Budget Backyard Makeover

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About: I'm a former bicycle industry designer turned professional jeweler. I like working with my hands and am happiest when I'm in the shop building my creations. If you need help with your project just let me know!

Our backyard gets a lot of use. With three kids, a large dog, cats and chickens we spend a fair bit of time outside and we love our yard.

But we had a some problems, well mostly one big problem- mud. Lots of mud.

Due to all the traffic our yard has received over the years we had several large bare spots that turned into mud pits whenever it rained and a large percentage of the mud was tracked into the house. We wanted to design our yard to be as low maintenance as possible, reduce our watering needs and still keep it kid/dog/chicken friendly.

Our split rail fence was also falling apart, the gate needed to be replaced and we needed a pathway from the gate to the back of the house. We couldn't afford to hire landscapers as our budget was pretty limited so we needed to be able to do all of the work ourselves.

We needed a budget backyard makeover!

The tools needed to do this type of work are pretty basic as it's mostly physical labor:

Wheelbarrow or cart for hauling dirt/rock

Circular saw for cutting wood fencing

Yard rake

Flat bladed shovel (works best for clearing borders and moving rock)

Post hole digger

We looked at lots of backyard photos on Pinterest to get some ideas for how we wanted to lay out borders and got to work.

Be sure to click on the photos as there are lots of notes!

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Step 1: Replacing Fencing

Building a fence isn't necessarily hard, just time consuming.

The first step was to have the city come out and mark all of our power and water lines. This is super important! Our back neighbor was replacing his fence and the people he hired to dig the holes went through a power line, taking out power to both his and our neighbor's house and the city had to come out and dig a new trench and replace the line. Not fun.

Also check your local building codes for fencing and check to see if you need to get a permit and talk to your neighbors to make sure they are OK with the type of fence you are planning to build (they also may offer to split the cost with you.)

We opted to build a standard 6ft. high cedar fence as that was the least expensive type of privacy fence we could build and looks wise it fit in with our neighborhood. Cedar ages well, is relatively low cost and is rot resistant. We opted to leave it a natural finish as staining/painting fencing typically just means more maintenance down the road.

We removed our old split rail fence and all of the brush that had grown around it, trying to save as much foliage as possible. Our new 4x4 fence posts were installed in the same locations as the old posts and cemented in place spaced at 8 ft. apart. We were relocating our gate and had to put in a new anchor post (we used a 6x6 post for this) and unfortunately hit a sprinkler line when digging a hole for this- nothing a quick trip to the hardware store couldn't fix! Just spliced in a new section of piping and we were good to go. Once the posts were in the stringers and fencing slats were installed.

To build the gate we used an Adjust-A-Gate kit. These are inexpensive, really easy to build and since you use the same fencing slats it will match the outside of the fence when finished.

Step 2: Laying Out Borders and Pathways

Edging was used to define our pathways and borders.

We used marking spray paint to mark all of the borders and define where we wanted to put pathways, rock and mulch. We wanted one pathway to go from the deck area to the back of the yard and another to go from the back of the house to the gate on the other side of the yard.

For the edging we used No-Dig plastic edging. This is simply bent to shape staked into the ground. We went with this vs. dig in edging because we have so many tree roots that we wouldn't be able to dig into the ground anywhere near the trees to put in pathways/borders.

We wanted rock nearest the house, followed by a mulch border for plants and trees and then rock areas underneath our trampoline and around the pathways. To make the pathway borders we placed retaining wall stone against the plastic edging. These stones have angled edges so they can be placed in either in a straight line or a curve. At 3" height these stones would keep our pathway material in place and offer enough depth for a good layer of sand and pathway material. All of the pathways and surrounding areas were then cleared of unwanted grass/weeds using a flat bladed shovel.

Step 3: Heavy Lifting!

Time to move rock. Lots of rock.

The areas were measured so we could order a delivery of sand, rock and pathway material. I went into our local supplier and told them what we wanted to do and followed their material recommendations. Going to a supplier in person and walking around on the material can give you a good idea as to how it will perform in your yard. We used a sand bed followed by 3/4" smooth rock around the house, under the trampoline and around the pathway that went to our back fence. I found that rock larger/more jagged than this was just not comfortable to walk on.

The pathways are a sand bed followed by a layer of squeege (basically a mix of finely crushed rock/gravel.) One of the reasons we went with squeege vs. a larger gravel is that we have had pea gravel areas in our yard before and our previous dog always tracked it into the house and the squeege seems to track a lot less. The other reason is that we could seal the pathways with a stabilizer later on if we wanted. You can do this with smaller gravel too but it's a LOT more work as you have to wash the gravel and dry it before applying the stabilizer. We had considered doing all stone paver pathways but the cost was just too high.

The total amount of material used was around 9 tons, which took about three days to move. Luckily my neighbor had a really cool dumping cart I was able to borrow as it works MUCH better than a wheelbarrow- a total life saver when moving this much heavy material.

There really wasn't much to this- a layer of sand was first put in the pathways and tamped down, followed by the squeege. Then the process was repeated for the rock areas.

Finally the borders around the plants and trees were filled in with mulch.

Step 4: Flagstone Pathway

More heavy lifting!

Since we moved the gate to the other side of the house we figured we could dig up all of the old flagstone on the side of our house and repurpose it to make a pathway from our back garage door to our chicken coop. This way when we went out to take care of the chickens in the winter we would have a nice surface to walk on.

The flagstone had been buried under dirt over the last 15 years so it was lifted up with a pry bar to help break it loose from the dirt and then placed on a tamped down sand/gravel bed around the chicken coop.

We then spread the remaining 3/4" rock around the shed area on the side of the house.

Step 5: Finished!

We're super happy with how our yard looks now!

It was a lot of heavy lifting but we saved a lot of money by doing the work ourselves. We've had a ton of rain (and hail!) since completing the yard and no more mud getting in the house!

In the second phase of the yard overhaul we'll be extending our main deck area and building a smaller floating deck near our large tree on the opposite side of the trampoline so stay tuned for that project. :)

As always if anyone has any questions just let me know!

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    2 Discussions

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    kterry4

    23 days ago

    I love it! With kids and dogs, our lawn was leveled to bare dirt pretty quickly, too. We turned the area closest to the door into our "porch" by mounting sail shaped sunshades and putting outdoor carpet/rugs and fake grass on the ground. They have all lasted a surprisingly long time!

    Getting ready to add some crushed rock to the driveway and your tips are greatly appreciated! The home store can tell you lots of stuff, but seeing a fellow diy person do it makes it seem more manageable!

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    Honuskterry4

    Reply 22 days ago

    Thanks! One of the most helpful things we did was go to our rock supplier and walk around on on the different materials to see how comfortable is was to walk on and how it would track. We really wanted to keep our yard as low maintenance as possible!