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.

Get Into the Halloween Spirit With Harry Potter and Star Wars Costumes and Accessories From Hot Topic

Hot Topic
Hot Topic

Halloween is fast approaching, and that means it's time to start picking up those decorations, planning your costume, and settling down for a few monster movie marathons. Hot Topic is already way ahead of you, with a selection of costumes and accessories based on fan-favorite movies and TV shows like Harry Potter, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Stranger Things, and Hocus Pocus. We've picked out some of our favorites for you to check out below.

Harry Potter

1. Beauxbatons Hat and Cape Uniform; $60

Hot Topic

If Fleur Delacour is your favorite character from the Triwizard Tournament, then this look is for you. Beauxbatons baby blue hat and cape can now be yours to prance around in and pretend you're from the magical French academy for young witches.

Buy it: Beauxbatons Hat, Beauxbatons Cape

2. Hogwarts Zip-Up Hoodie Cloak; $55

Hot Topic

One of the most iconic parts of the Hogwarts uniform is the cloak. The sweeping black robes looked so official and mystical in the movies that it almost seems wrong not to wear one if you want to be a Hogwarts student for Halloween. These hoodie cloaks are available in all four house colors.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. Hogwarts Cardigan Sweater; $49

Hot Topic

Much like the cloak, the sweater vests and cardigans the students at Hogwarts got to wear are essential to any costume. You can choose from the four house crests and colors, so you can show your allegiance while also making a fashion statement.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Hogwarts Plaid Skirtall; $45

Hot Topic

Though this isn't a look you'd recognize from the Harry Potter movies, these plaid skirtalls—skirt overalls, basically—feature the crest and colors of whichever house you represent.

Buy it: Hot Topic

Star Wars

1. The Mandalorian Helmet; $17

Hot Topic

With the second season of The Mandalorian coming out right in time for Halloween, going as one of the show's main characters is a no-brainer. And since you probably can't pull off the Baby Yoda look, this simple Mando helmet is your best option.

Buy it: Hot Topic

2. Yoda Pet Costume; $20

Hot Topic

Baby Yoda is easily the cutest thing to emerge from the new Disney+ series, and there's no shortage of merchandise with that little green face plastered across it. From Amazon Echo Dots to slippers to LEGO sets, the little rascal is everywhere. But if you're more a fan of classic Yoda, you can impose your love of the character on your dog with this costume, complete with floppy green ears and tiny Jedi robe.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Force Awakens Rey Costume; $48

Hot Topic

Rey represents a new generation of Star Wars hero, and her costume during her time on Jakku from The Force Awakens is still her most iconic look. It's also a costume that's simple enough to throw on for Halloween and still feel comfortable in.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. R2-D2 with Pumpkin Decoration; $50

Hot Topic

When trick-or-treaters stop to collect candy from your house, greet them with this inflatable R2-D2 decoration that's primed for Halloween. Standing around 3 feet tall, this will show off your love for a galaxy far, far away and your holiday spirit.

Buy it: Hot Topic

The Nightmare Before Christmas

1. Sally Scrunchies Set; $10

Hot Topic

If you're looking to embrace your The Nightmare Before Christmas love in a more subtle way, opt for these Sally-approved scrunchies that embody the colors of the movie without going too far overboard.

Buy it: Hot Topic

2. Jack Skellington Button-Up Shirt; $35

Hot Topic

If Jack Skellington is your ultimate fashion hero, then this button-up pinstriped shirt is the ticket for you. It mimics Jack's look right down to the unique bat-shaped collar.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. Jack and Sally 'Love is Eternal' Eyeshadow Palette; $17

Hot Topic

Makeup inspired by your favorite characters is the key to completing a Halloween look, and this palette will help you make a colorful, smokey eye featuring shades seen in The Nightmare Before Christmas. You can even use these colors long after Halloween is over once you've mastered your favorite style.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Zero Dog Costume; $29

Hot Topic

The real star of The Nightmare Before Christmas has to be the dog, Zero, and now you can drape your own pooch in the ghostly visage for under $30.

Buy it: Hop Topic

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- The Craft

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Want to Fall Asleep Faster? Try This Breathing Technique

Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels
Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels

Struggling to fall asleep can feel like a hopeless battle. It often seems like the harder you try turning your brain off, the less likely it is to happen. One way to trick yourself into falling asleep fast is finding something to concentrate on other than how long you've been awake. For nights when your thoughts just won't stay quiet, try the 4-7-8 technique.

According to Simplemost, the 4-7-8 breathing method is meant to combat anxiety, restlessness, and other enemies of a good night's sleep. The actual technique is simple: Just inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. Like counting sheep, measuring out your breaths gives your brain something to do that isn't obsessing about your hectic day or the day ahead.

Taking slow, deliberate breaths has also been proven to reduce stress. Neurons that influence calmness have been found in the breathing control centers of mouse brains. In humans, deep breathing has long been central to mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation. The 4-7-8 breathing technique functions as both a distraction from your thoughts and a way to combat any anxious sensations that may be keeping you awake.

The next time you find yourself tossing and turning at night, try anywhere between three and eight rounds of this breathing technique to calm your body and mind. And to get the best rest possible, make sure you're settling into the best sleep position for your health.

[h/t Simplemost]