Tips and tricks for making your yard more eco-friendly and the ideal spot for outdoor entertaining

Give yourself a moment of (backyard) zen.
Give yourself a moment of (backyard) zen.

A lot of us are probably spending more time than usual outdoors, even as temperatures plummet and snow flurries fly. It's pretty much the only way we can be sociable without the potential danger of spreading COVID-19 — inviting friends over to hang out in the backyard, socially distanced around a crackling fire pit.

Here are a handful of home improvement projects and tips to get the most use out of your backyard space, whether it involves making it more environmentally friendly or setting it up to be the perfect hangout spot on your block.

Build some raised garden beds. The benefits of raised garden beds are numerous: It's easier to manage weeds than in a traditional garden, they provide the sort of drainage that isn't possible in non-irrigated soil, and they simply look nice. You can certainly construct your own — all you'll need are some 2x4s, plastic sheeting for the bed, a roll of mesh to cover the plants and a whole lot of soil — but there are plenty of companies that manufacture kits that you can set up in your own yard. You'll want a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Picking the right spot is the ultimate strategy: Depending on the plants you're growing, they will either need to be in a place that gets the most sunlight, or a place that gets a bit of shade.

Get into eco-friendly landscaping. Xeriscaping is all the rage right now. It's a minimalist landscaping style that cuts down on the need for watering and irrigation, and it's particularly popular in areas of the country that regularly experience droughts. Although Spokane isn't exactly hurting for precipitation, it's always a good idea to cut down on your water consumption, particularly if it's just being sprayed on your lawn. Of course, reworking your lawn is a big and costly endeavor, but small gestures make a difference. Consider buying some drought-tolerant plants (African daisies or Chinese forget-me-nots) and cacti, which require far less water. Rock gardens can make an eye-catching alternative to thirsty grass and soil. You may also want to consider planting flowers and native plants that are beneficial to bee and butterfly populations — serviceberry, golden currant and mock orange shrubs are pretty common in this area and are great sources of pollen.

Install a fire pit. Anyone who has the luxury of a backyard fire pit has no doubt discovered that this particular feature became a must in this age of lockdowns and quarantine. Sure, you can buy one through your neighborhood hardware store, and they'll likely run you anywhere from $120 to snazzier models in the range of a couple thousand bucks. But if you're looking for more of a multiday project, you could build one yourself. In your backyard, dig out a shallow 4- to 5-foot-diameter circle (always consult 811 before digging anywhere), spread a thick layer of gravel so that it's level with the ground, and then stack large fire bricks or cinder blocks around the perimeter. It won't be the fanciest thing in the world, but it'll be a lifesaver on long, cold nights. Don't forget to invest in some comfy canvas lawn chairs (preferably the kind with cupholders) that can fold up and be conveniently stored.

Hang up a hammock. The pièce de résistance of any backyard is a sweet spot to chill, and there's no better place to do that than in the anti-gravity relaxation of a hammock. Again, it's easy enough to find a bunch of ready-made options at local stores, but where's the fun in that? If you've got a canvas drop cloth that's about 6 feet by 9 feet, you can transform it into a hammock with a set of grommets, some O-rings and a few strands of rope. There are dozens of online tutorials to walk you through the process — or, barring that, shopping online is just a couple clicks away. There's no better way to find your moment of backyard zen. ♦

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About The Author

Nathan Weinbender

Nathan Weinbender is the Inlander's Music & Film editor. He is also a film critic for Spokane Public Radio, where he has co-hosted the weekly film review show Movies 101 since 2011.