10 ways to spruce up your side yard
Many people treat the strips on the sides of their homes as nothing more than grassy alleys leading to their backyards, or as suburban demilitarized zones providing some buffer between their house and those of their neighbors. But with a little planning and design savvy, the humble side yard can become a garden spot or be put to a variety of other productive uses. Here are 10 ideas.
Let it go to the dogsIf you have pooches, why not give them a nice place to play? A fenced-in side yard can be a perfect dog run, giving your pets a place to romp while keeping your front and back yards free of droppings and the unsightly brown spots that can result from the nitrogen and salts in canine urine.
Doug Del Gandio of Four Seasons Landscaping & Nursery in Maryland says synthetic grass can be a good choice for a dog run. It looks natural but is durable and low-maintenance. Although you'll still have to scoop the poop, urine runs right through the turf to the ground below without causing any damage.
Del Gandio, whose company installs artificial grass at residences and commercial properties, says that two of his biggest clients are kennels.
Outdoor showerOutdoor showers are great amenities for beach houses, but their appeal doesn't stop there. If you have a pool or hot tub in your back yard, an outdoor shower in your side yard can be a great place to rinse off the chlorine before you head into the house.
Options range from inexpensive and portable fixtures fed by garden hoses – perfect for washing muddy children or dogs before they come inside – to more elaborate setups designed to offer a spalike experience for grown-ups.
You'll want fences or other kinds of screening for privacy, even if you're planning to keep your bathing suit on, and you should check with local building codes and a plumber before connecting the shower to your home's water lines or drainage system.
Sports space for adultsSide yards often make good places to hone your sports skills. In California, JPM Landscape has turned side spaces into soccer fields for children and bocce courts for the older set. In Maryland, Four Seasons Landscaping & Nursery specializes in installing putting greens in such spaces.
Sport Court basketball or volleyball courts.
Outdoor kitchenMaking the best use of your side yard is often a matter of determining how your house fits on your property. Del Gandio says that some houses, particularly in older neighborhoods, have kitchens with side entries. When that's the case, turning a side yard into an outdoor kitchen or dining area can be a good idea. It can create an appealing space for entertaining and for cooking out.
online suppliers go beyond simple barbecue grills to include smokers, wood-fired ovens, griddles and even outdoor refrigerators and cabinetry.
Grow your own foodEven if your side yard isn't suitable as a place to cook or eat your food, it might make a great place to grow some of it.
Some side yards are damp and shady places, shielded from the sun for most of the day by the houses on both sides. But if yours gets plenty of sunlight, you might consider using it for a vegetable garden.
Even tiny gardens can be surprisingly productive, yielding a steady supply of tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, peppers and other produce from a plot as small as 4 by 4 feet. Raised beds can offer better drainage and some protection from weeds and pests. Check the Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness Zone Map to get an idea of what will grow, and when, in your area.
Outdoor living room
Practical and prettySometimes, it works best to use a skinny side yard as a place devoted to a homeowner's less glamorous needs. In the Sun Belt, the side yard is often the default site for a home's central air-conditioning unit – and in many cases, it makes sense to keep garbage cans, recycling bins and garden tools there, as well. But utilitarian doesn't have to mean ugly.
This side-yard remodel by JPM Landscape of San Jose and Pleasanton, Calif., corrals the clutter behind fences and plantings, leaving room for an attractive walkway and a neat lawn.
A place to exercise your green thumbBecause it can be inexpensive to fence a side yard, given its smaller square footage and the fact that the house's outer wall can be one side of the enclosure, the space can be converted from a public showcase into a private workspace.
Here's your moment of ZenBecause they are relatively small and secluded, an enclosed side yard can offer the perfect place for restful solitude, where you can meditate or relax with a good book.
A Japanese rock garden, or karesansui, also known as a Zen garden, can be a nice addition to such a space. They are easy to construct and mainly consist of rocks, gravel and sand. Some designers add fire pits or plants, but all that's really needed is the garden itself and a place to sit and contemplate it.
Traditionally, the sand in a Japanese rock garden is raked to create ripples designed to resemble water. But if you prefer the sight and sound of the real thing, a fountain or similar water feature may be a good alternative for the space.
Child's playAn enclosed side yard can make an ideal outdoor playroom for small children, providing them with a fresh-air alternative to staying inside and watching television or playing computer games.
Permanent playhouses can help children exercise their imaginations, experts say, while slides, swing sets and other gear can help them exercise their bodies.
For safety, playground equipment should be high-quality and properly installed, and the area around it should covered with a protective surface, such as rubber mulch.
Sandboxes can also provide opportunities for free-form play, but they should be kept covered when not in use if there are cats around, to prevent them from becoming oversized litter boxes.