rooms” in your backyard, construct a pathway that leads to each one. Based on your design aesthetic, choose a material (concrete pavers, crushed gravel, or wood pallets, for example) that best fits the space. This will not only add beauty, but also help prevent accidental slips and falls and keep shoes free of mud.

9. Add Built-in Seating

seating in backyard
Photo Credit: hikesterson / Canva Pro / License

Chairs and benches can take up a lot of space, which can cause problems if you don’t want to bump into them while navigating your yard. By installing built-in seating around the perimeter of the deck or yard, you can improve entertaining possibilities without taking up any extra space.

Built-in seating also adds a layer of comfort to your small space. Imagine placing seating in a retaining wall surrounded by flowers. The perfect place to go outside with coffee or tea in the morning, or read a book!

10. Create Designated Quarters

Photo Credit: Pxhere / CC0 1.0

When designing outdoor areas, you want to create an intimate space, or series of spaces, that are distinct yet unified. If you have a small backyard, make the most out of it by using fences to divide it into designated quarters. One section could be for lounging, another could be your garden, a third could be your flowers, etc.

11. Create a Focal Point

Photo Credit: Pxhere

You can’t turn a small backyard into a palace courtyard, but you can make it feel like one. Instead of grass, put down pebbles and create a focal point in the middle of the yard. Whether you choose a stone planter with flowers, a beautiful fountain, or an inviting birdbath, picking a good focal point can turn your ordinary garden into an extraordinary one. 

12. Add an Outdoor Water Feature

Photo Credit: Pxhere / CC0 1.0

Whether you want to go big with a landscape design or keep it simple with a DIY garden project, adding a water feature can turn your outdoor space into a beautiful oasis. Some examples of water features you can add are:

  1. Pondless waterfalls and streams
  1. Fountains
  1. Spillway bowls

13. Add a Vegetable Garden

Metal trellises in garden beds
Photo Credit: Patrick / CC BY 2.0

You don’t need a large area to have a vegetable garden. All you need is a location that can provide adequate sunlight, access to a water source, and rich, fertile soil. Doing this will help you produce healthy vegetables, fruits, and herbs without going to the grocery store.

Additionally, consider using a fence; deer and other animals in the community love your vegetables just as much as you do, and you don’t want to give them a food supply and ruin all your hard work.

14. Build an Outdoor Kitchen

outdoor kitchen overlooking landscape
Photo Credit: Arcwind / Unsplash

Besides being a perfect space to entertain your guests, an outdoor kitchen lowers your energy bills, adds value to your home, and saves you money on restaurant meals. Your backyard space might be small, but that shouldn’t lessen your will to grill.

An outdoor kitchen costs anywhere from $32.50 to $100 per square foot. Total costs start around $3,000 and go up from there.

15. Utilize the Front Yard

Frontyard garden
Photo Credit: Queque / Pixabay

Though the backyard has many desirable aspects (such as privacy for get-togethers), sometimes you just don’t have enough space. Thus, look to your front yard for some extra square footage, taking advantage of your outdoor space and joining in the hustle and bustle of life on your street.

Incorporate a reading nook under a front yard tree, add an outdoor swing, or group a few chairs together to create an intimate seating area for conversations. 

When to Call Landscaping Professionals

If you don’t have a green thumb and would much rather hire someone to execute those backyard landscaping ideas you have in mind, there are plenty of local landscapers dedicated to enhancing your property’s value and appeal.

A crew will come out to survey your space, and then develop a custom hardscape and landscape design plan, including plant selection, outdoor lighting, fire and water features, irrigation solutions, and even routine lawn care.

A welcoming outdoor paradise isn’t dependent on size. It’s all about using the space you have to its full potential.


Is it Cheaper to Landscape Yourself?

The cheapest way to landscape a backyard is to do it yourself, particularly if you already have the tools and skills needed for the job. If you are capable of DIY landscaping, you don’t have to pay to hire a professional landscaping service to do the work for you.

In some cases, DIY may not be the cheapest way to go. If a task requires tools you don’t have, you’ll have to buy them. (Although, renting large equipment for a half or a whole day is possible as long as you have a way to transport it.) And if you’re learning a new skill, it will take more time or money due to mistakes or the learning curve.

If you’re a DIY novice, the costs of tools, transportation, or a lack of skill can cost more than hiring a pro.

What is the Least Expensive Landscaping Material?

Pea gravel. It’s typically used like gravel for walkways, patios, and other places where foot traffic is high. Pea gravel is very useful in landscaping projects because it’s a smooth stone. In fact, it’s also one of the cheapest stones you can use in landscaping.

Pea gravel costs $25 to $67 per cubic yard for smaller projects, averaging to $46 per cubic yard.

How Much Should I Budget for Landscaping?

Landscaping costs $15 per square foot, on average. To have a pro landscaper work on your project, expect to spend $5 to $24 per square foot, depending on how much you want landscaped. Below are several examples of how much you would pay for various projects, including materials and pro landscaper fees:

ServicesAverage Cost
Land grading$100 – $3,400
Planting flower beds$650 – $3,000
Decks$3,918 – $10,539
Gazebos$5,364 – $9,027
Retaining Walls$4,025 – $8,711

To learn more about the price of landscaping, read our article on how much landscaping costs.

Small Space, Big Possibilities

Your backyard might be small, but that shouldn’t keep you from turning it into something big. Whether you like to entertain guests, read books while surrounded by nature, or just have a personal space to unwind, the possibilities are endless. 

If you don’t have a green thumb and would rather hire someone to execute those backyard ideas you have in mind, contact a local landscaper to help enhance your property’s value and appeal. 

Main Photo: Fluteflute / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Stuart Kushner

Stuart Kushner

Stuart Kushner is a writer and aspiring product designer based in New York City. When he isn’t doing either, Stuart enjoys heavy metal music, exercise, and trying new food and drinks.