Ideas for Rental's Large Back Yard?

Good Questions

Pin it button big

Q: We have lived in a rental house in the Bay area for the past 4 years. Sadly, we never invested much in our enormous backyard. But we've now decided we'll definitely be here for at least 3 more years, so we'd like to make our backyard more inviting. The landlord has expressed willingness to help to a very limited extent, only with items that would be easy for future tenants to maintain with a bimonthly landscaping service. We're ok with spending some of our own money, too:

Pin it button big
Pin it button big
Pin it button big
The backyard consists of: - A front area with a concrete patio, entered by a sliding glass door from the master bedroom. (There's also an entrance from a sliding door from a 1 bedroom cottage in the back of the main house, which we sublet to a friendly college student.) - In the front area, large flower beds occupied only by a few bushes, some weeds, and a leggy looking lavender plant. - Also in the front, some very sad, dog-trodden and urine-burned grass under a leafy tree. - A back area separated from the front by a fence, with a large open space that gets a ton of sun. It's filled with grassy weeds that are growing out of about a foot of built up and partially composted pine needles from an enormous pine tree that towers over the cottage.

Here are some constraints:
- Budget about $1500
- Some time for big weekend projects in the short term, but limited time for maintenance after that. Landlord currently pays for bimonthly yard work; we could also pay for some additional maintenance help (to make it weekly).
- Two dogs
- We have young kids (ages 5 months and 3 years) and would use the backyard for playing more often if there was a better play surface.

How should we spend some money and time so that we use our yard more? What can we do to create a better play surface — grass, with the attendant watering issues (and abusive dog issues)? Wood chips? Gravel? What's low maintenance (given our pine needles!) and dog and kid friendly?

Sent by Rachel

Editor: Leave your suggestions for Rachel in the comments — thanks!

• Got a question? Send us yours with pic attachments here (those with pics get answered first).

You Might Also Like

Promoted Stories


Main, DIY, Outdoor, Good Questions

Regina is an architect who lives with her husband and children in Lawrence, KS. As a LEED Accredited Professional and longtime contributor to Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn, her focus is on healthy, sustainable living through design.