17 Cheap Ways to Dress Up Your Garden


It's spring, and you've had enough of being cooped up indoors. Outdoor living is experiencing a boom, with Americans now spending $60 billion a year sprucing up the space outside their homes, according to Garden Media Group. That's $200 for every American — even more when you consider all the people who don't have any outdoor space to spend on.

So what if you don't have $200 or more, but you still want your yard and garden to look nice? There are lots of ways to brighten things up for free or cheap, especially if you're crafty.

A word of advice before we start: If people start stopping by your yard asking how much your lawn ornaments cost, you've gone too far! Being mistaken for a yard sale is never a compliment.


You can spend anywhere from $20 to hundreds of dollars for pots to put plants in. But almost anything can hold a plant as long as you put drainage holes on the bottom. My uncle, the plumber, used to put his petunias in old toilets and bathtubs. It's not what I would choose, but it represented him.

Start with these creative planter ideas, then think about what kind of containers would represent you. If you don't have the items around the house, many can be found free or cheap on Freecycle, at garage sales, or at thrift stores.

1. Give Pricey Planters the Boot

Have you got a single, outgrown child's boot in the back of your closet? Poke some holes in the bottom, weight it with gravel, and you're ready to plant. If it's a plain old brown boot, you could always dress it up by painting on a design.

Cost: Free to $5.

2. Tin Pan Garden

Instead of buying terra cotta or plastic bowls for hanging planters, repurpose thrift store metal bowls, cups, or even coffee cans. Macrame straps were the crafty way to hang planters in decades past; for an update, try beaded wire.

Cost: Free to $5.

3. Have No Seat

Use an old, broken-down chair to dress up an ordinary planter. These instructions involve removing the seat, if the chair has one, and putting on a fresh coat of paint.

Cost: $10–$20.

4. Barney Rubble Planter

For a rustic look, hollow out a fallen tree trunk or limb and put plants inside.

Cost: Free, if you have tools for the hollowing and drilling drainage holes.

5. Pedal Planter

It's a classic that's perfect for bike enthusiasts or those who want to imagine cycling along the canals of Amsterdam while they sit in the yard: The old bicycle with a basket full of blooms. Organized Clutter explains how she plopped a coconut fiber liner into an existing bike basket to make her planter.

Cost: $5–$10 for the liner, assuming you can find a nonfunctional bike for free.


Outdoor lighting can be pricey, but going without reduces the number of hours that you can enjoy your patio — especially if you live in a region where it's warm during the winter months when daylight is shorter. You're not going to get long lasting, quality fixtures with a shoestring budget, but these ideas can help you enjoy the evenings until you can afford something more permanent.

6. Tuna Can Lanterns

You wouldn't believe it, but you can make an elegant outdoor lantern using an old broomstick, a tuna can, and a hurricane shade. A coat of metallic paint has the whole thing gleaming in a jiffy.

Cost: $5–$10 for hurricane shade, spray paint, metal adapter, and candle.

7. Repurposed Holiday Lights

Everyone has a string of old holiday lights in their basement, with only half the lights working, right? Instead of throwing those away, turn them into pretty outdoor orbs by combining them with another forlorn item: A round glass shade, frequently found in thrift stores.

Ball up the light string and shove it in the globe. Once plugged in, you have a mystical glowing ball you can place anywhere in your yard for effect and illumination. Just be sure to use light strings meant for outdoor use.

Cost: $1–$15 for glass shades (cheaper for used, more for new).

Hacks and Crafts

These ideas will appeal to the makers among us — those who love finding new ways to use familiar materials.

8. Solar Renewal

When solar yard lights get old, the plastic covering their solar cells can cloud over, limiting the amount of energy they receive from the sun. One blogger figured out that you can rejuvenate these with a coat of clear nail polish, of all things.

Cost: $1.

9. Moss Graffiti

Did you know you can gather moss, stick it in the blender with sugar and buttermilk, and paint it onto a wall to create a live, growing mural or sign? I sure didn't!

Cost: $2–$3.

10. Hacker Couch

The author of The Basement created a bench from cinder blocks and two-by-fours in less than an hour.

Cost: About $40; more for optional cushions.

11. Magical Marble Fence

With a drill and a handful of marbles, you can transform a boring backyard fence into a magical fairyland. Just drill holes into a wooden fence and place marbles into the holes; sunshine will provide the dazzle.

Cost: $1.

12. Key Chimes

What to do with those mystery keys that have been on your key ring for years? Paint them and hang them with string to make a DIY wind chime.

Cost: Free to $5.

13. Rock Garden Markers

Use stones and paint to make cute labels for each row of the garden instead of using store bought ones.

Cost: Free to $5.

14. Mega Mushrooms

Turn a planter upside down and give it a paint job to create cheery mushrooms.

Cost: $5.

15. Owl You Need

Rolled strips of cardboard can be used to fashion a whole family of owls to watch over your garden in an earth-friendly project.

Cost: Free.

16. Step Right Up

Get the kids involved in making stepping stones by pressing just about anything into wet cement: old toys or costume jewelry, marbles, and beads.

Cost: $5.

17. Gnome Home

A tree or even a stump in your yard can be turned into a fairy house that kids will love to discover. Twigs can be used to frame windows, and a small piece of wood can be shaped into a door. If your gnomes want their own outdoor living space, use found objects or dollhouse furniture.

Cost: Free to $5.

How are you dressing up your landscape for free or cheap this year?

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