Having a backyard is one of life’s great pleasures. You can spend sunny afternoons out back with the kids, have friends over to eat and enjoy the fresh air, and seek out space when you need a little calm. Of course, if your backyard is difficult to maintain, it becomes another chore on your list of things to deal with. If your backyard isn’t set up for comfortable use, you can bet you’ll use it far less. The following will explore some of the ways you can make your backyard more inviting and comfortable, with the goal of ensuring you get outside more often than not.

Start With The Feeling You Want To Cultivate

Whenever you’re looking into tweaking one of your living spaces, it’s always a good idea to think about the feeling that you want to cultivate. There’s a reason so many great poets, writers, and artists gushed about time spent outdoors (Thoreau said that his heath and spirits could not be preserved with anything less than four hours outside each day)—not only is nature beautiful, but it’s relaxing and good for our health. What are the activities that you and your family do inside that could easily be moved outside? There are no wrong answers here. Once you’ve figured out what sort of things you want to be doing outside, you can begin to approach your backyard alterations with this in mind.

Clean Up The Junk

Before you start adding things to your space, it’s a good idea to think about what needs to be taken away. If you’ve just moved in or haven’t yet had the time to do a proper backyard clean-up, now is the time to do it. Collect and remove any junk you find. Pay special attention to difficult-to-access places, as this is where garbage tends to add up. Look beneath decks and in the thicker brush around fences.

While you’re at it, clean up any sticks or leaves that have come down due to season changes or storms. Don’t take these items to the curb, however. Use them to fill in any holes you want to be filled before adding soil. This will help give the soil nutrients, so everything in your yard will become lusher.

Native Plants Only

Often in the backyard, there will be some plants. Save yourself a whole bunch of time and energy and seek out plants that are native to your area. These plants have evolved to thrive in the climate that you live in, meaning they’re going to require far less watering, weeding, and tending than foreign plants which haven’t had thousands of years to adapt to the water levels in your area or the amount of limestone in the soil. Native plants are also much better for the local environment, supporting local birds and bees, and butterflies. A backyard full of butterflies and hummingbirds is pretty tranquil.

Cover Up Anything Ugly

We can’t control what our neighbors put on their deck or what is happening across the street. Sometimes we can’t afford to replace hideous siding on the back of our homes. Plant trees that will grow tall to block out the view of things you don’t like looking at. Consider wall-climbing vines as a way to cover up fencing or siding that you’re not a fan of.

Consider Skipping Out On The Grass

It turns out that lawns of cut grass are really bad for the environment because they strictly encourage no biodiversity (so much so that Las Vegas just banned grassy lawns). They’re also a hassle as they need to be cut each week. Save yourself the trouble and find a few native ground-covering plants. Scatter their seeds throughout your backyard, and rest easy knowing that your grass isn’t going to get too high, and you’ll end up with some lovely blossoms come spring. Remember, a backyard isn’t relaxing or inviting if every time you’re out there, you’re thinking about all the work you’ve got to do there.

Set Up Some Shade

Spending time outdoors is fantastic for your health and wellbeing. Studies have shown it lowers your levels of stress and boosts your immune system for the next seven days. This being said, on hot and sunny days, shade is an absolute must if you’re going to be spending lots of time outdoors. If you’ve got a big shady tree, that will work fine, but if you don’t, look into some options. Retractable awnings provide protection from the sun, as do pergolas and gazebos. Figure out what works with your space and your personal style, and get yourself some shade.

Install Classic Backyard Features

Consider adding in some of the more classic backyard elements. There are countless examples of backyard features that add to the experience of being outside:

  • A swing hanging from a sturdy tree is a classic for a reason; both kids and adults love it.
  • A hammock is a perfect place to spend the afternoon reading.
  • A bonfire pit is where you and your friends can gather on Friday nights to chat over a drink and some fire-roasted snacks. Be sure to look up the fire regulations in your area before your first burn, however. Some townships require you to get a permit, which is usually inexpensive (somewhere around $10). Other townships have fire bans during droughts or other dry seasons to reduce the risk of uncontrolled fire damage
  •  Hop on the natural pool trends and build a self-cleaning pond that you and the family can swim in (the chlorine in pools is extremely bad for you, meaning hours spent in the pool could be a major problem).
  • A barbecue means that some of your meals can be cooked and eaten out of doors.
  • A projector against the shed, barn, or house wall can mean movie nights are held outside under the stars.

The above tips should get your backyard set up for hours upon hours of enjoyment. As time progresses, you might think of more activities you can move outside. Finding ways to carry on with regular life, only just outdoors is fantastic for your health and sets a great example for little ones.