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26 Small Backyard Ideas to Transform Even the Tiniest Spaces

By Tilly Design November 29, 2023

a small backyard opening to a kitchen

At Tilly, we have designed for just about every kind of backyard, but one of the most common design requests we deal with is homeowners needing to maximize a small backyard. While small yard landscaping and lacking in square-footage may seem like a hindrance to some, trust us, we love working with small yards.

One of Tilly’s founding principles is to bring great landscape design to a wider range of homeowners and that includes those small backyards, side yards, or those funny-shaped, quirky, and unique plots of land! Planning a small backyard design comes with its own set of challenges, but maximizing a small backyard can change how you use and enjoy your entire property.

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Here we pull together some design ideas and Tilly plans that bring your small backyard to the next level.

#1 // Consider Your Priorities

The very first thing you should do when designing for a small backyard is determine the priorities for your outdoor space! When there is limited area to work with, ground space will fill up quickly. Write out what you want for your backyard and rank those desires. While you may want a gorgeous outdoor kitchen and bar area, be sure it doesn’t take the place of something more important to your family, like a dining area, before calling the installer.

The same goes with priorities that are less obvious. Having open space may be a visual desire for your backyard or having a lawn to throw a baseball back and forth may be a must have. Plan for all of these things!

#2 // Create a Functional Layout

It's important to carefully consider the layout of your outdoor area if you don't have much square footage. This is where working with a professional designer can pay off big time! Having an understanding of the traffic through your yard and how you want to use your space is critical to making the most of a small yard. You want easy access with no obstacles to hinder using your backyard.

Small backyard ideas, create a functional layout for an entertaining space

#3 // Blend Indoor-Outdoor Living

There is a reason French doors feel so fanciful. They open our homes to the outdoors, inviting air and nature in, while extending the home out. The effect of blending your indoors and outdoors can be achieved in a number of ways for great results in a small backyard.

Find ways to blur the lines between the inside and outside, so that your backyard can be thought of as an extension of your home. This can mean features like French doors, extending the flooring of your interior into an outdoor patio, installing big windows, or placing some container plants near the entrance to your yard.

Backyard landscaping designs for small yards - An outdoor dining area in a small yard

#4 // Use Visual Tricks to Enhance Space

Visual tricks can help tie a space together. For example, sometimes a railing around a deck can cut a space in half and make it feel smaller. Simply remove the railing and your sight lines may extend and not feel confined. Another idea is to edge your garden beds. Just the small act of having clean lines between your garden and grass can help delineate areas in your yard and physically feel more organized and purposeful.

Small yard landscaping designs - In a tiny backyard, edge your yard for clean lines

#5 // Simplicity for the Win

We love an eclectic garden, but if you aren't a professional designer this style can feel messy and chaotic. Simplify the materials and plants you include in your outdoor space for a tidy and more spacious look.

landscaping designs for small yards. As with your front yard, simplicity can be best

#6 // Go Vertical with Your Garden

Just because your backyard’s footprint is small does not mean that your design has to be contained to that square footage. The sky’s the limit (literally)! Incorporating a vertical garden can help it feel immersive and even cozy. Try something practical like growing tomatoes up a vine, or create a small herb garden in pots on the side of your home.

This small room in a backyard has a vertical garden to make the most of the space

#7 // Try a Pergola

Speaking of drifting upward, a pergola can be a beautiful addition to a garden. These structures can look beautiful with vines growing up for privacy or they can be a nice way to divide a space. We love a pergola as a way to add charm when entering a small backyard from a driveway or side yard.

A pergola is a great division between a back and front yard or different 'zones' of a backyard

#8 // Fun for the Kids

When it comes to fun for kids and designs for small backyards, consider a climbing wall or mounted chalkboard on a fence to entertain them in a contained (and vertical) manner. When you think of your small outdoor space in three dimensions you will have more space than you realized!

A great playscape next to an outdoor table

#9 // Create Outdoor Room or Zones

Designing different outdoor spaces can help increase the functionality of your yard. This separation doesn't have to feel confined, just a few potted plants on a deck can give division to a dining table and a hot tub area. Or outdoor rugs are a great way to establish different areas, it can clearly mark a grill area from a seating area or “outdoor living room.”

Small backyard ideas - use a rug to dilineate different sections

#10 // Choose Plants to Reflect the Space

If your plants work with the design of your small yard it will feel more organized and spacious. Think about what makes sense in your yard - do you want to keep things simple with a single beautiful tree that is a focal point? Do you want a wall of lush greenery provided lining your back fence? Do you have a modern home and ornamental grasses can provide a great border along a large rectangular walkway? Or will a beautiful rock garden make a statement in your drought prone climate?

Colorful plants pop in this yard

#11 // Get Creative with Furniture

If you have a small yard you are in luck because there are plenty of ways to get smart with outdoor decor and outdoor furniture. There is foldable furniture and small bistro tables that are perfect for smaller gatherings and don't take up floor space. Consider features like a gas fire pit that can double as a coffee table on your patio when not in use. If every furniture item has a dual purpose you are on your way to a seriously smart design!

A great low maintenance design with smart furniture

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#12 // Choose Sustainable Design Practices

While we like this tip for any space, incorporating sustainable design practices is always a great small backyard idea. By embracing concepts like xeriscaping, selecting native plants, removing your grass and using artificial turf or incorporating more gardens, you are keeping your yard low maintenance, therefore allowing yourself to enjoy it more.

Hardscape designs for small yards with a stone patio, gravel, and turf. Growing plants in raised beds is a great way to garden in a small yard

#13 // Create Multi-Use Spaces

One great way to obtain the maximum use out of a small backyard is to create spaces that can serve more than one purpose. Can your mini bocce court host a buffet table? Can the exterior of your house be used as a projector screen?

This is an opportunity to juxtapose some of your yard’s uses in a playful way. While you may not have space for a dedicated patio, you may find that your guests love feeling immersed in the verdant dining space you have erected among your garden.

landscaping designs for small backyards with numerous living areas like a fire pit area, deck and lawn

#14 // Brighten With Color

A small space can have a big impact - especially if you get creative with patterns or pops of color. Create focal points with a fabulous rug, statement fire pit, fun cushions on your patio furniture, a bright water feature, or a colorful mural on a fence. We love the tiles of the below design that compliment the hardscape, pool tiling and planters.

A small backyard idea - this small swimming pool is separated from the patio with container plants bordering

#15 // Sneak Square Footage

In a smaller yard, every inch counts. Get creative with your space. We've seen our design team add hanging plants to a second story wood deck, add a kid's playroom below a set of stairs or turn a swampy corner into a fantastic raised bed garden.

Small backyard landscaping ideas - A small backyard that uses under the stairs for a kids play area

#16 // Switch Up the Hardscape

As we all know from scrolling Instagram, sometimes being smart with the materials you use can make a huge visual impact. When it comes to small backyard landscaping, using the right hardscape can make all the difference. For example, you can get a chic modern look on a budget by extending a concrete patio with pea gravel. When done right, mixing and matching materials opens your space and adds beauty to a space.

Baackyard with different hardscape and string lights

#17 // Shade for Sunny Days

Get smart about the shade over your garden and patio in your backyard landscaping. Whether it's a shade sail that hangs above a small patio or a cantilever umbrella that can be adjusted with the sun's movement, having shade will make your yard more usable and enjoyable.

A pergola for shade in a sunny spot

#18 // Create Walkways

Walkways will indicate a path and highlight the best way to use your space. This can help make a backyard feel larger. The walkways themselves can be a focal point. For example, beautiful concrete pavers from a deck to a garage or outdoor fireplace create a modern look and are a practical addition.

a modern paver walkway

#19 // Built-In Seating Area

Built-in seating is a great way to fit more guests into a tiny yard. Whether it's built-ins around a fire pit or a dining area, built-in seating is off the ground and allows seating to be closely tucked into a perimeter.

built in seaating area on a deck

#20 // Use Retaining Walls

If you have a slope, it may seem counterintuitive, but adding retaining walls will not only make the space more usable, but the visual separation makes areas feel larger.

Retaining walls can help create more space

#21 // Landscape Lighting

A simple backyard landscaping idea is to focus on lighting! Lighting will highlight your landscape, your home and can create the perfect atmosphere. With a small backyard, lighting can increase the amount of time you can spend outdoors when the sun goes down earlier in the winter. It can be used to create an intimate feel in a small backyard space.

Landscape lighting on a patio

#22 // Streamline Small Spaces with Storage Solutions

Anyone who has lived in a small space knows that visual clutter is a constant issue that comes on fast! Leaving a play set, toys or an extra table and chairs out can quickly leave a small area looking messy.

Be strategic with every purchase so that each item that goes in your backyard has an intended place. Storage can be made into an attractive addition to a patio or deck space rather than a pile of junk to hide.

small backyard ideas, built in seating

#25 // Consider the Future

It's helpful to consider the evolution of your space when designing your backyard - especially when determining what areas to invest in. Maybe a tree swing is a more practical use of your small backyard than an entire playground - especially when kids can outgrow a playground quickly. Sometimes smaller investments in your outdoor living space that don't have a big footprint are the most valuable - creating a fairy garden for your toddler is something they can enjoy and then it can easily be incorporated into a flower garden when they no longer use it.

Playspace on grass

#26 // Be a Good Neighbor

In the case of a small backyard, your neighbors may be close and/or behind a fence. Keep in mind your relationship with your closest neighbors when planning for your backyard. Remember to notify them of any work being done. Also keep in mind your and their privacy, i.e., no balconies near their windows, don't put an outdoor shower within view!

Also, be thoughtful and install fencing that provides both adequate privacy and looks good from both sides! The fencing you install will be an integral part of your space as well. Do not overlook its importance.

Tiny backyard ideas, add lush greenery

It is rewarding to work with client’s with small backyards (and front yards!). We love helping them extend their living space through a functional and smart design. This can help your home feel larger and complete.

Ready to start working on your own backyard? No matter the size, our deisgn team has backyard landscaping ideas for every unique situation.

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More on Tilly

Tilly’s easy online landscape design process has been embraced by homeowners across the country and in Canada. Tilly breaks packages into the Front Yard, Backyard or your Full Yard. We match you with a professional landscape designer who is familiar with your region to create the perfect custom plan for your outdoor space.

To start our process you’ll fill out a questionnaire about your property that helps our design team understand your goals, needs and existing landscape. You can add 3d renders, lighting plans or side yards to your design package. You’ll then meet with your designer on a video call, show them your space and discuss your priorities.

Whether you are just looking to add some curb appeal or transform your entire backyard - we have a team for you!

Read more about: Landscape Design Tips