Cheap landscaping ideas: 16 ways to transform your backyard on a budget
These cheap landscaping ideas prove that giving your garden a new look doesn't have to be expensive
Is your plot crying out for a makeover? These cheap landscaping ideas demonstrate how a fabulous new look needn't be expensive to achieve.
Perhaps your backyard boundaries need an update, or you fancy a smart new flower bed. Or maybe, a new seating zone for relaxing and entertaining in style is exactly what your plot needs. Whatever the case, many will be pleased to hear that there are plenty of landscaping ideas that won't cost the earth. Because let's face it – at first thought, a garden makeover can sound like an expensive ordeal. In fact, it often is, unless you've got a bit of know-how and creativity up your sleeve.
We've brought together some top landscaping solutions to demonstrate the fantastic features that can be achieved on a budget. Some are easy, whilst a couple are more suited to seasoned DIYers, but all of them will guarantee long-lasting style.
16 cheap landscaping ideas that will rejuvenate your plot
Whatever your garden's theme, our edit of cheap landscaping ideas is sure to get you inspired for an update.
1. Don't pay for a new patio
Rather than paying for a new patio to be installed, simply disguise tired paving or decking with one of the best outdoor rugs. The majority are made from woven polypropylene and come in a whole host of different patterns and colors.
Warm and comfy underfoot, they are the easiest and ideal way to bring pattern into your outside seating space and make a handy focal point to arrange furniture around, too. What's more, they are easy to look after, can be left outside during rain showers, and are quick to dry.
Choose from monochrome geometrics, large-scale tropical motifs, or the very latest faded Persian-style rugs.
2. Lay a DIY path
Quick and easy garden path ideas don't have to be expensive or arduous. From bark nuggets and slate chippings to gravel or pea shingle, there are a number of easy-lay options that are also practical underfoot and good-looking, too.
You could simply lay them straight on the ground or onto a hard surface (think concrete hardstanding or an existing ugly paved area) and rake them level. But in most cases, it makes sense to put down landscape membrane first and then the aggregate on top. This will both stop the aggregate from being pushed down into the soil and prevent weeds from growing up within the path.
One thrifty but attractive idea is to make a woodland-style log path. Made from cross-sections of sawn logs, it's natural paving at its best. Place the circular sections onto a firmed and leveled pathway and arrange them as stepping-stones. Fill any awkward gaps with smaller discs from younger branches and fine bark chippings.
3. Get existing shrubs in order
Bring fresh form and structure into your garden by reshaping large, unruly shrubs. It's quick and easy to do, and as long as you already have a pair of the best loppers or a hedge trimmer, it won't cost you. Plus, not only is it an opportunity to get creative – perhaps with some topiary – but it can also let more daylight filter in, encouraging other plants to grow.
'The best species for shrub topiaries are evergreens with small, dense foliage, such as the boxwood, yew shrubs, and thuja conifers,' explains James Ramnought of Phostrogen.
Other reliable plants include shrubby honeysuckle or Hebe sutherlandii, as recommended by Guy Watts, founder of Architectural Plants. 'These both have a neat, compact, little leaf, which will give you crisp and defined lines when you clip them as a pillow or ball. They're also very dense plants, which provide additional definition if you want to define a specific space,' he adds. 'Very versatile, they also look fantastic clipped and planted in formal border patterns, rather like a parterre design.' There are lots more ideas for landscaping with shrubs in our dedicated feature.
Clip up to 4–6 times a year, during the warmer growing period, removing fresh new growth. Avoid cutting into old woody stems and feed regularly with liquid fertilizer.
4. Up the sensory appeal with a budget-friendly water feature
Adding a homemade water feature to your plot is an instant way to bring a whole new dimension to your outside space, and doesn't have to be expensive. Sun or moonlight reflecting off the still water will always be a mesmerizing sight.
Choose a shallow yet wide and open container. Yes, there are some gorgeous metal reflection bowls available, but a vintage enamel basin, plastic plant saucer, or even an upturned dustbin lid will do the job. Place on level ground or raise up on a simple brick or timber plinth, away from trees or shrubs. Fill to the brim, ideally with rainwater, and enjoy the reflection of scudding clouds overhead and visits from thirsty birds and wildlife.
5. Reshape your flower beds
Just something as simple as redefining or altering the shape and size of your flower beds can hugely revitalize your garden. Costing nothing more than an hour or two of your time, and maybe a bag of compost, it's a great way to get creative and reimagine your space.
Consider introducing some sweeping curves to introduce movement and drama into your plot, or a series of sharp geometric beds, set on an angle, for a more contemporary vibe. Whatever your design ambitions, a good quality, sharp edging tool is required for this job.
Rainer Schubert, managing director at Burgon & Ball, shares this advice: 'Different shapes of flower bed can dramatically alter the atmosphere of a garden. A straight edge creates a formal feel, whereas an irregular, drifting shape can feel much softer. You can also use shapes to create optical illusions: straight borders down either side of a garden can make it look smaller, whereas a sweeping curve can make it feel bigger than it actually is.
'When it comes to distance from front to back of the flower bed, the choice is yours. Ideally, you'd have a minimum depth of around a meter [3.3ft] to comfortably accommodate several different heights of plant for a full, rich look.
'Always consider access,' he adds. 'If you want really deep flower beds – how will you get to the plants at the back?'
And once you've tidied up their shape, you could go one step further with your budgeting and fill them with free plants.
6. Divide your space into zones
'An affordable way to landscape your garden is to work your space into zones and then apply different techniques to each area,' says Charles Taylor, Director at Composite Prime.
So, when considering your new cheap landscaping ideas, think about the different areas you need for the activities you want to do. For instance, rather than paving a huge space (and splashing out on tons of pavers), plan a smaller patio area in one corner for your outdoor seating. The rest of the plot can be reserved for cheaper materials, such as lawn, bark chipping or gravel garden paths, or flower beds.
Similarly, a fancy privacy fence might look beautiful but could cost you a pretty penny if you use it around the entire perimeter of your plot. Instead, install it around the zones which will benefit most from the heightened look and sense of exclusivity. Then, for the remaining boundaries, opt for more affordable solutions such as some of the best hedging plants.
7. Create an industrial vibe with metal edging
'Metal edging can be a staple in the garden, especially when you have lots of plants or bedding where it can separate different areas,' says Paul McFadyen, Managing Director at metals4U. 'Its main usage is to prevent the migration of garden materials falling into garden beds, such as gravel or stone. Not only is it helpful, it's a great way to upscale your garden, creating an organized but beautiful layout without spending much money.
'Costs can start as cheap as £10 [the equivalent of around $13.75] for metal sheets and rods which can be used for metal edging, although it's important to understand what type of metals are best suited for metal edging and your styling preferences,' Paul adds. We particularly love the warm tones of Corten steel, which is incredibly durable and has been used to give these steps a striking look. Untreated steel may be cheaper but is prone to rust over time which leads to corrosion.
You can find more info on metal garden edging ideas in our guide.
8. Sow a lush lawn from seed
If you love the idea of a lush lawn for summer picnics or for the kids to have a run around, then you're in luck. These favorite garden features are cheap and relatively easy to create.
Whilst using rolls of turf may be quicker, it's definitely more expensive. So, if you've got a bit of patience, learning how to plant grass seed is the way forward. You'll need to prepare the ground first, removing any weeds or stones and leveling it out before recompacting it and raking the top.
Don't forget you'll need to factor in the costs of a lawn mower, but there are plenty of budget versions available that will do the job just fine. Our buying guide to the best lawn mower is a good place to start your search.
If you already have a lawn but it's looking a little worse for wear, it's easy and inexpensive to learn how to repair lawn patches and get it back to looking its best.
Why not add a border of blooms for extra visual appeal? Although buying lots of plants at the garden center can be expensive, growing your own from seed, as with grass, is a much cheaper approach. You can also learn how to take cuttings from plants – that way you can have new ones for free.
9. Upcycle objects for new garden features
Head down to your local reclamation yard and you might be surprised at all the inexpensive treasure you find that has upcycling potential. This setup demonstrates lots of great ideas at play.
Corrugated metal sheets can be used for screening – embrace the raw industrial look or give them a makeover with a lick of exterior metal paint. And if you're keen on adding more sustainable garden features to your plot, a reclaimed barrel or two makes a statement water butt for recycling rainwater. We also like the DIY bench in this scene for a simple seating solution or platform for plants.
Keep an eye out for large containers that can be used for garden planters, too. In smaller plots these can be an important part of your layout as they can be positioned as garden dividers.
10. Use garden sleepers for raised beds, benches, and more
'Timber sleepers provide a cost-effective way to create large, impressive raised beds, or clear cut edging to separate grass or patios from borders,' says the team at Jacksons Fencing. 'Use them to clearly define areas of your garden, create walkways, or fill them with an array of home-grown fruits and vegetables or your favorite florals, to help tie the rest of your garden together.' You could even use them to create a bench and raised bed in one, as demonstrated here.
If you really want to cut on costs, look for reclaimed ones, however be aware that some may have been treated with Creosote, which is now seen as a toxic health hazard. Jacksons Fencing advises to always opt for high-quality products though, that have been kiln-dried and pressure treated. They may be more expensive, but see it as an investment – not only will they reduce safety risks but they will last the test of time.
Our guide to garden sleeper ideas has lots of creative inspiration on ways to use them in your landscaping scheme.
11. Source reclaimed bricks for edges and patios
Reclaimed bricks offer a vintage charm that's perfect for country-cottage gardens, and they're durable too. Often they can be found online – or ask around your local area – you might just pick up a bargain.
If you manage to get your hands on a large amount, you could use them to create an entire patio space. Alternatively, they're a smart garden edging idea for your borders or paths for an extra sense of definition. Combine with gravel – another budget-friendly material that also looks great and is good for soaking up rainwater, too.
12. Go for composite decking that will last
'Carefully laid decking helps to create an increased sense of space by offering a dedicated area for entertaining and unwinding that can be utilized year-round,' says Charles Taylor, Director at Composite Prime. 'This can be achieved by adding levels to a sloping garden or elevating an area with raised decking.'
Now, decking might not be at the forefront of your mind when thinking of cheap landscaping ideas, and that's understandable – it might require a bit more budgeting. However, we've included it in our list because the best composite decking products will last such a long time that it's a definite worthwhile investment, saving you money in the long run.
'It is understandable that people will look to minimize their budgets when doing up their garden, but we believe the cheapest way is not always the right option,' explains Toby Allen, Director at NeoTimber®. 'We feel it's more important to choose a cost-efficient material.'
For instance, their composite decking has a 25-year warranty and never needs to be stained or painted. 'Unlike timber, which will likely need to be re-sealed every year and replaced after ten years, composite decking gives you a truly viable, cost-effective option which lasts for years,' the team adds. And nowadays, there's a wide range of products to suit various budgets.
13. Build your own garden structure for cool shade
If you've been eyeing up our pergola ideas and would love one of your own, then it's totally doable – even if you're on a budget. Okay, you'll need some DIY skills to ensure it's constructed safely, but building your own can be a great way to spend a sunny weekend if you love an outdoor project. Plus, it's much cheaper than buying one that's ready-made.
Our guide on how to build a pergola features top advice on creating one from scratch. You can also buy flat-pack kits with instructions for assembly which vary in cost.
Want to add a bit more character? Grab a pot of exterior wood paint in a color that complements your garden and give your new shade structure a couple of coats. Add some seating beneath and it'll be your new favorite feature in no time.
14. Or, learn how to make a pond
Learning how to build a garden pond yourself is another outdoor project that's much more affordable than calling in the experts. All that digging can be a workout, but it's actually pretty straightforward, and can make a beautiful focal point for any backyard.
Line the edges with rocks and add aquatic plants to help it blend into its surroundings, whilst a small pump will offer a soothing sound and helps to keep the water oxygenated (and they don't cost much to buy or run).
15. Paint your boundaries rather than replacing them
If your garden wall or fence is looking a little lackluster, then you might be tempted to rip the whole thing out. However, before you fork out on a brand new style, consider whether the existing design can be improved or repaired.
Maybe just one or two fence panels have rotted or broken, in which case you can just replace those (take a look at our guide on how to install fence panels for advice). And sometimes, a good clean and a lick of fresh paint can do wonders at brightening up the dullest of walls.
There's a huge spectrum of exterior paint colors available these days, from soft blues, deep ochre and warming terracotta to on-trend charcoal or gray. To make a real style statement, paint your raised beds in a complementary hue, like in this smart example above.
16. Or, go for stylish bamboo screening
If your boundaries are beyond repair, another cheap fence idea is to use rolls of bamboo screening. As the team at Thompson & Morgan say, they're a 'quick and easy way to cover unsightly areas or create a stylish backdrop for plants,' and if you use them for your landscaping for the front of your house there's 'instant kerb appeal guaranteed.'
If you would like a more botanical feel, the team suggest planting black bamboo for a tropical-like screen with a contemporary edge. 'Quick and easy to grow, this non-invasive variety delivers real impact, making it a garden designer favorite.'
More top cheap landscaping ideas
Interior influencer Laura Higham of @The_Indigo_House recently transformed her own backyard into a show-stopping space on a budget (see the image below). She shares some of the top tips and cheap landscaping ideas that she used.
Consider which work you can DIY, she suggests. As the average cost for a garden overhaul can start from as high as £5,000 (according to Checkatrade, or the equivalent of $6,897) it's wise to sit down and decide what elements of the work you can take on yourself. This will save you money to splurge on statement items for your social space, such as a lovely new outdoor sofa. For Laura's backyard, 'when it came to the work, we did a lot of it ourselves, from cutting down small trees to taking up the old patio and digging out the beds surrounding it.' This allowed her to keep down costs and invest her money elsewhere.
You can also take on the task of planning your landscaping makeover yourself, saving the costs of hiring a professional to do it for you. Laura says, 'we very much planned the space ourselves and I found my inspiration through Pinterest, Instagram and even visiting National Trust gardens. This helped us build a solid framework of our concept.' You can find lots of useful suggestions to get you started in our guide on how to plan your garden design.
Laura also suggests sourcing secondhand objects where possible. This will result in a relaxed and laid-back feel (whilst stretching your budget further). She suggests trying antique stores, eBay, or vintage sellers on Instagram.
Other features in her refreshed plot include a newly-painted fence in an on-trend hue, and inexpensive-yet-smart raised beds. And by now, hopefully you'll be full of inspiration to create something just as beautiful in your own backyard.
The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.
- Jill MorganFreelance writer
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