Small backyard ideas: 16 ways to maximize your outdoor space

Our small backyard ideas will help you create the plot of your dreams, even if you're limited on square footage

small backyard with sofas and gas fire pit table on patio
(Image credit: Molly Rose/DMAR Interiors)

Unfortunately, we can't all have a sprawling outdoor space, but a small backyard can still have a big impact. While some homeowners might have acres and acres to play with, many others have a pretty limited area to work with. Figuring out what to do with a small backyard might be a challenge, but there are plenty of ideas to maximize your space and create a perfect oasis.

Whether you're interested in creating an entertainment area for alfresco summer parties, a serene escape where you can curl up with a good book in the afternoon, or a practical space for you to try your hand at growing your own produce, there’s plenty of backyard ideas to suit smaller plots in our selection. 

16 brilliant small backyard ideas for turning a petite plot into a paradise

Time to give your outdoor space a refresh? We've rounded up our favorite small backyard ideas to give you plenty of inspiration to start your transformation project. 

1. Mix up the materials 

modern low maintenance backyard with gravel

This low-maintenance plot is from Maestri Studio and From The Ground Up

(Image credit: Jenifer McNeil Baker/Maestri Studio/From The Ground Up)

Rather than opting for just one type of ground cover for your backyard landscaping, consider introducing a few different materials in a similar hue. Not only will it add extra visual interest, but it can also help to subtly define different zones without having to install bulky walls or fences.

Here, sleek tiles complement the white, cladded wall and provide a stable footing between exterior doors of the home. Beyond, a gravel garden incorporates low-maintenance planting and a fire pit area. We love the addition of stepping stones too, for a fuss-free path.

2. Create a stylish seating area

US backyard with lawn and patio

A chic small garden setup from M.Lavender Interiors

(Image credit: Janet Mesic/M.Lavender Interiors)

Unless your backyard is perfectly flat, it's likely you'll want to install a deck or small patio in order to incorporate elements like fire pits, grills, or outdoor sofas. 

Such a space will help to give your backyard a sense of purpose. 'Consider the size of furniture you will need before you build so that you have ample room to relax and walk around,' says designer Rebecca Hays of Rebecca Hays Design.

In this garden, a bench tucked at the bottom of the lawn provides a second seating zone away from the house – a lovely spot for a bit of peace and quiet.

3. Provide shelter with a pergola

decked patio with timber pergola and seating area

This project by DMAR Interiors includes a comfy seating space sheltered by a pergola

(Image credit: Molly Rose/DMAR Interiors)

Even if you're not planning to include a deck or patio, you’ll still want to design your yard to have different zones, each of which serves a specific purpose. Our favorite pergola ideas can be a brilliant way of achieving this, helping you to divide up your space for seating, cooking, and entertaining, for example. 

You could even add lighting and heating to really boost your outdoor living experience and make the most of the zone both night and day. And, for an element of softness and extra color, consider training some beautiful climbing plants around the structure. Fragranced varieties are an especially good pick for upping the ambiance.

4. Think vertically to make the most of the space

modern backyard living space with seating around a gas fireplace

A contemporary project by DMAR Interiors

(Image credit: Molly Rose/DMAR Interiors)

Wondering how to make a small garden look bigger? One of the best ways is to play with the vertical elements in your space. There's a reason New York City's buildings are so tall – there's more vertical space than there is horizontal. This design trick is particularly helpful when it comes to small garden layout ideas, too.

Besides providing extra space for different elements of your small backyard ideas, designing vertically is also a great way to draw the eye into otherwise unused space, making it feel taller. You can also consider playing with perspective – that's how landscape designer André Le Nôtre designed the main axis of the gardens of Versailles in France to look infinite.

As a starting point, consider living walls, fence decorations, and stylish steps connecting different tiers of your plot.

5. Curate a color-coordinated container garden

'Mandala, Meditation and Mindfulness Garden' small container garden designed by Nikki Hollier

(Image credit: Holly Crossley/Future)

For small courtyards, balconies, and urban spaces, digging borders and beds might not be practical. Instead, consider container gardening ideas.

Cluster them together and you can create a tapestry of your favorite blooms, offset by gorgeous planters. Consider sticking to a color scheme to tie the view together.

Commenting on her design (above), Nikki Hollier says, 'I wanted colors that were very calming.' She explains how dusky pinks and silvers throughout the garden warm up the white tones. Matching planters bring the scheme together further.

Nikki also used scented pelargoniums and roses in her design to help soothe the senses.

For small backyards, Nikki suggests to 'always create a focal point.' Here, the bowl-shaped water feature draws the eye, but you could opt for a small backyard pond, instead.

6. Cool off with a small stock tank pool

stock tank pool with fence and festoon lights

This setup by Cowboy Pools is perfect for beating the midsummer heat

(Image credit: Cristina Fisher/Cowboy Pools)

If you love the idea of a pool but don't have the space for a full-sized one, a stock tank design is a great alternative. 

They're stylish, affordable, low maintenance, and, for small plots, provide the perfect solution for cooling off from soaring summer temperatures. Dot potted plants nearby as well as strings of festoon lights so you can continue using it when night falls.

7. Green up your garden flooring

Decking with integrated planting at Gaze Burvill stall at Chelsea 2022

Ferns and succulents brighten up the decking of this scene

(Image credit: Holly Crossley/Future)

Another way to get more planting into a less-than-large backyard is to weave it amongst your hard landscaping. 

Creating spaces in decking for hardy ground cover plants will instantly freshen up the look, give it a more natural feel, and is good for pollinators, too. Keep it neat and orderly with straight lines or opt for a wilder arrangement depending on your theme. 

It's not just for decks – it's also one of our top backyard ideas with pavers.

8. Create an extension of your indoor living space

small backyard outdoor living space with sofa and fireplace

This project in Venice Beach, California, by Kim Gordon Designs makes the most of every inch of space

(Image credit: Brandon Arant/Kim Gordon Designs)

Outdoor furniture has evolved from the days of wooden picnic tables and slatted metal loungers. With advances in weather-resistant materials, you can create an outdoor living space that looks just like the one you might find inside your house – and is just as comfortable.

Despite what you might think, oversized furniture can actually be the best option when it comes to the most successful small backyard ideas. 'Forget benches and small metal chairs, they are never comfortable,' says designer Kim Gordon, who created this tiny bohemian-style oasis in Venice Beach, California. 'Using sink-in, oversized seating in a small space makes it look and feel much bigger.' 

The general rule is that the more comfortable your outdoor furniture is, the more likely you are to use your outdoor space. Plus, you'll be adding liveable square footage to your home – a huge advantage if you live in a smaller house.

9. Plant a vegetable garden and grow your own crops

raised vegetable beds in tiered Los Angeles garden

In this Los Angeles project by DMAR Interiors, tiered vegetable beds make the most of the sloping plot

(Image credit: Molly Rose/DMAR Interiors)

Gardening might have everything to do with land, but that doesn't mean you need a lot of land to do it. As this outdoor space shows, including a few kitchen garden ideas in your small backyard can be more achievable than you might think. 

'Many people are gardening on terraces and other small spaces, so a small yard isn't a problem,' says Dan Bailey, President of WikiLawn Austin Lawn Care. 'You just need to maximize space. You can do this by having a garden that grows more vertically rather than sprawling out horizontally. Vertical crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers work well for this. To save even more space, invest in plant cages so they can have structure and guidance when growing.'

For an even more compact version, why not learn how to create a herb garden? Many herb growers simply have pots on the patio or a couple of window boxes for their mini herb gardens. 

The best part? You get to reap the benefits of your hard work with fresh produce or fresh herbs.

10. Create a petite outdoor kitchen for alfresco entertaining

decked terrace with outdoor kitchen and dining area in Los Angeles

This outdoor kitchen by DMAR Interiors has room for a pizza oven

(Image credit: Molly Rose/DMAR Interiors)

'This summer, move your kitchen outdoors so you can entertain while you cook,' says Tyler Forte, founder and CEO of real estate company Felix Homes

'Investing in an outdoor kitchen can be a costly project, but it's a feature that can recover most of its cost upon resale. The best idea is to keep it simple and include kitchen basics: a large grill, stainless-steel storage drawers, a sink with running water, a countertop for food prep, an outdoor fridge and freezer with plenty of room for drinks and ice, and a waste receptacle for trash and recyclables.'

On that note, you can definitely expand beyond the usual suspects when it comes to choosing appliances to complement your outdoor kitchen ideas. This design has a small footprint, but still makes room for one of the best pizza ovens

11. Build a small pool to fit the shape of your yard...

backyard with pool at dusk

(Image credit: Joseph Richardson Landscape Architecture)

Inground backyard pools definitely aren't just for homeowners with sprawling backyards. Whether you're working with a pool designer or shopping around for a prefabricated option, you'll be able to work with a variety of shapes to fit your specific space. After all, not every pool needs to be a perfect rectangle or kidney bean – just take a look at this trapezoidal pool to see how it makes the most of the available space. 

Do bear in mind that for more compact backyards, your pool will obviously need to be on the smaller side, which might be better for soaking and relaxing rather than swimming laps. Although, if you have a long, narrow backyard, you could potentially install a lap pool instead.

12. ...or add an infinity pool if your yard is hilly

modern infinity pool in a sloping backyard

(Image credit: Joseph Richardson Landscape Architecture)

If you have a steep incline in your backyard, fret not – you can still build a pool if you so desire. In fact, infinity pools are ideal for a sloping garden as they can be designed to work with the contours of the plot. However, you will need to bear in mind that they can be a pretty expensive project, so won't be suitable if you're looking for budget backyard ideas.

This backyard project perfects the look, with a small infinity pool looking out onto a river. One of our favorite additions is the in-pool spa as it means there's no need to find additional space on the deck for one of the best hot tubs

13. Place an outdoor rug over your hardscaping

yellow and white striped rug on patio next to backyard pool

Add some color and comfort underfoot with the Made You Look rug from FLOR

(Image credit: FLOR)

One of the downsides of building a deck or patio in your small backyard is that it will take away space for grass. To help create a more comfortable area, whether that's for your kids to play or your pets to lounge around, you can roll out an outdoor rug. From a design perspective, rugs are also a great way to make a room (even an outdoor one) feel more cohesive. 

We love the vibrant, beach-inspired vibe of this rug, which actually comprises a series of carpet tiles rather than one single piece. It's a versatile model that allows you to create the perfect shape for your space and is guaranteed to add a subtle splash of color and texture to any stretch of modern paving

14. Don't forget about lighting

stake globe lights in flowerbed with painted garden walls

Brass globe lights by Houseof make a playful statement in this scene

(Image credit: Houseof)

'Regardless of how you decide to decorate your small backyard, adding the right lighting to your space is critical,' says Eric Jeanette of the Lighting Tutor. 'Not only will it improve the look and feel of what you are trying to accomplish, but it will also enable you to enjoy your yard at night. This can be accomplished by adding string lights, globes, pathway lighting, and landscape lighting.'

These brass globe lights are a brilliant solution for your outdoor lighting ideas as they're easy to install; you don't even need access to an outlet. They're solar-powered, so all you have to do is stick the stakes and the solar panel in your lawn or flower bed, then wait for twilight for them to automatically illuminate.

15. Install a compact water feature for a sensory experience

water feature by David Harber in garden with modern pergola

A water feature from David Harber adds to the calming vibe of this yard

(Image credit: Holly Crossley/Future)

When thinking about how we want to design our small backyard ideas, we're often focused purely on the visual elements. But, it's important not to forget about the other senses, too. 

Adding a water feature is a great way to incorporate sound into your outdoor space, so you can sit and listen to the calming sound of water trickling in a fountain or small pond. 

Water features do require a bit of maintenance to ensure they don't end up filled with slimy green algae, and keep in mind the climate where you live. If winters are harsh, that will affect seasonal maintenance – you might need to drain the feature so that the water doesn't freeze and potentially crack the structure.

16. Hang art to make a statement without taking up floor space

courtyard garden with tropical inspired wall art

Wall art from Wallsauce brightens this space

(Image credit: Wallsauce)

Art isn't only for inside the house. While sculptures have long been included in all manner of garden designs, you can now hang wall art in an outdoor setting, adding to the living-room vibe of a well-appointed patio or deck. 

If your small backyard is walled in, one benefit is you'll have plenty of available garden walls for displaying some stunning art. Look for metal prints that are designed to withstand the elements, so you can jazz up a wall or a fence with a painting or a photograph. Ensure they are specially treated to be UV-resistant, meaning they won't fade quickly in bright sunlight.

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