How can we make the backyard of our rental feel awesome for parties?

Our rental's backyard
Our rental's backyard
The yard in our rental home gets tons of both shade and sun, and has a large bricked patio. But there's nothing covering the patio, and it looks like an above-ground pool or trampoline has killed a large portion of the grass.

We're looking forward to having friends and family over this summer, as we finally have space to entertain, but I want to spruce up the backyard a bit before we have people over.

Since we're renting the house, I want to make it more homey, but I don't want to pour money into a yard that we'll eventually leave. I'm not opposed to doing the basics, like raking, weeding, and fertilizing (and plan on doing all of the above once we move in). Any other suggestions on how to make this yard a bit more family-friendly, while also being renter- and budget-friendly? -dreemwhrld

Of course our first suggestion: it's carbana time! Set it up over the ruined grass and enjoy an instant party place that can come with you when you move.

What ideas do you Homies have for backyard make-overs that are budget-friendly, renter-friendly, and party-ready?

  1. You'll need somewhere for people to sit and patio furniture is holy-shit-expensive. I've been known to pull my indoor furniture outdoors for extra seats, also camping chairs are cheap. If you can find them, logs make great seating, either laid on their sides (couch style), or short and standing upright (bucket-seat style). I've seen an image of a fire pit surrounded by toilets that could be fun depending on your friends and the availability of toilets.

    Speaking of fire pits, a small fire pit (check local burn ordinances first) can be inexpensively purchased or easily made and makes your backyard feel like a destination. Add some tiki torches with citronella oil for bug control and a nice outdoor space to mix drinks, and you've got a lovely outdoor party spot

    • A Friend of mine had a washer that broke beyond repair, so he took the drum out of it and turned it into his own fire pit on a pad of concrete. It's great cuz it gets lots of air through the water holes, and is good and thick and tall. If you've got an old and broken washer (or spot one in a junk yard) it's a totally free way to get a fire pit.

      • My dad has a fire pit made from a washer drum! It has three legs welded to the sides to raise it off the ground; I think the legs were made from a cut-up pole of a chain link fence. It is awesome; we have roasted marshmallows over it on more than one occasion.

      • in the newer washers, the drum is plastic. I just found this out when our washer broke and I had hubby take the drum out to use for a fire pit. So disapointed!

  2. If the carbana tent is more than you want to spend (or too big), you could always try a 10×10-foot EZ-Up tent, like the ones people use at craft fairs. They fold up into a smallish bag for easy storage when you're not using them. Put a snack or drink table under it along with some chairs for a nice shady space!

  3. Define/outline the space. Right now it's a big open, spot, but like in any room you can choose whether the hang out spot is closer to the house or further out with a fire pit, or…anything. Fairy lights along a fence or back of the house, planters of herbs/flowers at the perimeter, fire pit, tiki torches, carbana, etc. If you think you'll always have a need for patio furniture invest in it, but if not you can do like Amy said, get some logs, or maybe find second hand furniture and waterproof it. Oh, and share with us what you do in the end: pics or it didn't happen!

  4. If you're into gardening, that bare spot might make a good place for some raised beds. You can find instructions online that require not much more than lumber and soil. Or, you could make that the "game area" with a volleyball net or informal bocce court.

    We bought our patio furniture from an unfinished wood millstore. Although it actually was a finished teak set. It was very affordable and has held up well over the last 8+ years.

  5. Sitting areas! They don't have to be pretty, even some mismatched Goodwill patio furniture will make the backyard much more pleasant for guests. Also, if you have friends who smoke and those who don't, it's nice when there's two seating areas that are separate.

    • I second the Goodwill/yard sale patio furniture! Oh, and throw some grass seeds/wildflower seeds on that weird patch and it should clear up that empty spot. I'd say some potted plants along the edge of the patio, plus some mason jars with tealights or small candles in them could liven it up a little.

      Have any beach towels? You can always throw them out on the patio along with pillows if you're really against getting furniture for the patio. At least then there would be something to sit on and the pillows would make it a little comfier…

        • I love that spray-paint idea! Something I saw a friend of mine do- she commissioned artist friends to paint thrifted chairs for her yard, then sealed them to be weather proof. Then when those friends visited they go to sit in "their chair." Makes me want to have a yard so bad!

      • I second and third all the people who have suggested good will and craigslist, but if you want new, try Cost Plus World Market because their selection is good, and their prices are less expensive….they have a lot of pieces that look just like more expensive stores, for about half the price…

        And remember, when you move you take your furniture with you!!

        • And let's not forget freecycle, as long as it's available in your area and this is a prefect time of year to go yard saleing a get some awesome deals on old furniture.

    • Thanks for the separate areas idea! We have friends that are moving and managed to get some nice used patio chairs from them, as well as some wooden picnic tables in need of repair. Once we've fixed the tables, we'll have outdoor seating for 21 people!

  6. Fill a couple plastic (easier to move) pots with flowers to help outline a space.

    If you are interested in cheap ways to garden, ask your neighbors if they are dividing any plants soon. You can also check out your local cooperative extension and ask when the master gardener plant sale is- local people dig up plants from their backyard and you can buy them for a couple dollars. It's cheaper than a nursery, and it's easier because you know that all those plants will thrive in your region.

    As for party supplies: a folding card table for food, camp chairs for seats, and maybe an outdoor carpet to cover the dead spot in the yard!

    • Also, a lot of malls or big stores dig up and throw away their PERENNIAL plants every year! Crazy! My mom and I used to go to a JCPenney at a mall in the Chicago suburbs and grab up tons of plants every year that were just laying in piles in the parking lot ready to go to a landfill. See if you can find out from mall staff when that whole thing would happen.

  7. To me, that space calls out for some kind of lawn game along one side – horseshoes, bocce, a toss game, that sort of thing. We found a set of temporary games that can be packed up in a storage bag for less than $30 at Target a couple years ago. If you can get your hands on free pallets, you could use them as is for planter walls to help separate spaces, or break them apart and with a saw and screwdriver turn them into tables. Some sort of lighting would really help, you could even use different kinds of lighting to help differentiate spaces. If you get lots of sun, use solar, there was a tutorial on making solar mason jar lights either here on off beat bride at some point. If you have the space to bring them indoors in the winter (or if you don't have cold winters) you could plant herbs in pots too. We have an unfinished wood store in our area that sells picnic tables for only about $125, so that might be a more affordable option than a "real" patio set.

  8. We are renting (although it's from my mum so a bit different) and our back yard is very shady and with crappy grass. What I am finally doing is painting the patio furniture my mum picked up at a garage sale. Check those out! You never know what you can find. Ours isn't in great shape, but it was cheap. So I'm investing in some spray paint this summer to make it brighter. We also ended up with an old bbq that I would never attempt to use which I've turned into a planter. So adding flower pots or fun decorative items like light strings, statues, painted boards, etc, can make it feel more friendly.

    I also got some paving stones donated so I set up a little area but that's a bit more permanent. You could, however, build a little wooden deck. Just a small frame that is then portable (4'x6' perhaps?) that is great for a bbq, a cooler, etc.

    Kiddie pools are also fun, or even just a garden hose and a sprinkler end. Easy to play in!

    • I was cruising home listings in my area and I found where someone had made a deck out of palettes. It looked like they'd basically just split the bottoms off the palettes, then secured more pieces of wood across the middle, underneath to seam the palettes together and to add a little more support.

      • This is actually my June project. I also rent, and share the back yard but I want a place that feels grown up friendly so I'm building a deck out of pallets.

  9. A gazebo makes it a party space in our rented house/garden.
    People congregate in it.
    Cheap seats (look for ones people are throwing out) or get yourself to Walmart!
    Table isn't as important (unless you want to play beer pong)

    We like to have some solar lights to mark the path ($1 each at target) and a rope light inside the gazebo so people can find their drinks long into the night.

    A BBQ is a bonus, doesn't have to be an expensive gas one, a cheap charcoal one will burn the burgers just as effectively!

    And all this is stuff you can take with you no matter where you move

  10. If you live in the midwest or driving distance to farms, hay bales make awesome comfortable seating. Usually $5 each and they will last all summer and fall. Oftentimes farmers will deliver them. Somtimes I would push them all together and the drunks would sleep on them on a warm night! Haybales prevent drunk driving!

    • Your local big-box hardware store will have these this time of year, too, usually outside in a large tractor trailer.

    • I live in the southeast, but I've seen them around in the more rural areas of my state. I'll keep an eye out!

  11. I say portable fire pit. I have one and well it goes out when we use it and goes into the garage when we're not. Then all you need are seats.

  12. That roundish area that's bare from having something on top of it screams out for lawn games! You can buy for fairly cheap (or DIY) a quoits set, or bean-bag toss (sometimes known, juvenilely, as cornhole). You can also get non-permanent horseshoe sets that come with the horse shoes and metal stakes you sink into the ground when you want to play. Bocce is also great in a yard, especially one with slight imperfections as it makes the game more challenging!

    Our yard is occasionally patchy, and for parties I'll lay down a couple blankets to encourage people to picnic and disguise the bald spots in the grass.

  13. TIKI TORCHES!

    I don't know how budget-friendly those are but I had some college friends do this with great success ( so it couldn't have been too expensive? ). It provided cheap lighting which really encouraged people to stay longer and made it very festive too.

    I'm not sure if this qualifies as "family friendly". I guess it depends on how you feel about children and fire. But I hear they're delicious roasted. 🙂

    • From what I can tell the normal-sized tiki torches run about $10 and up each. Since the yard is so big (and even the patio too), I think that's something to think about for a little later in the summer, maybe?

  14. That backyard is screaming potential! There have been some great suggestions so far. I think I would start with the patio area first, and then expand.

    Container gardening is a wonderful way to add a lot of volume to a small space, and the best part is you get to take them with you when you leave! Here are some ideas from Pinterest: http ://pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=container%20gardens

    A sun shade sail can also provide inexpensive shade for the lounge area: http ://www.amazon.com/patio-lawn-garden/dp/B004VPSP6G. The posts can also be useful for string/party lights: http ://pinterest.com/pin/76068681175531997/.

    Curbly has some links to great ideas using cinder blocks: http ://www.curbly.com/users/capreek/posts/15004-12-awesome-concrete-and-cinder-block-outdoor-diy-projects. You may want to read further, in their gardening posts: http ://www.curbly.com/section/gardening.

    Thrift stores, Craigslist and the curb are your friends! Good luck!

    (Links have spaces as to not be tagged as spam.)

  15. 1) Ask the owners if you can put some money and time into sprucing up the back yard for them, and take the supplies out of the rent. Some will accept the free labor happily and just expect receipts to be sent with the rent check next month. Some will prefer that you not deduct, but will reimburse you for both supplies AND labor.

    2) Even when you own, you can put a lot of time and effort and supplies into a yard that you then leave. Sometimes that can be reflected in the sale price, but real estate doesn't always appreciate in accordance with your efforts. That being said, I recognize that when you're renting, you may not stick around to enjoy it as long as someone who is owning.

    3) It might be worth a little non-reimbursable time and money to get to enjoy your space, even IF it results in you leaving it all behind. I'd be most tempted to try things that are removable first, but only if the owner doesn't want me to spruce the place up permanently.

    Bamboo mats might work to cover that dirt spot, or even just a giant rug. You could get a bale of hay and spread it around under either one of them or just by itself (thicker layer, if you're using it by itself) to fill in that middle area, and that won't cost much to leave behind since it won't be worth taking with you. But it would help keep any dampness from seeping mud through whatever your ground cover is. (Speaking of ground cover, now I just want to cover it in moss!) A portable tent and some foldable chairs will easily move with you later!

  16. I can't believe I am just seeing this! It seems like there's a ton of space back there, best thing to do is organize and, like others have said, figure out where you want things to happen.

    In my case, the house has a covered patio area, which we put random chairs on (thrift store barstools, a front seat from a Geo Metro supported by a cinder block we found, a couple office-type chairs that I nabbed – I did ask first – when my office upgraded chairs to the kind that roll). The previous renters left us a picnic table, so we went to Home Depot and got some stain that someone had failed to pick up and was on "close-out" price. We found a couple of old spools for who knows what that are decent, drink height, which we also stained with the "close-out" stain The point is, the seating does not have to be beautiful for the yard to be. And when you have friends over, ideally, the seats are taken.

    Consider a few planters that offer fragrant flowers (my personal favorite is night-blooming jasmine). Make sure the yard is in order (this is personal to me, because for a while, the space off of our deck was filled with refuse from other projects we'd done and now that it's clean… oh my, is it relaxing). A few of the tiki torches you can get at home improvement stores – they're on the cheap side and the fuel doubles as a bug repellent – around the sitting area. Even decorate the area with christmas lights (maybe not the red and green kind, clear non-blinking have been awesome for us).

    The level of work you want to put into the actual yard area (I say this assuming you'd get planters small enough to move with you) is entirely up to you, your projected time in the house, and how much you like getting down and dirty (in the gardening sense). If you like the gardening process and plan to be there a few years – get some seeds, get them started, and know that it's the start of something wonderful (I have no idea who planted the tulips in our front yard, but they've come back strong for the 7 years I've been here). If not, keep the yard neat, but don't worry yourself over the things that are presumably irrelevant to the landlord or next renter – contain your garden in a way that it can move with you.

  17. Another ground covering idea is interlocking deck tiles — yes, some investment, but they can totally stay with you when you move!

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