10 Tips To Help You Renovate Your Yard on a Budget

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If your backyard needs a renovation but your budget won't support big spending, check out these 10 pro tips for thrifty, smart yard renovations.

We love our yards, and we spend a bundle to keep them looking great. According to a 2018 survey by the National Association of Landscaping Professionals, Americans spent nearly $48 billion on lawn and garden retail purchases, including plants, sod, sprinkler systems, patio furniture, pavers — you name it.

But what if your budget doesn’t allow you to spend thousands — or even hundreds — on your yard? HGTV personality and residential real estate pro Matt Blashaw tells Family Handyman that too often, “people renovate their homes and run out of money by the time they get to the backyard.” That limits the scope of any yard renovation project.

Blashaw recommends the yard projects you undertake should be “attainable, DIY-friendly, and expand on what you already have.” Here, he and other yard renovation pros share their top ideas and tips for how to do yard renovations on a budget.

Expand an Existing Patio

Keeping with the “work with what you have” theme, Blashaw suggests expanding your outdoor entertainment area by adding on to an existing concrete pad. “Just build off that with pavers and stain the concrete the same color as the pavers,” he says. “You don’t have to rip everything out and start from scratch.”

Upgrade Your BBQ

You may dream of an elaborate built-in barbecue, but maybe your budget can’t accommodate it. Blashaw says you can take your existing grill and create a custom look. “Create walls [using brick, stone or a fireproof material] and make a frame into which you push your barbecue,” he says. This gives the impression of a built-in grill without the high price tag.

Create a Patio with Decomposed Granite

To create a patio on a budget, consider decomposed granite, a type of finely crushed rock. “Dig out an area of grass, get some heavy bender board [landscape edging], bring in the decomposed granite, compact it down, and then add another layer,” Blashaw says. “Once compacted correctly, it creates a nice hardscape, and costs less than $1 per square foot.”

Use Plants to Create Focal Points

“Nothing beautifies your yard more than making it literally come alive with a variety of flowers and plants,” says Mark Feldman, chief home officer and general manager of home décor company Riverbend Home. Creating levels in the yard adds visual interest and can be achieved with different colors and sizes of planters and plants.

Blashaw says this trick works just as well on a patio, too. “With cascading plants, annuals and different shapes and sizes of pots, you can create a sort of sculpture — don’t be afraid to use color!” he says.

Use Plants for Privacy

Privacy Plants Catherine McQueen/Getty Images

If you live in a home or apartment without much backyard privacy, you can create some on the cheap with plants. “If planted correctly, plants can give you privacy,” says Blashaw. He recommends buying established plants in five-gallon containers.

If you can add a simple wood trellis, you can add climbing plants to cover it. When setting plants in the ground isn’t an option, Blashaw suggests hitting local thrift stores to shop for attractive, used ceramic planters. He says you can also save money by using plant cuttings to sprout new ones.

Overseed Your Patchy Grass

Laying sod is the fastest way to give your lawn a makeover, says Josh Sevick, president of The Grounds Guys. But it’s also the most expensive. If you’ve got patience and a small budget, scratching and overseeding is the way to go.

“Cultivate the area using a rake or hoe to turn the soil,” says Sevick. “Then overseed with grass seed, then apply starter fertilizer and water to keep the seedbed moist.”

He recommends adding a layer of straw or seed mulch over the freshly applied seed to help maintain good soil moisture. “Other than the cost of seed and fertilizer, this is mostly just old-fashioned sweat equity,” he says.

Spend Time on Lawn Care

You need to take care of that lawn once it’s established. Blashaw says to plan your planting, fertilizer treatments and weed abatement in the spring, so you’ve got a healthy green lawn for your family to enjoy throughout the summer and into the fall.

Repurpose Old Wood

If your renovation involves tearing out old wood, “keep everything,” says Blashaw. He recently created a privacy wall with repurposed wood. “As long as it’s in good shape,” he says, “even if it has nails in it, strip down the wood and use it to build an interesting feature — the nail holes don’t matter.”

If you’re lucky, you can get your hands on old cedar, redwood or chestnut — some of the most rot- and insect-resistant woods.

Hide the Ugly

“Hide unsightly items like trash cans or an AC unit with a privacy panel,” says Feldman. If you’ve got the budget for it, go with something durable and weatherproof that doesn’t need staining. Otherwise, you can stick to an inexpensive lattice panel. But you’ll have to paint or stain this to make it more attractive, a chore you’ll have to repeat periodically.

Add Some Lighting

A little artificial lighting transforms a day-use-only yard into a welcoming evening gathering place. “Lights add ambiance and a touch of magic to your outdoor spaces, and they can make a big difference to make your yard feel more inviting,” says Feldman.

He suggests string lights in different styles, colors and bulb types, placed overhead or on structures like a banister rail. Also, consider these solar-powered rock lights, a discrete way to illuminate parts of your garden or a path.