How First Time Homeowners Can Live Large With a Small Backyard

A young couple hangs out in their backyard.

For first time homebuyers, when it comes to your backyard, less is more.

Many first-time homeowners buy homes that are modest in size with a yard to match. But just because you have a small backyard doesn’t mean you can’t live large and make full use of the space you have. 

Plus, there are benefits to having a small backyard. It will cost you less to set up the space exactly how you want it. It will also be much easier (and, again, less costly) to keep the yard in great shape. Less maintenance also means your carbon footprint will be smaller because you’ll use less electricity and water.

With that in mind, New Home Source has some suggestions for how you can live large with a small backyard. Read on!

The Three W’s

Susan Morrison, author of The Less Is More Garden, starts garden design for her clients with these three questions: 

1. What will you be doing in the garden? 

2. When will you be in the garden? 

3. Who will be with you? 

This focus on lifestyle, if you want to make use of your backyard as an extension of your home, is a crucial first step. Morrison explains: “I use the three W’s to help me tease out the underlying reasons why a client wants to include each garden element before jumping ahead to the actual design. That’s because oftentimes, what they think they want isn’t a good match for how they will actually spend time in their backyard, and it’s their lifestyle that ultimately needs to guide how the space will be used.”


Originating in arid regions affected by droughts like Arizona and New Mexico, xeriscaping has grown in appeal to gardeners all over because it is all about using less water (an increasingly precious and expensive resource). Xeriscaping is landscaping or gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for extra irrigation and heavily employs drought-tolerant plants native to the region. It makes sense that plants native to a region are best suited to grow there and will need fewer resources to flourish, but sometimes it can be difficult to figure out which plants are native and which plants are not (and even your local nursery may not know). We’ve put together a few resources to help you get started:

Native Plants Database
Native Plant Nurseries
Native Plant Societies
The 7 Principles of Xeriscape Design

Think Vertically

Just because you don’t have a lot of ground space doesn’t mean you can’t have a lush garden. There are so many options — store-bought and do-it-yourself — for creating vertical gardens, that there’s something out there to suit every style. And the type of garden you plant is also up to you. It could be vegetables, flowers or even a wall of succulents — a living wall! For first-time homeowners looking for something a little more traditional, vines are also a wonderful way to make use of vertical space.

Patrick Blanc, the botanist who has made massive vertical gardens around the world, offers a word to the wise: “People tell me ‘Yes, vertical gardens are beautiful, but after one year, everything is dead.’ You’ve got to know plants and their habits, which ones you can prune and when to prune. Plants need to grow in harmony.” Visit Blanc’s website for some inspiration.

Slimming Black

When adding furniture to your small backyard, you’ll want to consider the size of pieces you’d like to include and how much room they take up — both spatially and visually. Unlike bold and bright colors, black is slimming and will make furniture appear smaller and in some cases almost blend in with the surroundings. If you can’t easily find black furniture, remember that most metal patio furniture can be easily repainted. Use bright colors for accent pieces like pillows, planters and candles to soften the entire look. 


Mesh is literally airy and can give a space an open feeling, which is great for small backyards. Patio furniture and hammocks made with mesh fabric open up, instead of crowd, an area. Or you can choose chairs made of metal mesh, which is durable and easy to clean. If you need privacy, a mesh screen can do the trick without creating a claustrophobic feeling.

Table Tops 

Tables are important. We gather around them, eat from them, place our drinks on their surfaces.  They’re also a focal point of any space intended for hanging out, and let’s face it, tables can be bulky. One way to fight the bulk is to use a table with a clear glass top. It’s the perfect way to include a central piece of furniture without making your small backyard feel crowded.

Going back to “Think Vertically,” making use of different levels with your furniture spreads things out vertically where they can’t be spread out horizontally. High-top tables do this beautifully and can extend your outdoor hangout space in a way that feels natural.

Remember to Have Fun!

Being a first-time homeowner is exciting. You finally get to decorate and make everything the way you want it, without having to ask or worry about a landlord. And you don’t have to have everything 100 percent perfect within a month of moving in. Have fun with creating your small backyard, and remember that it’s a learning process. Take your time to make it right and make it you.
Sarah Kinbar is a freelance writer and editor for leading print and online publications. Formerly editor in chief of Garden Design, she has also written and edited for Cottage Living, Modern magazine and Orlando Arts. You can find her on Google+.

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