11 Ways to Upgrade Your Backyard

iStock
iStock

Getting a dream backyard—not to mention maintaining it—takes a lot of work. If your space is looking a little unloved, consider these do-it-yourself upgrades that will have you enjoying your outdoor space in no time.

1. CONSTRUCT KEYHOLE GARDEN SPACES.

Permaculture expert Matt Powers

recommends adding keyhole gardens to your backyard for both visual appeal and space-saving planting. These C- or U-shaped beds provide enough room for gardeners to stand or pivot while working, along with easy access from both sides. Keyhole gardens are easy to modify based on personal needs and your backyard vision, and this permaculture practice is an easy way to incorporate gardening for beginning green thumbs.

2. GIVE YOUR DIRTY DECK A FACELIFT.


Decks often take on a gray, grungy look as they age, making your entire backyard look frumpy. But with some elbow grease and a household cleaner, it’s possible to shave a few years off a wooden deck’s appearance without a power washer (which can often be too rough on wooden surfaces). This Old House host Kevin O’Connor recommends scrubbing wooden decks with oxygenated bleach and a soft brush to remove mildew and dirt. Follow a good cleaning with sanding and a new coat of protective stain. O’Connor suggests tackling deck cleaning during the springtime to avoid the further stress on wooden decks that’s often experienced by hot summer days.

3. PLANT SPEEDY SHADE.

A backyard with no shade can make summertime miserable. Ditch the basic patio umbrella for fast-growing trees (like willows, poplars, or soft-wooded maples) that provide natural shade. Selecting the perfect tree for your green space (and knowing how to care for it) can be overwhelming, so make the task easier with the Arbor Day Foundation’s tree wizard. This digital tool narrows in on the best saplings for your backyard based on climate, growth rate, and size.

4. END RAINY DAY SOGGINESS WITH SWALES.


If your outdoor space resembles more of a lake than a yard following a heavy rain, constructing a swale can help. Swales—shallow trenches that help slow and soak up excess water—can be used to redirect water for gardening or to simply avoid flooding. While this form of earthwork has a purpose, it doesn’t have to look like bare dirt. Permaculture author Amy Stross suggests using swales as borders for raised beds or filling with gravel for visually appealing pathways.

5. REPAIR AND REVAMP OUTDOOR FURNITURE.

Patio sets and lounge chairs aren’t cheap to replace, so consider giving new life to what you already have. Metal furniture can easily be wire-brushed clean of flaking paint and coatings while rust removers can finish off prep work. Several coats of primer and paint in a trendy color can give your entire patio set a new look. Older wicker furniture can also get a second chance thanks to some basic care. Furniture restoration expert Cathryn Peters suggests bringing natural fiber furniture indoors at night and in inclement weather to prolong its life. For older, worn pieces, freshen with a turpentine and boiled linseed oil mix before re-staining with an oil-based varnish, shellac, or lacquer.

6. DITCH THE SOD FOR FOOD.


Instead of begrudgingly mowing grass all summer, scrap your back lawn for greenery that gives maximum returns. Activist and author Heather Jo Flores suggests ditching backyard greenery altogether for homegrown foods in Food Not Lawns. By starting with small patches of yard and working up to larger areas (or the entire space), it’s possible to grow hundreds of pounds of produce per year without being overwhelmed by garden work. And if there’s no grass to dig, Flores recommends gardening in containers or using vertical spaces along fences and your home.

7. STAIN A CONCRETE PATIO FOR A POLISHED LOOK.

Concrete patios can get a facelift, too. Many homeowners settle for the standard (and affordable) gray concrete look, but adding a stain or pattern can personalize your patio space on the cheap. With this two-day project, it’s easy to replicate the look of bricks or stones without the cost—or the dreadful task of keeping grout clean and weed-free.

8. GROW A NATURAL PRIVACY FENCE.

Natural fences can help your green space feel secluded (even in a busy neighborhood), but know upfront that this form of fencing isn’t an instant fix, considering they can take years to grow in. Landscape designer Sandra Jonas says natural fences can keep intruders and wildlife out of your yard, especially bushes with thorns or rough leaves. While there are countless ways to design a natural fence, Jonas warns against planting bamboo because of its eagerness to spread—leading to a lot more outdoor work.

9. USE MIRROR TRICKS TO INCREASE THE SIZE YOUR YARD.


Mirrors have long been used indoors as room-lengthening décor pieces, but you can also take this trick outside to increase the size of your yard without having to purchase more space. Tuck mirrors into planters, along fences, and as large yard decor to reflect light and give the illusion of a larger space. Choose mirrors that can withstand outdoor weather and temperature changes, and avoid placing them in areas birds frequent to prevent collisions.

10. REGENERATE BALDING LAWN SPOTS.

Spring is the best time to weed out grass problems for a lush lawn, including unsightly bald spots. You may see dead spots in areas where pets urinate or children play frequently, or in spots where too much or too little water is an issue. The Royal Horticultural Society suggests cutting out dead patches of grass and lightly aerating before sprinkling new grass seed or applying turf. Matching up the seed or turf variety with your existing grass can help this repair blend for a seamless look.

11. ADD A SIMPLE (AND RELAXING) WATER ELEMENT.


Adding a fountain or pond to your backyard can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. According to HGTV’s Chris Lambton, most water features have the same basic pieces—a liner, a pump, and an electrical source—making them fairly easy (and inexpensive) to install yourself. Whether you choose an earthy vibe or a modern concrete design, a water feature can elevate your backyard’s relaxation factor and act as a mini stress reliever. And, after all, isn't that one of the main reasons to have a pretty, well-maintained outdoor space?

All images via iStock unless otherwise noted.

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

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7 Online Tech Course Programs That Will Help You Build New Career Skills

dusanpetkovic/iStock via Getty Images Plus
dusanpetkovic/iStock via Getty Images Plus

It's always a good time to build new career skills, and with these tech-related courses, you can learn anything from the basics of Python to the ins and outs of G Suite. These courses will boost your knowledge of the digital world and help you put some valuable new bullet points on your resume. Many of these courses allow you to read through the materials for free, but if you want to take advantage of graded coursework and earn a certificate of completion to include on your LinkedIn profile or resume at the end, there will be a fee of anywhere from $39 to $49.

1. UI/UX Design Specialization

In this four-class specialization on UI/UX design, you’ll discover how to design digital experiences that users can navigate with ease. Over about four months, you’ll learn the basics of visual communication and you’ll be able to practice gathering user feedback to build intuitive, attractive websites and interfaces.

Sign up on Coursera to take all four courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

2. Python for Everybody

Python is quickly gaining ground as one of the most in-demand programming languages for employers. Plus, its fans say it’s highly readable and approachable for new programmers just starting to learn a coding language. If you want to understand the basics of Python, from 101 principles to more advanced database design, these courses will get you started.

Sign up on Coursera to take all five courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

3. Data Science Professional Certificate

Data science is one of the fastest growing professions in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In this nine-course professional certificate program, you’ll start by learning basic data science methodology before moving into how to use Python and SQL to analyze and visualize data to forecast future trends. IBM estimates that you’ll complete the entire certificate in about 10 months if you commit four hours per week, but the timing is flexible enough to suit any schedule.

Sign up on Coursera to take all nine courses in this specialization for $39 a month.

4. Computer Architecture

This course, taught by an electrical engineering professor at Princeton, teaches students how to design computer hardware that supports powerful software. But be forewarned: This is an advanced class intended for students with extensive knowledge in computer science. If you’re looking for a beginner-level course, this class—also from Princeton—may be a better fit.

Sign up on Coursera for free.

5. AI for Everyone

If you’re worried that artificial intelligence will drive you out of the workforce, this course will help. Over the course of four weeks, you’ll learn the basics of what is and isn’t possible through AI—and you may even gain some ideas for how to use AI to augment your own career.

Sign up on Coursera for $49.

6. G Suite Administration Specialization

Become a Google Cloud expert with this series of courses put together by Google itself. Over about two months, you’ll learn management tactics and security guidelines for using Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, and Calendar. This specialization prepares participants to become G Suite administrators at their respective companies and organizations.

Sign up on Coursera to take all five courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

7. Introduction to Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is near the top of the list of skills employers are looking for, according to LinkedIn. In this introductory course, you’ll gain a basic understanding of cloud-based networks and get some practice working with IBM Cloud.

Sign up on Coursera for $49.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.