9 Affordable, Doable Projects for an (Even) Better Backyard

Bookmark these for the weekend (thank us later).

May 20, 2021
Photo by Amelia Ross

Hunting down the perfect set of white outdoor pots was proving way more challenging than Amelia Ross expected. “We were walking around the garden section of our local hardware chain, and none of them were right,” she recalls. Some were too pricey, others the right shape but wrong color, and so on. It was time to get creative.

Ross ended up picking out some exterior house paint, snapped up a few terracotta pots in varying sizes and voila. For half the cost of store-bought pots, Ross had created the perfect co-star for the fire pit she and her partner had built to make sheltering in place a little cozier.

Like Ross, many homeowners and renters, are getting creative with their outdoor spaces. From playhouses to hanging planters, here are some DIY projects we came across that are both approachable and accessible, so scroll down to get inspired. Then, drop into the comments section below to tell us what project you are taking on this summer.

The Affordable Fountain

Photo by Jordan Reid

Jordan Reid, author of The Big Activity Book for Digital Detox, has been doing small things around her house to help her feel closer to nature while she shelters in place in San Jose, CA. One clever DIY she tackled was a solar-powered fountain. All it took was a bucket, flowers and two hours of her time. If you decide to tackle this project yourself, Reid recommends putting a wider lip around the fountain and including more flowers than she did. “The solar fountain does an excellent job of watering them, so they really flourish,” she adds.

The full DIY is available on Reid’s site Ramshackle Glam.

The Dining Table with a Secret

Photo by Erica Ashe

Rooftop patios are great but come with some unique problems of their own, like ill-placed mechanicals. Those on the roof of ChiTownHouse founder Erica Ashe’s home in Chicago, IL just happened to be right where she wanted to place a dining table. So she and her husband drafted a design for a table with a removable top just in case they needed to access the mechanicals.

It cost them a couple hundred dollars and ate up a Saturday, but they say it was absolutely worth it. “It has become our little slice of paradise during quarantine.” The view from the roof is not bad either. “We always get the best seat in the house,” Ashe says with a grin.

Head to Ashe's Instagram to learn more about the project.

A Playhouse Plays Dress Up

Photo by Tiffanie Ann Westgor

To keep her daughter Tenley’s idle hands busy, Californian Tiffanie Anne Westgor let her help add some custom touches to her playhouse. They painted it, added an awning (for seven dollars), installed a folding table and potted some plants in front. “She loved how it all turned out! She takes so much pride in it,” Westgor gushes. The pair is not done, though. Westgor is already planning on ways to add lights and a little kitchen to the inside.

Head to Westgor’s blog to learn how to create one for yourself.

Grocery Store Flowers for the Win

Photo by Grillo Designs

Medina Grillo, author of Home Sweet Rented Home, does not call herself an outdoorsy person and admits to neglecting her backyard because of it. “I’m most definitely a homebody,” she says. COVID-19, however, has her singing a different tune. For the first time, the garden in her Birmingham, England rental has become her “happy place” where she can escape for a bit of fresh air.

To amp up the space, Grillo put together a hanging planter. First, she used a masonry drill to put holes in the corners of a set of simple outdoor planters. She then strung rope through them for hanging. Instead of heading to a crowded garden center to find blooms to fill them, she maintained her social distance by picking up flowers for the planters during a trip to the grocery store.

Follow along with the DIY on Grillo Designs.

This Air Conditioning Cover Gets an A+

Photo by Jackie Virgilio

After spending over a year looking at her backyard’s unsightly AC unit, Chicagoan Jackie Virgilio was over it: “Our yard is small, so there was no way to be outside and not look at the giant eyesore.” To cover it up, Virgilio hit the internet for inspiration. Most of the DIYs she came across featured old-fashioned lattice, however, which was not modern enough for her and her husband. It was customization time.

The pair collaborated on a fresh design using simple wooden slats. Two hours (and $45) later, the project was complete. “We love that the AC is no longer visible. Plus, we get lots of compliments on it, and it has even come in handy as a support system for our lumbering Joe Pye Weed,” Virgilio says.

The $100 Fire Pit

Photo by Evette Rios

The 36” fire pit Evette Ríos concocted for her home in Pennsylvania’s Poconos serves two purposes. Yes, it is the ideal place for burning all the brush she collects when cleaning out her large backyard, but it is also perfect for roasting marshmallows with the family. Ríos tells us, “Staring into a fire is a calming, meditative experience, and with us being under so much stress (aka the quarantine blues), it has given (our) family a beautiful place to zone out.”

To create one yourself, first decide how wide of a pit you would like and purchase enough stones to complete the circle four times. Once you have them, lay out one row of stones and make shovel marks round the edge. Remove the stones, dig up the grass in the middle and apply a layer of paver sand. Finally, build up your layers in a circle and drop some lava rocks in the center to help with drainage.

The Painted Patio

Photo by Laura Gummerman, A Beautiful Mess

A Beautiful Mess has done some stunning (and affordable!) backyard makeovers over the years, and often employ paint to cover up unsightly existing outdoor floors with whimsical, geometric patterns. This one is a particular favorite.

When Laura Gummerman set out to tackle the bare and sterile (her words, not ours!) patio portion of her Nashville backyard, she knew she wanted to draw some 60’s inspiration with the patterns and decor. Instead of ripping up the cement patio, she decided to give it some love with paint. First, she gave it a good scrub with degreaser and a stiff broom to remove any residual gunk, then she gave it two coats of porch and floor paint. After letting it dry for a day, she simply used painter’s tape and a ruler to map out her “tiles” and got to painting them.

If you, like her, are wondering what happens if the paint starts to wear off? Just touch it up, or paint it in a brand new pattern, of course.

Porch Swing Dreams

Photo by Crafted by the Hunts

If you’re looking for a project to dip your toes into some beginner woodworking, this DIY porch swing is for you. Luckily, Zoe from Crafted by The Hunts put together an exhaustive tutorial (with plans and 3D rendering available for purchase!) that will walk you through the process step by step.

Costing only between $75 and $150 for materials, Zoe is confident you’ll be able to pull this off in two days or less. While yes, this project does require some knowledge of and access to power tools, it's a very simple design that’s easy to take slowly, with the reward of a brand new porch swing at the end.

Which of these DIY projects would you try to tackle this summer? Let us know below!

This article was updated in May 2021 to add even more DIY ideas.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jeri Tuttle
    Jeri Tuttle
  • Patty
  • TXExpatInBKK
  • Meghann Hansen
    Meghann Hansen
Garrett Fleming

Written by: Garrett Fleming

Interiors Editor & Art Director


Jeri T. August 30, 2020
That fix around the ac unit looks great, but you also have to think about air flow. My AC guy advised me against it.
Patty April 14, 2021
I know it's been nearly a year since you posted.
I wanted to let you know that we did the pallet around the ac unit with great success.
Apparently, the spaces between the slats does allow for adequate circulation.
TXExpatInBKK May 25, 2021
I did something similar with lattice work around our AC and it has worked great and looks much prettier than the bare unit.
Meghann H. May 28, 2021
I agree, and more importantly, so does my HVAC Contractor husband. It’s best not to cover the unit when in use, and keep it clear of all plants and animals, including pets. A covering that isn’t so close to the unit and is easily removable would be a better option- keeps animals away but allows for easy maintenance.
That being said, I’m not a fan of an ugly a/c either, so I get it!
Just a thought :)