53 favorite backyard projects

Our favorite DIY patios, paths, trellises, planters, fountains, and more

Backyard Scrabble

E. Spencer Toy

Backyard Scrabble

"I like areas of double use,” says Sacramento architect Kristy McAuliffe.

A friend helped her make this 5-foot outdoor Scrabble board with scored concrete in a wood frame.

Read more about this backyard project

Ultimate raised bed

Norm Plate

The perfect raised bed

Raised beds make gardening easy. Filled with soil mix, they provide the excellent drainage needed to grow picture-perfect vegetables and flowers. This version is our most popular ever. Get our complete how-to

Three seasons, three uses

Thomas J. Story

Easy brick patio

A small, detached patio like this one comes together quickly with minimal effort.

Think of the possible uses for this circle of bricks. You can tuck it into a perennial border. Or place it in a remote corner of your garden, where you can linger at day's end over a glass of wine, or on Sunday morning with your coffee and magazines.

See how to build it in a weekend

Small-space salad box

E. Spencer Toy

Small-space salad box

Having fresh greens at your fingertips is one of the best parts of the growing season. And with a raised planter right outside the kitchen door, you can have a continual supply of salad greens nearly year-round.

You can make one using a ready-made redwood window box from the nursery. 

See how

Votive chandelier

Thomas J. Story

Votive chandelier

Create your own romantic lighting for an outdoor dinner party by suspending votives (we used mini recycled-glass tea light lanterns) at varying heights from low-hanging branches. Use clear fishing line and be sure to keep candles a safe distance from the leaves.

For a stained-glass version, cover chandelier lanterns with tissue paper and get a soft glow. Don’t be afraid to try different patterns, abstract shapes, and colors. We designed ours as a nod to artist Mark Rothko.

Supplies: Ruler, pencil, scissors, tissue paper, small foam brush, Yasutomo Nori* or similar paste, and glass lanterns or jars

1. Measure and cut tissue paper into desired shapes and sizes (we used long strips for easy application).

2. Dip foam brush into paste. Holding a piece of tissue paper against the outside

of the lantern, paint an even coat of paste onto tissue paper and adhere to glass.

3. Repeat until lantern is covered. Let dry overnight, then hang.

Tip: Keep lanterns away from moisture.

*About $7 for 10 oz. at dickblick.com

Picnic table project

Rob. D. Brodman

Wavy picnic table project

The spaces between the boards of this picnic table look like lazy ripples in a slow-moving stream.

The unusual pattern is easy to create with a saber saw. We cut each of the boards freehand, then added readymade legs from Ikea.

See how to make this wavy picnic table

one pot garden

Thomas J. Story

One-pot vegetable garden

Not everyone has the room or time for a big edible garden. But even if you’re limited to a lone container, you can still enjoy a summer’s worth of homegrown produce for pasta, Gazpacho, and even garden-fresh Bloody Marys.

How to plant this one-pot vegetable garden

diy outdoor shower

Photo by Thomas J. Story

DIY outdoor shower

This weekend project has three basic parts: two wing walls and a center pole with the plumbing attached. All materials are available at the Home Depot.

Time: One weekend (4 hours of labor, plus drying time for sealer)

Difficulty: 3 (on a scale of 1–10; requires modest woodworking skills)

Cost: About $170

Full article with tools and materials list

Patchwork patio

Steven Gunther

Patchwork patio 

In this affordable DIY project, an outdoor "area rug" of stained concrete pavers adds punch to a small backyard. Potted succulents cactus and a palm bring the look of a garden onto the finished product.

More: Budget patchwork patio design plans

Vertical garden tower

Thomas J. Story

Vertical garden tower

No room to garden? Grow up–as in towards the sky. A vertical garden tower will give you plenty of space for edibles, and takes up only a small footprint of the ground.

More:  Make a vertical garden tower

Lay a flagstone path

Steven Gunther

Lay a flagstone path

Even for a novice do-it-yourselfer, installing a mortarless flagstone path is a practically foolproof project.

More: How to install a flagstone walkway

Make your own backyard tipi

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Make your own backyard tipi

A homemade tipi will delight the kids and give your backyard a vacationy feel. No time for sewing? Try this simplified method.

More: How to make your own backyard tipi

Build a home recycling center

Sunset Books

Build a home recycling center

It's easy to close the back door and pretend that the jumble of recycling bins and garbage cans outside doesn't exist--but that only works when you're in the house. Building a short lean-to just big enough to hold everything solves the problem, and you can put it together in one weekend.

More: How to build an easy recycling center

Bali retreat

Thomas J. Story

Billowy Bali retreat

Sit on this compact deck, pull the netting around you, and you'll feel almost like you're floating in a cloud above a jungle of exotic flowers.

Get the how-to

Party umbrella

James Carrier

Party umbrella

Dress up a few lanterns with ribbon, add some sunny fabric, and your plain canvas umbrella is ready to party.

The decorations aren't permanent, so you can change the colors anytime you wish.

Get the how-to

Step by step project: Planter umbrella stand

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Step by step project: Planter umbrella stand

Strong wind is no friend to most patio umbrellas, but it would take a hurricane to budge this setup.

The umbrella rises from a sleeve centered in a flowerpot that's filled with three layers of material: a bottom layer of lava rock to hold the sleeve in place, a center layer of concrete for extra rigidity, and a top layer of planting mix. When there's no need for shade, just lift out the umbrella -- the plants should mask the sleeve.

See how to make this umbrella stand planter

DIY outdoor chandelier

Rob D. Brodman

Wire basket and mason jars become outdoor chandelier

Romantic outdoor lighting: With a wire basket, a few jars, and some tea lights and adornment, add a little handmade glow to your garden.

See how to make this outdoor chandelier

Backyard bocce court

Backyard bocce court

Kick back with a friendly game of bocce in the backyard. Sandy Brewer and her husband, David, a landscape contractor, design bocce courts like this one at Landmark Vineyards in Kenwood, California.

How to make a bocce court

DIY porch swing

Photo by Jay Graham

DIY garden swing

Relax into the sway of a colorful swing for your porch, balcony or garden. This high-backed design hangs securely from sturdy, 5/8-inch-diameter nylon or hemp rope that runs through the swing's arms and frame.

The average woodworker can build the swing in a weekend for about $150. (Staining and sealing will add several more days.)

Most cuts can be made with a circular saw, handsaw, or saber saw, but the angled back support would be more easily cut with a table saw. A full-service lumberyard can generally do this for you.

Download the plans

Shed-roof birdhouse

Noel Barnhurst

Shed-roof birdhouse

You don't have to be a woodworking whiz to build this simple birdhouse: it requires only straight cuts that you can make with a handsaw, saber saw, circular saw, or table saw.

Wrens, chickadees, and bluebirds will appreciate its deep overhang and perchless entry.

Get our free plan and directions

Bees

Thomas J. Story

Bee nesting block

Because of shrinking habitat, bees numbers are dwindling. One thing you can do to help is provide a nesting site for local, solitary bees.

This nesting block is simply a piece of untreated lumber with a grid of holes drilled into it.

Get the easy instructions

Shed-roof model

Saxon Holt

Green-roofed bird feeders

One flat of ground-cover plants equals one bird-feeder roof: That's the formula for the canopy on these easy-to-construct bird feeders.

Sturdy ground covers, such as moss, ivy, thyme, and small sedums, will grow in the shallow depth of the feeders' roofs. They're fun to look at while they shelter the seeds.

See how to make them

Fountain in a pot

Rob D. Brodman

DIY fountain

The soft splash of a fountain brings life and motion to the backyard. It attracts more birds than still water alone, and its soothing sound track transforms your space into a peaceful retreat.

We built the fountain pictured here for about $160 (not including stones), using two glazed pots (a shallow bowl nests snugly inside the larger pot), a bucket, and a small recirculating pump.

See how to make it

Step-by-step: Installing a flagstone path

Norman A. Plate

Step-by-step: Installing a flagstone path

A good path welcomes you into your garden and invites you to slow down and see what's happening there.

This one features flagstones set in Salmon Bay gravel. As edging plants (here, blue fescue and petunias) grow, they'll create a graceful, soft edge.

See how to make one for your yard

Great path

E. Spencer Toy

Two-day path project

You can install this pretty path in about a weekend. (The plantings take a little longer to mature; they'll look like this in about nine months.)

The gently curving path invites you to stroll among the plants, and leads to a small circular patio.

Instructions and planting plan

Backyard potting center

Thomas J. Story

Backyard potting center

Gardeners will appreciate this sturdy, good-looking workbench: Perfect for the behind-the-scenes dirty work of potting young plants, it also contains storage space for hand tools and supplies.

Full story and free plans

Tool hideaway

Thomas J. Story

Creative tool hideaway

Keep your garden tools where you need them—but out of sight—by converting a mailbox into a small storage space.

Place it within easy reach just off a garden path or outside the back door.

How to do it

Under-eaves storage locker

Thomas J. Story

Under-eaves storage shed

Attached to the outside of the house, this 15 ½-inch deep structure opens to reveal a spacious storage area to keep your garden tools dry and out of site.

Materials, instructions, and building diagram

Arbor with Bench

Shady arbor bench

Imagine sipping your tea or wine in the dappled light of your own backyard arbor bench, your favorite vine overhead. 

Building a bench and arbor combo is in some ways less complicated than building a standalone bench. The arbor provides the structure, and the bench comes along for the ride with no complex angles or fancy joinery.

See how to make it

Basic tipi with additional garlands of willow

Natural garden tipi

For a quick, inexpensive support for climbing plants, build a simple tipi of natural materials you may already have.

Not only does the structure put the veggies at a convenient height for harvesting, it creates a focal point on its own.

Get the easy instructions

Wall Panels Complete

An elegant wall-attached trellis panel

This tall, wall-attached trellis panel offers an elegantly simple way to add height and interest to your garden plantings. You may want to build several and space them one panel’s width apart.

Get our illustrated how-to

Obelisk

Sunset Books

DIY garden obelisk

A garden tower with the crisp geometry of an obelisk adds a stunning focal point and a vertical dimension to your garden.

Once vines climb onto the obelisk, the contrast between natural and constructed elements only enhances its appeal.

Get the how-to

Silver falls in aqua pot

Rob D. Brodman

Plant a cool pot

Freshen up your porch or patio with a mix of white-flowered plants and bluish foliage.

Get our plant list and simple step-by-step

Weekend project: Sunset's classic adobe oven

Norman A. Plate

DIY backyard adobe oven

Our backyard adobe oven is modeled after mud-brick ovens used around the world, from the Southwest to Mexico, Italy, and France.

Building it takes about two days of grubby work, but the reward: wonderfully rustic pizzas, roasts, vegetables, and crusty loaves of bread from your own backyard.

Get the complete how-to, plus heating guide and recipes

Barbecue bar

Barbecue bar

This barbecue bar is the perfect place to entertain friends and it offers enough space to prepare a large meal. The neautral color allows it to blend in naturally with the rest of the backyard.

Get the step-by-step

Outdoor Lounge

Thomas J. Story

Romantic backyard cabana

This backyard lounge serves as both a casual spot for year-round entertaining and a private refuge with resort style.

With our checklist of tools and materials, you can make yourself for about $300.

Get the step-by-step

Build a portable dining retreat

Portable dining retreat

Here's an easy way to create an intimate outdoor dining area in your own backyard.

The use of potted plants, PVC pipe, and mosquito netting make it a snap to assemble. Just add candles or string lights to make the space shine at night.

Get our simple instructions

How to build a circular patio

Linda Lamb Peters

Lush slate patio

Surround a small slate patio with lush plantings for a versatile backyard retreat space. This one is 8 feet in diameter.

Get the how-to and planting plan

Planter bench

Thomas J. Story

Modern planter bench

Instead of legs, this 10-foot-long bench sits on a pair of oversize ceramic pots. This makes it easier to build and more appealing than your average bench.

For the final touch, plant something stunning (we chose New Zealand flax).

Get our step-by-step instructions

Handsome storage bench

James Carrier

Handsome storage bench

This inventive bench serves two purposes: it's a comfortable place to sit and admire the garden and it can also hide one or two coiled hoses.

It can be built in just two days, but requires intermediate woodworking skills.

How to build it

How to build a doghouse

Photo: Peter O. Whiteley

Free plans: Build a stylish dog house

This stylish ranch-style dog house is made from three sheets of plywood and is big enough for a large dog. Redwood lattice battens and a shed roof create the rustic ranch-house look.

A little arbor of 2-by-2s above the door adds interest and provides shade, and a removable asphalt-shingle roof makes cleaning inside easy.

Free dog house plans and instructions

living tabletop

Andrea M. Gómez

Tabletop garden

Brighten up an outdoor table by taking the centerpiece to a new level.

Whether the desired look is mod, delicate, or casual, floral moss can be used to create a unique and refreshing tabletop garden.

Get our simple directions

Garden plant wall

Jennifer Cheung

Living wall

See how to create your own vertical garden inspired by a living wall in Paris designed by Patrick Blanc.

This planting includes ferns, bromelaids, coral bells, spider plants, and elephant ears.

How to plant a living wall

Modern hanging baskets

Thomas J. Story

Hanging wall garden

Try a modern take on traditional hanging baskets with a wall of these Woolly Pockets. Because they're lined with moisture barriers, you don't have to worry about any leaking.

See how to make a hanging plant display

Succulent frames

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Framed succulents

If you don't have the time to plant a living wall, you can get the same dramatic effect by framing a garden of succulents.

Build the frame yourself and plant your own cuttings or buy an all-in-one succulent garden kit.

Get the how to

 

 

How to make a garden trellis

Philip Harvey; design by Lankford Associates

Handsome garden trellis

Just add a few chairs, and this 8-foot-square pergola becomes the perfect place to relax and enjoy views of the garden.

You can build the shady trellis yourself or hire a contractor to build it for you.

Get the step-by-step instructions and diagram

deck design

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Decorate a deck

With a few versatile pieces you can create an outdoor living space that is comfortable and stylish. In this outdoor room, designed by Gena Sigala, a daybed and a coffee table transform a deck into a dreamy retreat.

Get the design

How to build a beach in your backyard

Thomas J. Story

Small backyard beach

If you love the beach but can't find the time for regular visits, why not turn an unused corner of your backyard into a sandy retreat? This miniature beach can be put together over a weekend for less than $200. Decomposed granite, sand, driftwood, and grassy plants complete the seaside look.

Learn how to build a beach in your yard

 

Tap-light luminarias

Thomas J.

Tap-light luminarias

Put your own spin on the classic luminaria using battery-run tap lights.

These simple fixtures ― flat, battery-operated lights that turn on when tapped on top ― are sold in packages of six for about $20 at hardware stores and general merchandise stores.

Add your own embellishment by wrapping a piece of translucent rice paper around the base and taping the ends of the paper together with double-sided tape to form a cylinder.

Beach garden in a pot

Rob D. Brodman

Mini beach garden

If you love the beach, use a pot to bring a bit of it home with you. A little sand, a few beachy plants, and a bit of driftwood is all you'll need.

Get our step-by-step



A compost bin with a college degree

Andrew Drake

Perfect compost bin

Designed by horticulturists at the University of California Cooperative Extension, this compost bin is inexpensive, easy to build, and features five stackable sections for simple, efficient composting.

Expect finished compost in about six weeks.

Get instructions and a diagram

Alaska-style coldframe

Norman A. Plate

Alaska-style coldframe

Get an early start on your plantings with an Alaskan-style coldframe. This one is built with pressure-treated 2-by-4s and fiberglass sheeting. Pulley-drawn cords make it easier to open for ventilation.

How to make a cold frame

 

Grow a garden journal

E. Spencer Toy

A garden journal

One way to improve your garden year after year is to keep a garden journal. Use a simple three ring binder to track what happens in your yard during each season. You'll know what worked and what didn't and what you should be planting now.

How to do it

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