Cheap no-grass backyard ideas: 10 low-maintenance looks for your space

These cheap no-grass backyard ideas prove that you don't need turf to transform your garden on a budget

cheap no-grass backyard ideas
(Image credit: Joanne Dale/Alamy Stock Photo)

These cheap no-grass backyard ideas are just what you need if you're after an affordable makeover that requires minimal upkeep.

Although growing grass from seed is a relatively quick and budget-friendly approach to cover a yard, it does have its drawbacks. For starters, there's a lot of work involved to keep it looking lush and green, from mowing and feeding to scarifying and aerating. 

You'll need somewhere to keep your mower too, and for smaller plots, this can be tricky. Lawns don't like shade either, so if your garden is lacking in plenty of sun, odds are you'll be fighting a losing battle to keep it looking tip-top. And if you're working with a paved courtyard, the preparation process of digging it up and preparing the soil for turf is long-winded, to say the least.

Luckily, there are plenty of backyard ideas that make great alternatives to grass, and won't cost you a fortune. We've rounded up some of our favorite approaches to help you get inspired.

10 cheap no-grass backyard ideas to try at home

From gorgeous gravel to perfect paving, there's something for everyone in our round-up of cheap no-grass backyard ideas.

1. Create a woodland vibe with winding paths

winding path through garden

Line a stepping-stone pathway with pretty container displays

(Image credit: Thomas Fricke/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images)

A winding path of stepping stones leading the way to a tucked-away seating spot is easy to create and will give any plot an enchanting feel. Use reclaimed pavers, bricks, or even logs to keep costs down. 

Surround with budget-friendly gravel or wood chippings in a contrasting color, planted up with pockets of lush foliage. These mounds of hostas create a cooling, jungle-like vibe and will thrive in the shade. Add a couple of containers too as a finishing touch. You can switch them up with seasonal blooms throughout the year.

There are lots more garden path ideas in our guide.

2. Go for gravel

gravel garden with flowerbed and covered patio

Gravel has tons of benefits in a backyard

(Image credit: Gino Rigucci/Alamy Stock Photo)

When it comes to backyard landscaping ideas, you really can't go far wrong with gravel. It's cheap, it's super easy to install, and it requires hardly any maintenance at all.

It's also great at absorbing rainwater, so can help prevent your yard from flash floods. Use it for paths, instead of paving for a patio, or to cover great sweeps of ground as seen here. Adding edging to the borders will stop stones from going astray.

Add drought tolerant plants and shrubs directly into it for extra visual interest and color and perhaps add a larger rock here and there for a naturalistic feel.

3. Pave a beautiful patio

paved patio with plants and sofa

We love how vibrant planting softens the borders of this patio

(Image credit: Joanne Dale/Alamy Stock Photo)

If you've seen our backyard patio ideas, you'll know that this is a winning approach when it comes to transforming a yard. And, there are lots of different types of pavers to choose from, with plenty of choice for smaller budgets.

Paving offers a smart and stable base for all your garden furniture, so it's a brilliant option if you love to entertain outdoors. Keep the scheme simple with a comfy corner sofa and coffee table, or to really ramp up the cozy factor, bring in a fire pit.

Beautiful flowerbeds can be positioned to break up zones. Stick to a tonal palette for a harmonious look or embrace a riot of color – whichever suits you best.

4. Add a relaxing water feature

water feature in garden

This naturalistic stream makes a lovely addition to a backyard

(Image credit: Ellen Isaacs/Alamy Stock Photo)

Whether you go for a gently meandering waterfall or an elegant backyard pond, these features will undoubtedly bring soothing, sensory benefits to your plot.

They don't have to cost a ton either, especially if you build them yourself. If you've got the space, you can dig them straight into the ground and add a liner. Use plenty of pebbles and plants on either side for an organic feel.

Alternatively, if space is at a premium, you can create a smaller display with a large container. Add a pump and you can enjoy the trickling sounds too as you relax nearby.

5. Keep it simple with bark chippings

wood chippings in front of house with decking

Wood chippings are an easy choice for ground cover

(Image credit: Joe Hendrickson/Alamy Stock Photo)

Bark chippings are a great landscaping material if you're after budget backyard ideas. You can buy them in bags from garden centers and DIY stores, but it may be worth checking with your local tree surgeon or on online marketplaces for even better bargains.

They can be used as a path or as a more natural alternative to paving – pop some landscaping fabric down first to combat the weeds. And don't forget that bark chippings also make a great organic mulch for your flowerbeds.

Just remember that they will need topping up now and again. Unlike gravel, they will start to break down over time.

6. Pick click-together flooring

click together decking tiles from ikea on balcony

Outdoor flooring from Ikea is a great solution for a quick update

(Image credit: Ikea)

Working with a small plot? You'll definitely need some cheap no-grass backyard ideas to avoid the hassle of maintaining a tiny patch of turf.

These click-together decking tiles are an ingenious solution for a quick update. They'll instantly pep up an old, lacklustre patio, bare stretch of concrete, or even a balcony. And the best part is, you can take them with you should you move house, so they're a great option for rentals.

Pair with a brightly-colored bistro, some cute lanterns, and pots full of flowers, herbs and veg for an outdoor living scene that feels fresh, modern and fun.

You can find more small backyard ideas in our guide.

7. Pep up the space with a patterned rug

patterned outdoor rug on deck

This eye-catching rug adds tons of style

(Image credit: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/Alamy Stock Photo)

One of the best outdoor rugs can also come in handy if you're looking for affordable and low-fuss ways to cover boring paving or concrete. There are loads of colors and patterns out there, so it's also a brilliant way to solidify your garden theme and add personality.

They'll add an extra layer of cozy comfort underfoot too. Pop in the center of your outdoor seating area for a living-room vibe.

8. Invest in a sturdy deck

timber sleeper path leading to deck

A deck makes a practical base for an outdoor living area

(Image credit: Mabo/Alamy Stock Photo)

Decking makes a modern and practical choice for outdoor living zones. And, if you go for long-lasting composite versions, they're low-maintenance, too.

They might be a bit more expensive than other ground covers, but it's worth the investment. And some products also do their bit for the environment. For instance, Composite Prime's decking is made by combining a waste product of hardwood production with recycled plastic. Each square meter contains the equivalent of more than 3,000 plastic bottle caps or 280 plastic bottles.

'Making sustainable choices when it comes to developing and designing gardens is crucial to combat the growing crisis around waste products,' says Charles Taylor, director at Composite Prime. 'As a result, environmentally-friendly garden design is growing in popularity, with homeowners opting for composite decking as a more durable, low-maintenance and sustainable alternative to traditional timber.'

You can find more decking ideas in our feature.

9. Go for easy-care artificial turf

artifical lawn from permalawn with path and summer house

This artificial turf from PermaLawn looks just as good (if not better!) than the real deal, and is super low-maintenance

(Image credit: PermaLawn)

If you've felt inspired by our lawn ideas and are eager for a stretch of green in your space, then there's always artificial turf.

'Artificial grass is growing in popularity as a low-maintenance investment in an ever-green garden,' says Adrian Buttress, managing director of PermaLawn. 'It's a smart, convenient, and aesthetically pleasing alternative for homeowners who want a lawn that's hassle-free and always looks freshly cut.

'But, it's important to invest in a quality product upfront to ensure the lawn's longevity,' he adds.

10. Add a twinkling glow

garden makeover by @Rugrats.and.renovation with composite prime decking

This garden, created by Sera of @rugrats.and.renovation, includes composite decking from Composite Prime and lots of lovely, glowing lights

(Image credit: @rugrats.and.renovation)

This beautiful backyard makeover was completed on a budget by Sera Sekerci, of home styling and interior design Instagram account, @rugrats.and.renovation

With eco-friendly composite decking, soft furnishings, and a stylish dining zone, it's the perfect setting for entertaining friends and family and will require very little maintenance.

And, of course, no garden makeover is complete without the addition of good outdoor lighting ideas, of which there are plenty of affordable options. Layer up different types – from solar lanterns to festoons – for the best effect.

Can you lay your own patio?

One way to cut down on costs is to take care of the labor yourself, and laying a patio is one great example. Sam Norris, garden expert of Garden Street, says, 'Laying patio down doesn't need to cost the earth, and in small home spaces, it makes for a great DIY project. All it takes is prep and a bit of dedication!'

He shares some of his tips below:

  1. 'Draw a scale plan of the area before starting any work with exact dimensions. If you do not have tools to cut patio slabs, you may need to work to the size of the patio slabs themselves.'
  2. 'Always ensure the ground is completely flat (using a spirit level) when dug out, and ideally has good drainage.'
  3. 'Dig to a depth of around 15cm [6in], removing any turf or plants.'
  4. 'Do not lay directly onto the soil – lay some hardcore to provide a foundation. This needs to be compacted with a plate compactor and be 4–8cm [1.5–3in] deep.'
  5. 'Lay down bedding mortar onto the hardcore (5:1 sand/cement); again keeping the base completely flat and level.'
  6. 'Use string to act as guides, ensuring that as you lay the patio slabs in line they are completely level.'
  7. 'Leave 1cm [0.4in] between the slabs – do not put the slabs next to each other. After 24 hours of laying fill with dry sand or patio grout.'

You can find more tips on how to lay a patio in our guide.

modern patio by garden street

This chic patio scene from Garden Street makes an ideal outdoor living space

(Image credit: Garden Street)

What is the cheapest way to cover a backyard?

Hopefully, these cheap no-grass backyard ideas have filled you with inspo for your own space. But, here's a few more budget-friendly pointers to bear in mind.

  • There are some great ground cover plants that require much less maintenance than grass. Plant them in between paving or amongst gravel for a boost of green.
  • Speaking of gravel, pea gravel is one of the cheapest and easiest ground covers to lay and complements all styles of plot. You can find lots of inspiration in our garden gravel ideas feature.
  • Factor in long-term costs. Artificial turf or composite decking may cost more initially, but will need very little maintenance once it's installed.
  • Use reclaimed materials where you can.
  • If possible, it's always worth taking care of at least some of the labor when giving a backyard a makeover. For example, you could learn how to build a fire pit, how to build decking, or simply paint your own fences.
Holly Crossley
Acting Deputy Editor

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.