Landscaping Ideas for Small Yards

small wooden chair on a stone and brick patio in a small backyard

You can still dream big about your small space. Even if you have the smallest lot on the block, you can turn your tiny backyard into a spacious oasis. 

7 landscaping ideas for small yards

1. Go vertical

When you can’t go left or right, go up. Making the most of vertical space is key for landscaping small yards. It’s also more visually interesting than a flat lawn. 

A great starting point? Use a tiered cart to hold container plants. Tiered carts usually have three levels to hold an assortment of plants. A wall of plants also can conceal anything you don’t want to draw attention to (like damaged siding or stains). Most carts roll so you can transport them to change their location or if you need to bring them in to be watered. 

A “gutter garden” is a similar concept. It can be designed as freestanding tiers similar to a cart or as floating shelves attached to siding or a fence. Essentially, you drill drainage holes into a gutter and use it as a long container. These are perfect for microgreens. 

Another way to utilize vertical space is with hanging plants. Trailing plants can be hung from tree branches and wrapped around a trellis or pergola. Hanging flowers provide a pop of color at eye level around your home. They’ll make you feel like you’re in a miniature rainforest.

2. Get contained

Most small yards don’t have room for a sprawling flower bed or vegetable garden. Container plants provide a solution. 

Window boxes, regular pots, and even found objects like wheelbarrows, buckets, and bathtubs are all great additions to a backyard. 

Pro Tip: To integrate a large pot more seamlessly into your landscape, choose a trailing plant like baby’s tears to hang over the edge. 

Things to consider for container plants:

  • Companion planting: Some plants don’t like friends. Mint, for example, may dominate a less aggressive plant. Look for plants with similar sun, water, and soil needs and when in doubt, ask an expert at your local gardening center.
  • Water needs: Does your plant prefer soil that’s consistently moist? Place it somewhere you can easily water. If it doesn’t like to be waterlogged, make sure the container has holes at the bottom. You can put rocks at the bottom for better drainage.
  • Soil preferences: Check if the plant prefers clay, loam, or sandy soil and an alkaline or acidic environment. You can buy additives like lime to adjust the pH of normal potting soil.
  • Sun needs: While some plants love their vitamin D, others need a break from the heat. If a plant likes full sun, make sure it receives at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Some plants like morning sun but afternoon shade —- take note of where shadows fall in your landscape as the day goes on and house those plants there. 

What to plant in a window box:

  • Herbs: An herb window box is perfect for next to your kitchen so you have easy access while cooking. Pair dill and chives, parsley and basil, mint and oregano, or rosemary and sage.
  • Flowers: Flowers add a pop of color to your view. Native flowers like bee balm, purple coneflower, swamp milkweed, and black-eyed Susans will invite butterflies, bees, and birds to your yard.

3. Don’t neglect neglected spaces

The most important part of small space landscaping is utilizing every inch of space. Larger landscapes can afford to forget about corners, but to take your small yard to the next level, you’ll need to make the most of every nook and cranny.

The ground around your home’s foundation is often scraggly due to poor soil or inorganic material getting in the way. Plant a creeping ground cover in a patch of available soil, then direct it toward bare areas to cover them. 

Keep an eye out for other bald spots between pavers, around the edges of fences, and in heavily shaded areas under trees or overhangs.

  • Deer fern
  • Redwood sorrel
  • Bunchberry dogwood
  • Wild ginger
  • Clover
  • Creeping thyme

4. Make fences festive

A white picket fence isn’t the only option. For a magical garden feel, add some green to your fencing with hanging vines. 

When choosing your vine, there are a few things to consider. Annual vines will usually cover your fence faster, but they have sparser foliage than perennial vines. A mix of both will give you the best of both worlds. Choose plants with different blooms times to make sure you have something beautiful hanging around year-round. 

Remember that vines mostly just grow up, not out. Don’t space them out too much when you’re planting or you’ll be left with big gaps. Follow the spacing guidelines for your vine variety.

  • Pipevine
  • Crossvine
  • Trumpet creeper
  • Virgin’s bower
  • Carolina jessamine
  • Coral honeysuckle
  • Wisteria

5. Try a lattice garden

Lattice gardens are the perfect example of multitasking. They offer privacy (especially for homeowners without fencing), beauty, and delicious edible plants. 

A lattice is a structure made from strips of wood or metal interlaced to form a square or diamond pattern. Like a fence, you can plant trailing plants at the base and train them through the holes. You also can hang hooked pots with flowers, herbs, or vegetables to create a dense wall of green. 

6. Hardscape smart

What is hardscaping?

Hardscaping is anything inorganic in a landscape. Think of those things made from stone, lumber, plastic, or metal. 

Ideas for smart hardscaping

Instead of bulky lawn furniture that doesn’t fit quite right, opt for semi-circle tables that can be flush to the wall. These are great for utilizing a small deck or space next to a fence. 

Get foldable furniture like chairs and tables so you can break things down after entertaining for easy storage. It might seem like a pain to have to put everything away, but it’ll keep your gear healthy. Being able to move your furniture in and out allows you to have two lawns in one. 

Multipurpose accessories are key, such as ottomans with storage that double as tables. 

7. Amp up the ambiance

Last but not least, enrich your new space with some finishing touches. 

Lighting lets you enjoy your outdoor space after the sun goes down, and it creates a magical atmosphere for evening get-togethers. Try staggering path lights around a walkway to show guests the way. Wind string lights around tree branches and entryways to set an inviting tone. Let lanterns sit atop outdoor dining tables to set the mood.

Add rugs to take the coziness level up a notch and help you delineate zones in your yard. Choose a weather-proof mat made of something like jute that can sit directly on your grass or on a patio.

What’s an outdoor space if not a place to get reflective? One or two well-placed mirrors will amplify greenery and make the yard seem bigger. Hang them somewhere facing plantings (like your lattice garden) and give them a quick wipe down daily. 

What to consider when installing a new landscape design

Before you start overhauling your landscape, there are a few questions to ask yourself. 

What kind of climate do you live in?

If you get a lot of rain, make sure you choose plants that don’t mind waterlogged soil. For an eco-friendly solution to a wet yard, consider creating a rain garden. If you live in a place with cold temperatures, choose winter-hardy plants or put them in containers that you can take inside. 

Do you like to entertain guests?

If you’re often entertaining, make sure you account for room to store outdoor furniture. You don’t want to end up with a gorgeous garden and no place for your family and friends to enjoy it. 

Do you have any slopes in your yard?

Hilly areas need special treatment. Mild slopes benefit from landscape fabric or anchor plants like ground cover to hold soil in place. Steeper slopes require something like a retaining wall or terraced steps.

Is turfgrass important to you?

For most traditional grasses, you’ll need to make sure they get plenty of sun. That might mean taking out a tree or opting out of a shade structure like a pergola. 

If deciding on and installing a new landscape design on your own sounds overwhelming, call a professional team in your area to walk you through the process. They’ll get your small yard shining and ready for company. 

Main Photo Credit: Gabriel Lenca | Unsplash

Rachel Abrams

Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Rachel Abrams studied creative writing at the University of Virginia. She enjoys volunteering at her neighborhood community garden and growing herbs in her New York City apartment.