5 Clever Ways to Make Your Backyard More Usable This Spring

Celebrate the joys of spring and throw open your doors by incorporating these design ideas into your backyard

A backyard with bi-folding doors opened for spring
(Image credit: Jake Holt. Design: Clark Associates)

Spring is in the air, meaning it's time to throw open our garden doors, let the sunlight pour in, and rediscover our backyards. Winter is hard on our outdoor spaces, and it's unlikely your backyard will be usable straight away. More often than not, our gardens show no sign of life until late spring, but until then, bare flowerbeds feel a little sparse and uninspiring, and the whole space typically lacks color and texture.

Getting ahead of the game is important to make sure your backyard is back in full force come mid-spring. By focusing on plantings and furniture, you can transform the space into an extension of your living room, making it usable for the season and well into the summer. We've spoken to the experts to find out their backyard tips to ensure we're making the most of our gardens come springtime.

1. Give your backyard a spring clean

A backyard patio with outdoor seating area

(Image credit: Christopher Morrison. Design: Proske Architects/Georgie Shepherd Interior Design)

First up, it's time to rid the backyard of any signs of winter. Backyards unravel throughout winter and become littered with dead leaves and debris, but it's nothing a good spring clean won't fix.

'To make your backyard more usable for spring, start by cleaning up and composting dead or fallen plant material to leave your space feeling clean and tidy,' says landscape designer Berend Kessler at Paul Sangha Creative. 'Remove household clutter and consider storage solutions elsewhere to keep your yard clear of unsightly items that take up space.'

Mulching is another easy job to get your backyard ready for spring, which means adding a layer to the soil's surface to help flower beds look vibrant and stop weed growth. You might also need to do a little weeding, and edging garden beds (which involves removing grass that has creeped out onto beds during the winter months) can be another way to neaten up the space.

Because of all the insects and creatures that make nests, hibernating in the winter debris, it's important to remember that the spring clean process shouldn't be a destructive one, and you're best to wait for a specific time in spring before heading out into the backyard with your favorite garden shears.

Cutting down the dead plant stems too early in the season will disturb them before they have a chance to emerge at their own pace. Ideally, wait until the temperatures are consistently above 50°F for around one week before beginning your backyard spring clean.

2. Reflect on what is making your backyard unusable

A backyard dining area

(Image credit: Benny Chan. Design: Spatial Affairs Bureau)

If you've deemed your outside space as unusable, consider why that might be. With the new season comes new ideas and inspiration, and spring is the perfect time to try out backyard layout tricks to unlock the space's full potential.

Think about the way you zone the space. If you'd like to have an outdoor dining area, using furniture to zone cozy corners and designated areas for socializing could be your answer. Don't be afraid to use the structure of the furniture to guide your zoning - a fence or back of an outdoor sofa is a useful device to create a small wall and distinction between one zone and the next. Think about how you link these zones together. Do you think your backyard could benefit with pathways that help guide users from A to B? Perhaps some well-scattered pea gravel can help a path come into its own, or maybe you want to try landscaping with rocks to guide visitors around the space. Berms are a clever way to draw the eye to a specific area, using mounded heaps of soil to raise the garden and bring in that depth and dimension. These small changes to the way you see your backyard and how you interact with the space could be the key to unlocking its potential.

'If lack of sun is an issue, consider selective pruning or adjusting the layout of your space,' adds Berend. 'If seating is in short supply, adding outdoor furniture can make a big difference. If you are dealing with a few issues at once, consider multi-purpose solutions like a seat wall that offers seating opportunities while also absorbing grade changes on your site.'

3. Incorporate spring plants

A backyard aerial view of spring flowers

(Image credit: Staghorn Living)

If you didn't get ahead of the game and plant the best bulbs for spring in fall, you can rely on your local nursery to provide budding spring plants available to take home and plant directly in the garden, either in pots or directly in the soil. Bringing color to your backyard is the best way to make your garden attractive for springtime use. The most popular spring plants include daffodils, crocuses, tulips, pansies, snowdrops, and hyacinths, and a mix will bring a joyous atmosphere to your backyard.

Pots of kitchen herbs can make a good addition to your backyard, encouraging you to actively use and benefit from the garden. 'I find that growing herbs is a fast and easy gateway into getting into gardening and also helps you get more out of your outdoor space,' says Kat Aul Cervoni, landscape designer and founder of Staghorn NYC and The Cultivation by Kat.

'Many herbs do well in pots, even just simple terracotta ones. Just ensure they have plenty of sun, at least six hours, and are kept on a good watering schedule,' says Kat. Rosemary, parsley, basil, thyme, and oregano tend to be the easiest and most used in the kitchen, and sage is a hardy kitchen plant that thrives whatever the weather.

4. Extend the hours of use

A backyard with an outdoor dining table and string lights

(Image credit: Lindsay Brown. Design: Element 5 Architecture PLLC. Interiors: Emily Brown)

As temperatures rise, spending time outdoors during the evening becomes more of a draw, and adding modern garden lighting to your backyard is a fantastic way to make your space more usable. 'I’m a big fan of cafe string lights mounted overhead,' says Kat. 'Make sure they are mounted a minimum of eight feet high or they’ll wind up feeling too low,' says Kat. 'Lanterns set next to furniture or on top of tables with outdoor-friendly LED candles are also a safe and beautiful way to illuminate your space.'

'Landscape lighting can extend the hours of using your outdoor space while creating ambiance,' agrees Cate Singleton, Tilly Design's Director of Design. 'String lights over a dining space adds a warm element to the nighttime sky.'

5. Create liveable zones

A backyard with outdoor living spaces

(Image credit: Manolo Langis. Design: SUBO Design Architecture)

If by chance your property doesn’t already have a deck or patio off the back of the house, Kat's highest recommendation for usability is to add one. 'There’s no better way to expand your living space and enjoy the best weather of the year,' says Kat.

'Replace struggling lawn or bare ground with paved or gravel patio spaces for lounging,' agrees Berend. 'Small, raised wood decks or platforms are also a cost-effective way to create usable spaces in your garden.'

Accessorize these spaces with moveable furniture too. 'That way, they can easily transition from a nice place to have a morning cup of coffee, to a home office during working hours, and finally a place to dine al fresco under the stars,' says Cate.

As well as extending usage at nighttime, you might also want to consider how to extend your backyard's usage when the sun's rays and warmth strengthen. 'For extra-sunny or exposed backyard spaces, adding a shade element is exactly what’s needed to make your space more usable for spring,' says Kat. 'The most economical and immediate option is an umbrella, and I like using a cantilever style for its space-savviness.' If space and budget allow, backyard umbrellas and outdoor shelters like pergolas, summerhouses, or gazebos are wonderful options for creating a shady destination in your backyard. 'A retractable awning can also extend the usable hours during the hottest parts of the day,' adds Cate.

Invest in the right soft furnishings too, says Kat. 'Creating a lounge area or dining space outdoors will up your backyard's usability. Even a simple cafe table and chairs or bench can be enough to beckon you outside. 'My favorite modern outdoor furniture materials are metal, hardwood such as teak, and all-weather wicker - typically a resin blend these days.'

3 additions that can help make your backyard more usable come springtime

Oonagh Turner
Livingetc content editor and design expert

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.