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Unique Side Yard Landscaping Ideas for Your Home

By Axis Fuksman-Kumpa March 4, 2022

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A golf cart and veggie garden in a side yard space
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As landscapers, we talk a lot about front yards and backyards—but what about side yards? Many people overlook the areas on either side of their house and think of them as nothing more than a pathway from the front yard to the backyard, but we believe they have much more potential.

Whether you have open grass or a narrow space between your house and a privacy fence, there are ways to make your side yard work for you. Read on for some of our favorite suggestions to make the side of your house a beautiful space that expands your area to work and play.

Children’s Playspace

No matter how oddly shaped your side yard might be, there’s someone who’ll appreciate that it: your kids. You can easily upgrade your unused side yard into a kid’s paradise with simple additions based on the layout. There are endless possibilities—think play castles, a sports area, a mess-allowed art nook, a hopscotch court…

We've seen our design team get extra creative with a great climbing wall in an unused side yard, which is an amazing way to build vertical space into a narrow area. If your space is very narrow, a great option is a mural-sized chalkboard with a sand box below! Tailor your design to what the kids in your life love and your side yard will quickly become the most used outdoor space at your home.

This side yard didn't have enough sun for the garden the homeowner wanted, so instead the design team added a climbing wall
A Tilly plan with a climbing wall for kids

Making the most of narrow spaces, this home's side yard features a chalk board and sand pit with pavers
A Tilly plan with a chalkboard and sand pit in a narrow space

Garden Area

Make your side yard work for you with a garden plot or two! You can add some great flowers to spruce up the area and add color. If you have enough sun, vegetable gardens are a fun option to produce something delicious to toss in tonight’s salad!

Raised beds and container gardening both make easy options to squeeze into spaces of almost any shape, all without needing to dig into the ground. Just be sure to think about the light you get in your side yard before you plant any seedlings—those tomatoes won’t grow if a privacy fence leaves them in constant shade.

Add a potting bench to make tools easily accessible and for storage.

A side yard landscape with a brick walkway, new plants, a container garden and potting bench (not pictured)
A Tilly client with an updated side yard

Vertical Garden

What if your space is extremely narrow but you still love the look of greenery? Meet the vertical garden—a type of space-efficient gardening that can utilize any fence or wall that gets sunlight. You can create a flower trellis for vining plants to grow up to add some visual interest out your window, or even create a mounted herb garden!

There are many types of purchasable or easily DIYed planters that can turn a side yard fence into an area to grow strawberries, salad greens, and fresh herbs. Some mounted planters even come with irrigation built in to make these gardens simple and low maintenance. Choosing plants that will work with your sun/shade requirement and climate is key to selecting the right options!

A vertical design on a fence
A Tilly plan with vertical garden designs for visual interest on a fence

Dog Run

If you’ve got a long side yard space to work with, that makes the perfect functional space for a dog run. Even if the space feels a little awkward for human use, your four-legged family members will appreciate the space to stretch their legs and get the zoomies out before an afternoon nap in the sun.

Think about using a hardy groundcover that can withstand heavy paw-traffic. If you like the look of grass, tall fescue is a sturdy option that will resist lawn burn from pet urine. You can also opt for long-lasting grass alternatives including artificial turf, pea gravel, and wood chips. You might also consider adding fences for free running, shade areas, and access to water after a good play session.

A dog run in a side yard
A Tilly plan with a dog run in a shaded side yard

Putting Green

If you’re struggling to find good narrow side yard ideas and you love a day out on the green, a side yard putting green might be the ideal option for you. All it takes is a stretch of natural or artificial turf and a hole to turn an awkwardly long and narrow side yard into a space to enjoy the outdoors and perfect your putt. Level up your putting green with uneven terrain, golf club storage, or a seating area to rest your feet after you get a few good strokes in.

A putting green is included in this side yard garden design
A Tilly plan with a putting green

Outdoor Shower

If you have room and good drainage, an outdoor shower is a great luxury for any house! Just make sure the area is private enough before you start planning!

A wooden outdoor shower with lush plantings
A Tilly plan with an outdoor shower in the side yard

Seating Areas

We're always looking to maximize our client's outdoor living space and what better use of a side yard than adding an intimate, out of the way area to relax. A small seating area with string lights overhead, maybe a small fire pit - you can create more room for entertaining, relaxing and more.

You can do a simple DIY side seating area with just a small gravel patio and some ornamental grasses for privacy for a chic modern finish.

A concrete walkway leads to a great lounge area with plants in containers and a water feature that serves as a focal point
A Tilly plan with a great side yard seating area

Trash Cans or Equipment Storage

Look, we all have garbage, and it can be a struggle to make sure your trash (or AC units, etc.) aren’t an eyesore. Use your side yard as a private nook to hide away garbage and recycling bins behind a privacy fence or strategically placed plants. They’ll be close enough to the curb to easily wheel out on garbage day without being a constantly visible part of your landscaping. You can cover or hide your AC units or anything else that’s in your side yard through smart design.

Air conditioning units covered with fencing, grasses and plants
A Tilly plan with AC units covered on the side

Compost Area

You can also use this as a composting area! Home composting can be surprisingly easy and low impact (and yes, that means it doesn’t have to stink). Whether you prefer an open-air compost pile or closed bins, this is an excellent spot to tuck them away. All the better if this area is close to any garden beds where you’ll want to spread that nutritious compost!

A compost area in a side yard
A Tilly plan with compost bins and containers

Pool or Hot Tub

Okay, we know what you’re thinking—pools are big how would those fit into a side yard? Can I put a pool in my side yard? Well, it depends on the size of the pool and the size of your side yard, but we’ve seen it done. There are plenty of ways you can lounge in the water without needing to install a massive in-ground pool. Compact options include cocktail pools, stock tank pools, above ground pools and plunge pools. All of these options have a small footprint in your yard but make a huge upgrade to your side patio ideas! Check out our list of Pool Landscaping Ideas for more inspiration.

If soaking in the warmth is more your style, a hot tub is calling your name. Above-ground installation and a relatively small size makes a hot tub an option even if you’re looking for small side yard ideas. This upgrade will also increase the hours of the day you’ll want to use your outdoor living spaces. What’s better than stargazing from the comfort of your hot tub? We have a full guide on How to Integrate a Hot Tub into Your Landscape Seamlessly to help you get the ball rolling.

Most homeowners think of a pool as backyard landscaping, here a pool located in the side yard of a home
A Tilly plan with a pool

Functional Landscaping Issues to Consider

If none of these ideas strike a chord with you or you’re just looking to keep things simple, there are still plenty of small side yard landscaping ideas that will make your side yard more livable and beautiful. Remember to consider things like:

Walkway

If your side yard is being used mostly as a walkway, make it the best walkway it can be! Start by tidying up your landscaping and making sure there’s a clear path.

Aerial look at a landscape for side of house with lush plantings and square pavers
An aerial look at a Tilly plan

Light

Next, consider the light your side yard receives. If you receive low light, a shade-friendly ground cover plant will provide fewer headaches than grass. If this is a high-traffic area, consider installing concrete pavers, stepping stones, or other path options—you can find some of our favorites in our Guide to Hardscape. If you’re lucky enough to get strong light in your side yard, you might want to plant some low-maintenance plants in the area to bring some life to the space.


We hope these side yard landscaping ideas have inspired you to make your space more usable. Whether it’s creating a relaxing nook or building a vertical garden, your side yard doesn’t have to be an afterthought. If you want someone to help you bring your ideas to life, we can help with our easy online landscape design process available all across the US! From Maine to California, Montana to Texas, Illinois to Florida - we've got a designer who can work with you. Our design experts are pros at turning any side yard into a space that will become your new favorite outdoor feature.

A side yard with a vegetable garden along a concrete fence
A Tilly plan with vegetable gardens

Read more about: Tilly Portfolio, Landscape Design Tips