10 Budget-Friendly Ideas for Creating an Outdoor Oasis (2023)

I am not what you would call “a person who enjoys summer;” I’m blindingly pale and mosquitoes really love me. But as the temperature rises, my friends and family are always eager to spend lots of time outside, so in addition to setting up a kid-friendly cool-off zone (a sprinkler and water table on a patch of yard I try to keep free of dog poop), I’ve tried to make our outdoor space more comfortable for adults (namely: me).

Over the last few years I’ve made a handful of small changes that have turned what was once an awkward deck and muddy thoroughfare into an open-air extension of our home. In fact, it’s so pleasant that with enough citronella and a cartoonishly large hat, I can almost get excited about sipping cocktails on the patio in July and August. Here are my top 10 tips for turning any outdoor space into an oasis, no matter your square footage or budget.

Set the mood with string lights.

String lights are the quickest and easiest way to make your outdoor space feel more inviting. I love them so much, half of my electric bill probably goes to all the lights I’ve strung up. They’re on sensors so they come on when it gets dark, and stepping outside at night feels magical and romantic even when the lawn is overgrown and the paint on the house is chipping. And if you don’t want to be an energy-hogging jerk like me (or don’t have exterior outlets), you can get solar ones.

Make your space more private.

Block nosy neighbors — or conceal a less-than-beautiful view — with some sort of privacy panel. It’s easy to hang a shade panel or a set of outdoor curtains by attaching curtain wire to your house or garage. If you have a little more to spend, you could line your deck rails with a roll of bamboo fencing or turn your space into a secret garden by transforming your fence into a lush green wall with these privacy panels that look like real hedges. (Quick brag: look at the divider I built.)

Create a seating zone…

Obviously, you need somewhere to sit while you sip your fancy boozy lemonade under the string lights. If a new patio set isn’t in the budget, you can toss Turkish towels over lawn chairs (they’re actually beautifully fringed 100% cotton and look more like trendy blankets than towels), pick up an outdoor loveseat at IKEA for less than $100, or even use cinder blocks and a couple of wooden garden posts (the hardware store will cut them to length for you) to create a low DIY bench. You can position a bench against the house and add an outdoor cushion and some bold throw pillows for a cozy almost-couch. Complete the setup with a weather-resistant side table or two.

…And an eating zone.

If you don’t have an outdoor dining table, disguise a folding table with a pretty, weather-resistant tablecloth or even an old sheet. You can use twine to tie the corners to the table legs so it won’t blow away. As for seating, if you have any of those metal bistro chairs that were everywhere a decade ago, the hold up really well outside. And be sure to make every dinner under the stars (or, ahem, string lights) feel like a real occasion with dedicated outdoor dishes that won’t break if they get knocked over.

Add plants (real and fake).

It might seem a little extra to add plants to your outdoor space, especially if you have a yard that’s surrounded by trees, but plants will instantly cozy up a deck or patio just like they will an indoor space. In the late spring, I move a bunch of my indoor plants outside and also stock up on small Boston fern from my local hardware store; as long as I water them regularly, they get big and lush by mid-summer. My other secret? Fake plants! I like to use the artificial stuff as a sort of filler: Ivy on a trellis that’s covering cable boxes on the outside of the house and fake shrubs in flower boxes around the perimeter of a seating area to help define the space without having to hire a gardener.

Tie the room together with an outdoor rug.

Wait, what room? Well, I’m glad you asked. Because if you already have a patio or deck, throw down a weather-resistant rug to make your outdoor space feel like an outdoor living space. Just call it “the summering room” or something.

Get a sprayer nozzle for your hose.

There are three things I need to keep my outdoor space looking nice: 1) an old broom I use exclusively for the deck and patio, 2) a cheap leaf blower that makes seasonal cleanup an actual breeze, and 3) a sprayer nozzle for the hose. This thing costs less than $10 and makes it super easy for me to keep my (real) plants alive and my outdoor area clean. Bird poop on the chair? Put on the “jet” setting and whoosh, it’s gone! Mystery bug on my lemon tree? Byeee! And because it has a little clip that allows for continuous water flow, I’ve even used the mist feature to keep guests cool on an unbearably hot night.

Stand furniture on solid ground.

A patio isn’t a must-have. If you don’t have one, rocks and gravel are an affordable alternative to building a deck or pouring a concrete slab. Some people even build entire decks by connecting a bunch of shipping pallets. If you have a level patch of yard, you can make a temporary patio out of these IKEA decking tiles that are technically meant to go on top of another solid surface (but who’s gonna stop you from doing it your way?). And as long as your yard isn’t super squishy, there’s no reason you can’t put your furniture right in the grass.

Put on some tunes.

Are you even hanging outside in the summer if you’re not blasting the season’s hottest pop songs? We live in the future so it’s easier than ever to get good sound quality outdoors. If you have a smart speaker, you can take it outside (just remember to take it back in when you’re done) but this little waterproof bluetooth speaker is a less risky option and it doesn’t require wifi or an electrical outlet.

Keep the bugs away.

Even the most amazing outdoor vibe is ruined when you’re being eaten alive by mosquitoes or swarmed by flies. Keep Mother Nature’s most annoying creations out of your oasis with products that actually work. When it comes to citronella, I find incense is more effective than candles (especially because I’m already getting that ambient glow from my string lights) but a powerful fan will help to keep mosquitoes away from your veins and flies away from your food. And don’t forget to check your space for any standing water (think flower pots, kiddie pools, toys, etc.) because you don’t want to inadvertently create a breeding ground for more bugs.

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Emily Farris lives in Kansas City, MO with her burly husband, toddler son, and two rowdy rescue mutts. She's written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and The Cut. When not busy cleaning up somebody's pee, she's posting about drinks and home decor on Instagram @thatemilyfarris.


How do you make an outdoor oasis on a budget? ›

Here are my top 10 tips for turning any outdoor space into an oasis, no matter your square footage or budget.
  1. Set the mood with string lights. ...
  2. Make your space more private. ...
  3. Create a seating zone… ...
  4. … ...
  5. Add plants (real and fake). ...
  6. Tie the room together with an outdoor rug. ...
  7. Get a sprayer nozzle for your hose.
May 12, 2022

How do you make an outdoor space beautiful? ›

Create visual interest and expand the feel of the space by up-lighting trees or fencing farther out in the yard. For safety, add decorative lighting to brighten steps and pathways. See Light Up Your Landscape for more ideas on how to include lighting in your outdoor design.

How do I make my outdoor space feel cozy and more inviting? ›

15Unexpected Tips to Create a Cozy Outdoor Space
  1. hot cocoa or cider bar.
  2. cozy blankets.
  3. pillows for comfort.
  4. camp fire.
  5. s'more station.
  6. ambient lighting.
  7. loads of candles.
  8. comfortable seating.
Sep 29, 2021

What makes a backyard oasis? ›

This could include a hot tub for the adults, a playset for the kids, a hammock for lounging, a game area (with Bocce Ball or Croquet, for example), or a firepit for roasting S'mores. Adding one of these fun touches to the backyard will make it feel like your own personal backyard oasis.

How do you make a Zen outdoor space? ›

Zen Garden Design

Boulders and large stones stand in for islands. Many Zen gardens are also enclosed by walls. If you don't have an enclosed garden space, use a bamboo screen, fence panel or lattice fence around your garden, or on at least one side. If you enclose the garden completely, add a gate for easy access.

How do I make my backyard look like a forest? ›

Plant a few trees and add a few more every year.

This is not the quickest way to develop a forest, but it will work just fine. Be sure to remove enough turfgrass and weeds around each new tree so that its roots have ample room to grow.

What is the least expensive material to build a patio? ›

Concrete is one of the most popular patio materials and the cheapest material you can use to build a hard-surface patio. Concrete is made of aggregates and paste—concrete aggregates can be crushed stone, sand, gravel, or even shells; the paste is made up of water and cement.

What is the least expensive way to build a patio? ›

Gravel is, on average, the cheapest material for a patio and requires the least time to install. It can match well with a less landscaped, wilder garden or backyard, and offers great drainage. However, it is not very comfortable underfoot and can be hard to keep level.

What is the cheapest patio method? ›

Gravel is the cheapest option when looking to create a patio on a budget. Otherwise, pebbles or reclaimed materials are also good options. If you're set on laying paving slabs, concrete is one of the cheapest materials, and when installed and maintained correctly, it can hold up well and last for years.

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