Lovely, Low-Maintenance Side Yard Ideas

A walkway and plants along the side of a house
(Image credit: irina88w)

When landscaping, most homeowners put the majority of their time and money into the front of the house followed by the back yard, but what about side yard landscaping? A side yard garden doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money, plus side yard design is a way to continue your landscape vision around the entirety of the property. 

About Side Yards

Side yards come with plenty of challenges. They are often the area where exterior utilities are placed, maybe the site of basement egress, are often very narrow and may have too much or too little sun exposure. 

None of these challenges are insurmountable. The side yard is often an overlooked area, but side yard landscaping can change it from utilitarian and rarely visited to a cozy space replete with shade plants and paths, or a sun infused raised garden area. 

A nicely landscaped side yard welcomes visitors to explore further as they enter the back yard or can help screen neighboring properties.

What to do Before Landscaping a Side Yard

Consider the location of exterior utilities and if you are doing any digging make sure to have utility lines marked prior. Have a soil test done so you know if you need to amend the existing soil. Draw up a plan including any elements such as paths, patios, sheds, and plants. 

Make a list of all the materials you will need, from soil and amendments, to containers or structures, and stepping stones, mulch and decorative touches. 

Consider installing a drip irrigation system running from your nearest spigot or added to current underground irrigation system. 

Think about windows. If you have windows facing out into the side yard, landscaping can make a marked improvement visually, but take care choosing plants, lest they block your view and light. The same is true for basement windows. Keep plants from growing down into window wells or areas of egress. 

Garden Ideas for Side Yards

Take a good look at your side yard and figure out what, if any, issues you may be facing when you’re landscaping. For instance, one narrow side yard idea might be to build slightly raised beds along the house and fencing. Or if fencing between two homes is lacking, think about installing some type of hedge or living privacy screen using taller plantings. 

Fencing or privacy plants are excellent options in the side yard, as are structures such as trellises and arbors which will allow you to grow vertically -- especially important in narrow yards. 

Also decide what you want the area to be. Would you like it to be a working area with storage for pots, soil, mulch, etc. and a potting bench? If the area gets full sun, you may choose a raised bed for veggies or an herb bed or sun loving perennials. 

Maybe you would rather the side yard was filled with low maintenance drought tolerant plants and a stone or pea gravel pathway. Look to native plants that have already acclimated to your region for plant options that require little care. 

Once you’ve done your homework you’re ready to make what was once nothing into the side yard of your dreams. 

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.