5 Ways to Elevate Your Backyard for Outdoor Living

Looking to update your front or backyard this year? Will Spurgeon, owner of Boulder Creek Lawn and Landscape, gave advice on DIY projects ranging from simple to complicated to help homeowners make the most of their outdoor living spaces this summer (Photo/Shelby Kardell).

Looking to update your front or backyard this year? Will Spurgeon, owner of Boulder Creek Lawn and Landscape, gave advice on DIY projects ranging from simple to complicated to help homeowners make the most of their outdoor living spaces this summer.


If you have a new home that needs added curb appeal, or you’re simply wanting to spruce up your house, Spurgeon said putting in plants, mulch and decorative rock can go a long way.

First, establish which direction your house faces. This will help determine which type of plants you should buy according to their light requirements. Some houses will need a mix of full sun, shade or partial shade plants.

Once you know which types of plants to buy, you can put down a weed mat and either place mulch or decorative rock. Spurgeon said both have their advantages.

At Boulder Creek Lawn and Landscape, “We generally prefer mulch,” he said. “It’s better for plant health and puts organic material back down on the ground.” Great for weed control and a natural look, the disadvantage to mulching is that it must be refreshed annually.

Homeowners can also put down rock in gardens. “The advantage to rock is that you put it down and you don’t have to freshen it up for five or six years,” Spurgeon said. “Rock is more permanent.” Although it doesn’t have as natural a look as mulch, rock can be a good choice for homeowners that are looking for low-maintenance garden care.


Spurgeon also recommends adding or updating the lighting to transform your outdoor spaces quickly and easily.

“Lighting completely changes the look and ambiance of the outdoor living space, especially in the evening,” Spurgeon said. If you already have basic landscaping or an outdoor entertainment area, lighting can be a great addition.

Spurgeon recommends putting light fixtures below eye level to create a soft, natural effect.

“A lot of people used to put a light fixture on top of a column around a patio,” he said. “But we try to not do that anymore. We'll put lights underneath the caps, where you still have the light, but you don't have it right in your face.”  

Lighting your paths and entertainment areas can really change what your outdoor living space looks like on a budget.

Adding outdoor lighting also has the added advantage of increased security. Spurgeon said it’s a simple installation process that any homeowner can do.

“You don't have to be a certified electrician to put in lighting,” he said. “You just need a 110 plug on the outside of the house to plug your transformer into. It doesn't take a lot of tools, and it's really easy to do.”

Outdoor paths

If you have more time to devote to upgrading your space, Spurgeon said outdoor paths offer a lot of options. From a simple and traditional paver path to natural-looking flagstone, paths are fully customizable and can be done bits at a time.

If you’re going the flagstone route, Spurgeon recommends using larger (2- to 3-foot) stones.

“With the larger pieces of flagstone, they don't disappear into the ground,” he said. “A lot of times when you use traditional pavers, after a couple of years the grass will grow back over them, and they'll disappear.”

If you need more permanent footing, homeowners can pour concrete between flagstones. Spurgeon said he’ll often mortar flagstone and then add grout between the stones to create a smooth path. It’s a more involved and expensive project than pavers but can be a great option when you need secure footing outside.

Patio with pavers

For the more ambitious, creating a patio space out of pavers is a great way to create a functional and aesthetic entertainment space.

“Pavers are usually easier to do,” Spurgeon said. “Find a good level spot, put your aggregate down, and get your pavers put in place. Pavers are easier for busy homeowners to handle because they can work on them for a couple of hours at a time.”

When you get into concrete or stamped, decorative concrete, it takes more tools and knowledge. Concrete patios also need to be done immediately because concrete sets quickly.

Spurgeon said patio projects can be as big or small as you want. Prices can vary drastically based on the project's square footage, as well as the types of materials used.

Fire pits and fireplaces

Fire pits and outdoor fireplaces are nice additions to patio and entertainment areas and can add lots of entertainment value to your space.

A basic, wood-burning firepit is a great and budget-friendly addition that most homeowners can install themselves. Use stone materials like flagstone or keystones and set up a simple fire ring. You can use fire-rated glue to put them together or simply set them on top of each other. “Because they’re very heavy, they’re not going to move,” Spurgeon said. “And that way if you ever want to move them to a different area, you don’t have the glue to contend with. You can just take them apart and move them.”

For seating, he recommends using materials like boulders or logs for a natural look.

Although there’s not a huge advantage to having a fireplace instead of a fire pit, outdoor fireplaces are a great option for parents with young children.

Similar in look to an indoor fireplace, outdoor fireplaces add a more luxurious feel to the backyard. Spurgeon said they can vary greatly in price, but owners can find kits and build them on their own.

“There are a couple different companies in town that sell them,” he said. “The sky is the limit with fireplaces. It all just depends on what you’re looking for and what’s in your budget.”

In terms of practicality, Spurgeon said, “A $2,500 fireplace functions the same as a $25,000 one, it just comes down to what you want.”

Spurgeon said it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with home improvement projects, but doing research before beginning any task will make the process much smoother. He recommends using YouTube as an informational resource and said every project can be as hard or as difficult as you want.

His advice to homeowners is to not make the project more complicated than it needs to be. “Remember ‘KISS,’” he said. “Keep it super simple.”