9 Cheap Backyard DIY Summer Projects
By Cole Mayer
As a freelance writer and former newspaper journalist married to a high school English teacher, not having any money ever is a given. Somehow, we managed to buy a house – by moving out of California. The chances of us owning a house in our hometown of Sacramento is about the same as Sean Bean living through a movie. But the home builders didn’t include a backyard with the house, so it’s a dirt expanse. How the hell am I going to make it look like a real backyard with furniture on no money? Build everything myself.
I recently completed installing a sprinkler system in my backyard and have been collecting DIY projects to work on after I get topsoil and sod down. Right now, it’s just pipes and dirt, but I see a huge amount of potential for a garden, raised planters, an area to entertain guests, and more.
Raised garden beds
I’ve already started planning out the garden for my wife. My wife, who absolutely loves Pinterest, found a raised garden bed for $12. Let’s face it – it’s a wooden box. A raised bed kit on Amazon, for comparison, goes for $96. Let that sink in. Building is as simple as nailing the wood into a rectangle with supports, staining it, and maybe lining it with plastic. Happy wife, happy life, less money spent on vegetables at the store.
A laughably easy wooden pallet path can be made in an hour, and breaks up the monotony of dirt and plants, with the added bonus of giving a fancy air to your backyard. This is literally as easy as ripping apart a pallet, removing the nails, and treating the wood. A pallet goes for $10-20 new. Or, if possible, to keep the garden “greener,” I’ll try to use reclaimed pallets that have been used, rather than brand-new, from-the-store pallets. It’s also not unheard of that a store might just give away pallets.
A garden loveseat made from more pallets is a bit more complicated than the wooden path, but still pretty easy, and a hell of a lot cheaper than buying furniture. Cut a template for the seat portion, make sure it’s comfortable, finish and seal the wood, and glue/nail everything together. Use the stain from the previous projects, and sit your broke-ass down on your new loveseat.
Cinder blocks are less than $2 each. Buy enough to form a few circles. Stack said circles. You have yourself a fire pit. Or, you can pile up rocks in a circle. The only real difference is the look you are going for. Bend some coat hangers and grab some hot dogs.
Ice chest/table combo
We have old tables for the patio right now, but each one only sits about two people. A table with built-in ice chests will allow for more seats and quick access to beer (or champagne if you’re ballin’). This isn’t too complicated, just time-consuming. This will probably be the first project done after getting the lawn down, because, as Andy Dufresne said in The Shawshank Redemption, “I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds.”
A childhood friend had a hammock growing up, and I was always jealous. You’ll probably have to buy a hammock, but not a stand. With a wide range of hammocks on the market, I’ll go with Mayan or Brazilian hammock. I want to be able to sleep in it during the weekends, or at least enjoy a Moscow Mule (though I’m ditching the expensive copper mugs). Since the patio will be taken up with the ice chest table, I’ll need a hammock pergola to provide shade. The pergola is pretty easy to make – mostly wood, a bit of concrete to keep it in place, some nails, and hooks to hold up the hammock. Too lazy? Put up the wooden posts to hang the hammock and form a skeletal structure around the hammock with PVC pipes. Drape an old bed sheet on the PVC, over the hammock. Instant one-person cabana.
Speaking of shade, my patio already has an overhang, but I want something to block the sun. For a paltry $60, I can install outdoor curtains for privacy and more shade. We have an west-facing house, so the sun hits the patio all morning. I’d like to enjoy a cup of coffee on my patio on the weekends without being blinded.
My wedding was in a friend’s giant yard – they have acres of land. One of the hardest parts of setting it up – because you can be sure we did most of it DIY to save money – was to string lights up from a tree to their vertical garden. That involved climbing a tree. I’m pretty sure running lights from the portico to a tree in our backyard, may 50 feet, will be better than the 300 feet of my friend’s yard. Cheap lights are fine if you don’t mind replacing lines every so often. In this case, you can use simple battery-powered strings. Longer-lasting means real lightbulbs, which means spending more money, and likely needing a power outlet. Either way, it’s perfect for continuing a party late into the night.
Time for the finale. If you want to kick up your fire pit game a notch, I present swing seats. There’s a template for the actual seats here – size the structure accordingly. By far the most elaborate and expensive project, needing concrete a ton of wood. The building process, just like all the other projects, isn’t complicated – just time consuming. But to buy something like instead of doing it yourself would probably run you well over $1,000. Also, don’t drunkenly swing into the fire pit.
Summer just started, and these are all the perfect projects to get done during the weekends, and on the cheap, to boot. Come August, my backyard should be ready to host a party.