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Not all yards (or budgets) are built for beautiful landscaping, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a comfortable, aesthetically pleasing outdoor space. There are plenty of ways to upgrade your backyard without planting or growing anything.

Hang a hammock

A hammock is perhaps one of the simplest and cheapest backyard upgrades to make, especially if you have two sturdy trees 10–15 ft. apart as anchor points or can install at least one hammock post. (Even if you don’t/can’t, hammock stands can be bought new for under $100 and can be set up anywhere on flat ground.)

Rope and quilted hammocks work well for more permanent setups, while woven and nylon versions are easily portable for park or camping trips. The only other items you’ll need for setup are clips and tree-saver straps.

Add some shade

You can get backyard shade from something as simple as a beach or patio umbrella to a project as involved as a pergola depending on how much space you have and how permanent you want your shade structure to be. Options like shade sails can also help define outdoor lounge space if you don’t have a patio or deck.

Install outdoor lighting

Outdoor lighting can be a huge upgrade for the ambiance of your backyard. You can go as simple as a few lanterns or torches or a row of string lights or as involved as fully designed landscape lighting. If you don’t have a power source nearby, there are plenty of options for LED or solar lights.

Build a fire pit

A fire pit creates a focal point for your yard and a natural place to gather, even when it’s not lit. It also allows you to enjoy your yard almost year-round no matter the temperature. We’ve got guides to building your own smokeless pit or standard stone fire pit—just make sure you are familiar with local regulations and fire restrictions that may limit outdoor burning, and be sure to place the pit on a safe surface away from any structures.

Items to create a serene backyard paradise:

Pave a path

Building a paved walkway through your yard does require some labor, but it’s a design alternative for defining space when you can’t or don’t want to add or change the landscaping. Options range from laying a few patio pavers like stepping stones (with grass or gravel in between) to designing and installing an entire walkway.

Set up a seating or dining area

You can buy a patio set, of course, but you can also pick up used outdoor seating—benches, picnic tables, Adirondack-style chairs, etc.—via local classifieds like Facebook Marketplace for less, or put in a little bit of labor to build it yourself on the cheap. With a bit of style from patterns, colors, and accessories like cushions and lighting, create the illusion of an outdoor living room or dining room.

Build an outdoor counter

Repurpose a tool or potting bench as an outdoor bar or kitchen. Most have shelves for storage (or cooking items like a pizza oven) and could even accommodate some stool seating. Use what you have, find one used, or even build your own using a DIY design.

Put up a birdbath

Like a fire pit, a birdbath can be a focal point for your space and provide water to birds, butterflies, and other pollinators. The simplest baths are tabletop basins or bowls that stake into the ground—you can also go for a stone bath or full water feature.

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