75 Outdoor Upgrades for Under $75
Spruce up your patch of green with affordable finds and easy DIY projects. Here, the editors of This Old House share their favorite ideas
Turn a vintage terra-cotta cornice into a rack for organizing garden tools. The cornice's deep ledge doubles as a shelf, and a weathered wood scrap secured to its base holds the hooks. See How to Make a Cornice Garden Tool Holder for step-by-step instructions.
Similar to shown: Terra-cotta decorative stone, about $45; historichouseparts.com.
Forged-iron cut-nail Colonial hooks, about $5 each; houseofantiquehardware.com
Make steps "float" by hiding their risers behind a thick carpet of foliage. Try English ivy or the similar Boston ivy; its clinging tendrils make it easy to train and keep trimmed to prevent tripping, and its green leaves turn a rich reddish-purple in the fall.
About $10 per plant; brighterblooms.com
Enclose your porch with wood lattice covered with flowering vines for privacy where neighbors are nearby. Secure panels to either end of an open-sided front porch.
4-by-8-foot redwood lattice panels, about $50 for two; doitbest.com.
Display your house numbers on a wood newel post sunk into the soil at the end of your driveway. Paint or stain it to complement your entry door.
Turned, 48-inch #1 Traditional newel in western hemlock, about $66; vintagewoodworks.com
Turn a trough into a water garden. Fill a container you have on hand with water. Anchor each plant in its own pot of clay soil, topped with a ½-inch layer of pea gravel. Place on bricks so that the plants' crowns are above the water surface.
Grassy aquatic plants, about $9 each; lilypons.com
Paint your garden gate a vivid color. Red makes a bold contrast against green leaves and grass.
Impervex Latex High Gloss Metal & Wood paint, about $43 per quart; benjaminmoore.com for stores
Hang a mirror on a patio wall to give a small space a more expansive feel. It'll appear as if you were looking through a window to another outdoor room. Choose a mirror with a weather-resistant resin frame, and seal its inner edges with silicone caulk to prevent water from seeping behind the glass.
Large mirrors in various styles and shapes start at about $50; homegoods.com for stores
String all-weather electric lights from a trellis or overhanging branches to set a festive mood for alfresco entertaining on the patio.
Clear string lights, about $17 for 9 feet; worldmarket.com
Personalize fence pickets by staining them in alternating hues—best to pick colors that tie in with your home's siding, trim, or entry door.
Maximum Semi-Transparent stain, about $33 per gallon; olympic.com for stores
Create a stacked-stone totem for an all-season focal point in a planting bed. Collect stones from around your property and glue them one on top of the other with a two-part masonry epoxy. To prevent tall structures from tipping, bore a hole through each stone's center using a hammer drill fitted with a ⅜-inch carbide bit. Thread the stones with a steel dowel sunk in the ground.
Conap K-20 EasyPoxy clear epoxy, 5-ounce kit, about $23.50; call 800-328-7094 to order
Add shimmer to a potted plant by spreading tumbled sea glass over the soil. The aggregate also helps lock in moisture and prevent weeds from sprouting. Pick glass in the same hue as your pot for a striking monochromatic effect.
Cobalt sea glass, about $9 per pound; gelstuff.com
Unfurl an all-weather carpet to define a seating area or place under a table to warm up a patio with color.
Fab Rugs' woven recycled plastic 4-by-6-foot Tangier Celery rug, about $48; wayfair.com/
Replace your plastic grill cover with an elegant fabric one in a neutral beige color.
The water-resistant Classic Veranda Cart BBQ cover in various sizes starts at about $55; target.com
Transform a shapely urn into a fountain. Stopper its drainage hole, drop in a submersible recirculating bubbler, and fill the urn with water. For the full step-by-step, see How to Make a Garden Fountain.
Similar to shown: 18-inch black urn, about $40; jamaligarden.com
Beckett small pond/medium fountain pump, about $26; acehardware.com
Hang a chalkboard in your garden. Positioned above a potting bench, it provides a charming spot to jot your planting to-do list or a weekly watering schedule.
Dooley 17-by-23-inch wood-framed chalkboard, about $12; farm-home.com
Spruce up your front stoop with black-eyed Susan vines trained around wire topiary forms staked in terra-cotta pots.
Fifteen-inch-high Globe topiary frame, about $33 for two; amazon.com. Black-eyed Susan vine, about $4 for 30 seeds; georgiavines.com
Swap worn wind chimes for brass-plated bells with a rich look. Fitted with wood clackers, they'll fill your garden with deep, melodious tones.
One small and one large temple bell, about $68; vivaterra.com
Stake finial-tipped guides around a planting bed perimeter to safeguard blooms from dragged hoses.
Similar to shown: Artichoke hose guides, about $10 each; thegreathardwarestore.com
Plant a pretty and space-saving two-tier herb garden to keep by the back door. Fill two containers—one 8 inches wider than the other—with soil. Place the smaller pot on top of the larger one, and add herbs.
Chives, rosemary, thyme, and dwarf purple and sweet basil, about $3 per plant at your local nursery. 22-inch and 14-inch Akro clay garden bowls, about $38 for both; garden.com
Trade a wheel-turn spigot for a decorative brass one with a handle shaped like a dragonfly or bird. Shut off the water supply, unscrew the old spigot from the hose bib that projects from your house, and twist on the new one.
Recycled brass quail outdoor faucet, about $55; gardecor.com
Secure a handsome and easy-to-read rain gauge to a fence post. If less than an inch of rain falls in a week, it's time to break out the hose. Your plants will thank you.
Vermont rain gauge, about $40; avantgardenshop.com
Place pots with personality on a ledge or deep windowsill. Terra-cotta ones with molded faces smile back at you.
The handmade Cheerful Face, Old Man Face, and Surprised Face, about $6 each; kinsmangarden.com
Trade your hard-to-read sundial for an ornate metal wall clock.
Decorated with a sun-and-moon motif, the dials of the outdoor clock and thermometer tell both the time and temperature, about $46; bellacor.com
Turn a blah concrete patio into a lively mosaic by staining pavers different colors. Use a pump to spray a pretinted concrete stain.
Quikrete's semitransparent concrete stain comes in 30 shades of green, blue, red, gold, and gray; about $26 per gallon; lowes.com for stores
Turn a tree stump into a dining table. Slice it level at about 28 inches tall, and crown it with a DIY poured concrete top.
For a 30-inch-round by 2-inch-thick top, build a plywood mold that's the same diameter, but make the sides 1 inch deeper. Line the bottom of the mold with steel mesh, and pour in a 1-inch layer of wet concrete. Lay a few pieces of steel rebar in the wet concrete to provide extra strength. Top with a second 1-inch layer of concrete. Let cure and remove the sides of the mold, leaving the plywood base intact to help support the tabletop.
About $45 for materials; at home centers
Create a diamond-patterned twig trellis for pea vines to scramble up. In front of a line of thick supporting sticks, sink thin shoots at about a 60-degree angle, a few inches apart and parallel to one another. Repeat at the same angle in the opposite direction so that shoots crisscross. Lash the shoots together with twine where they intersect. For the full step-by-step, see How to Build a Diamond-Pattern Twig Trellis.
Run rope lights under your bottom deck rail for atmospheric night lighting.
American Lighting's indoor/outdoor 50-foot rope lighting kit with mounting clips, about $65; amazon.com
Refinish outdoor metal furniture with blue, green, or yellow paint to break up the sea of wood on your deck.
Rust-Oleum Painter's Touch Multi-Purpose Paint satin spray enamel in 25 colors, about $4 per can; rustoleum.com for stores
Perk up a flower bed with a decorative sprinkler.
Handcrafted copper in the shape of an iris, the 20-inch-tall sprinkler comes mounted on a spike, with a brass swivel for easy hose hookup. Spray diameter is adjustable from 4 to 15 feet. Iris sprinkler, about $55; coppersprinklerworks.com
Upcycle a vintage metal window or door guard to serve as an ornate backdrop for climbers or potted plants. Simply mount the piece on a fence or wall and leave as is, or attach a pair of cast-iron flower-pot rings as an added flourish.
Find salvaged window guards on eBay for about $50.
8-inch flower-pot rings, about $7 each; doitbest.com
Wrap tap lights in decorative paper cylinders for stylish, flame-free luminaries. Secure paper around the base of the lights with double-stick tape.
Thomas and Betts Carlon white round tap lights, about $3 each; hardwareandtools.com.
Translucent Vellum 8½-by-11-inch paper printed with leaves or cherry blossoms, about $5 for 10 sheets; paper-source.com
Distinguish young plantings with silver markers. These are made from vintage spoons and knives, and are decorated with colorful hand-drawn flowers.
Markers, about $10 each; etsy.com
Soften the hard edges of a masonry retaining wall with trailing blooms, such as campanula. The perennial thrives with little upkeep and offers big bunches of violet flowers.
Campanula 'Trailing Bellflower,' about $5 for 500 seeds; springhillnursery.com
Enhance the look and comfort of patio furniture with throw pillows that echo the colors of your garden.
Classic throw pillows in more than a dozen quick-drying, UV-resistant fabrics start at $20 each; plowhearth.com
Add geometric cut shapes to the tops of prefab fence panels. Choose a design without any complex curves, such as a diamond, and use a handsaw to make the cuts.
Quicken the job with Black & Decker's Handisaw mini cordless reciprocating saw, about $35; amazon.com
Cast your own hypertufa trough and fill it with rugged alpine plants, which will thrive in the porous container. Hypertufa has the look of weathered granite, but it's actually a DIY material made from cement, peat moss, and perlite. Combine the ingredients, add water, pack into a wood form, and let cure before popping off the mold. For the full step-by-step, see How to Make a Garden Trough.
Hypertufa container, about $50 for materials and plants; at home centers
Make a big impact with small plants by grouping them together inside wall-mounted shadow boxes made from weathered wood scraps. Cut the boards to the desired length, nail them together (no fancy mitered corners required), and hang on your fence or garden wall.
Support a patio umbrella in a flower-filled pot borrowed from the garden as a crafty alternative to a plain metal stand. Cut 2-inch ABS pipe to the height of the pot. Center it inside and anchor in place with a layer of gravel on the bottom, quick-setting concrete in the middle, and soil on top. Plant the pot with flowers, and slide the umbrella into the pipe sleeve.
A 5-foot length of pipe and 50-pound bag of Quikrete Fast-Setting concrete mix, about $11 total; lowes.com
Invite hummingbirds with a handcrafted feeder.
Blown from recycled glass, the Pot de Creme has two feeding tubes to encourage multiple birds at once, and comes with a decorative metal hanger and a recipe for a sugar solution, about $50; charlestongardens.com
Create a cascading three-tiered planter for your porch by repurposing hanging wire baskets meant for storing fruit in the kitchen. Line baskets with coco fiber mats cut to fit, and plant with trailing flowers, such as nasturtiums.
Turn mason jars into luminous lanterns to hang on a fence or from a plant hook. Wrap 20-gauge wire around the top of each jar. Snip and twist with needle-nose pliers, leaving extra space at the ends to secure another length of wire as a loop hanger. Hook on the hanger and tighten all wires with pliers. Insert tealight.
A dozen half-pint mason jars, 100 feet of 20-gauge wire, and 25 tealights, about $30 total; amazon.com
Dress up your mailbox with leftovers from other projects. Try using molding scraps to trim out the wood post, and brightly colored tiles left over from a kitchen backsplash or bathroom shower enclosure to create a crafty mosaic on the box itself.
Enliven an exterior wall with an espaliered fruit tree. Go with tradition and choose a pear or an apple tree, or try a fig tree for a less formal look. Create the horizontal supports on which to train young branches with 14-gauge wires pulled taut through eye hooks screwed into the wall. Secure the branches to the wires with soft twist ties or twine.
Ook 14-gauge steel galvanized wire, about $6 for 100 feet, and heavy-duty eye-hook screws, about $13 for six; homedepot.com.
Similar to shown: Fig tree, about $15; burntridgenursery.com