Simple Backyard Landscaping IDEAS on a Budget
Start a compost pile with leaves from yard cleanups.
The bare expanse of dirt, rocks and a few dead weeds makes the backyard a wasteland – dry as a bone in summer and a mud hole in winter. While your budget may not allow a full makeover, there’s several frugal options that can turn your dirt-filled yard into a family- and pet-friendly retreat.
Green Up With Grass
Planting grass is a frugal option that requires more sweat than money. By planning two to six months ahead, you can build a compost pile with dead leaves, weeds, shredded paper, manure, grass trimmings and other yard debris. Once the compost pile has completely decomposed, rake it over the entire yard. Till the compost into the soil and water thoroughly. Rake the soil smooth, then scatter grass seed over the entire yard, or plant grass plugs. Keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged, until the seeds sprout, in seven to 14 days. Grass species include bahia grass (Paspalum notatum), which grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10, and zoysia grass (Zoysia spp), which grows in USDA zones 6 through 9. These grasses tend to be invasive, so use caution when selecting grass for your yard.
Covering Dirt With Creepers
Sun-loving ground covers, such as creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) and candytuft (Iberis spp), which grow in USDA zones 5 through 9, and shade-loving plants such as mini Kenilworth ivy (Cymbalaria aequitriloba) and blue star creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis), which grows in USDA zones 6 through 9, can fill every part of your backyard. If you look around your neighborhood, you can usually find a neighbor willing to share cuttings and advice on establishing ground covers. The spreading nature of ground covers also means some will spread too vigorously. Be careful when selecting plants to ensure you don’t accidentally plant an invasive species such as periwinkle (Vinca major), which grows in USDA zones 7 through 11, or English ivy (Hedera helix), which grows in USDA zone 4 through 9.
Make It Mulch
If you’re not sure what your future landscape plans may be, cover the bare soil with a 4-inch layer of mulch, such as shredded bark or wood chips. A layer of recycled cardboard under the mulch works nearly as well as landscape cloth and will slowly decompose to enrich the soil. While some tree-trimming firms will happily dump a load of free wood chips in your driveway, use caution, as the chips may contain pesticides, herbicides and other substances such as juglone, a toxic chemical found in walnut trees (Juglans spp.), which grow in USDA zones 3 through 9, depending on the species.
Recycled Bricks, Pavers and Concrete
Paths and patios are inexpensive alternatives to plants. Recycling old bricks, pavers, concrete from sidewalks and driveways and other found materials make your yard an eco-friendly space for your family and friends. Once you’ve gathered the materials, you can plan your new hardscape. Remove 3 inches of soil. Add 1 to 2 inches of sand and arrange the bricks or pavers over the sand, adding and removing sand as needed to ensure the patio is level. Fill the cracks between the bricks, pavers or concrete with more sand or crushed gravel. Add potted plants, a table, chairs and a patio umbrella to complete the space.