Cheap Hardscape Ideas: Budget-Friendly but Beautiful

cheap hardscape ideas

After a while, your hardscapes may be showing their age, or you may just be tired of the look. For whatever reason, many people are interested in changing their hardscape. If hardscapes have a reputation, it is that they are heavy, durable, and expensive.  

The good news is they can be fairly inexpensive if you have the right materials, ideas, patience, and aren’t afraid of a bit of work. There are many ways you can improve the appearance of your hardscapes without breaking the bank.

So, please read this article for a few cheap hardscape ideas that make it possible to create the look you want within a reasonable budget.

Affordable Water Feature for a Refreshing Look

an expensive water feature

A water feature is a great way to add a little more life and color to your garden, and it can also provide a relaxing atmosphere while you’re enjoying your outdoor space. The sight and sounds of water touch us in a way that no other hardscape can. 

If you want an affordable water feature, your creativity and effort level are your only limits. 

You can certainly find some used fountains and tubs in second-hand shops or at rummage sales; be aware that old, dried-out pumps are not likely to run too long, if at all.

You can create a basin that will hold water by using almost any material that holds water, such as plastic, rubber, concrete, or clay. You can easily find many different sizes and shapes of basins to hold the water, and after that, it is up to you whether or not you want to add a pump, rock, plants, fish, etc.

You can decorate a water feature using many types of materials, such as rocks, gravel, shells, driftwood, and plants.

Do-It-Yourself Garden Pathway

garden pathway

Hardscape path ideas for beginners do not need to be costly or time-consuming. There are a variety of quick and easy choices available, including pea gravel, pebbles, or some flagstones. Well-made stone paths certainly help you bring nature’s charm into your landscape without costing much.

 Pavers are another excellent DIY yard walkway material. These are often cut rocks in the form of rectangular blocks that you align and closely pack to form a nice pathway. And if you want to add a new level to that rustic vibe, space out planks of wood along the stone pathway.

 While new pavers and stones can get quite expensive, stones can often be harvested from your land, and there are also many options for purchasing used pavers and stone materials.

Elevate Your Garden Bed

cheap planting box

Raised-tier gardening beds will add a unique touch to your cheap hardscaping activities. Elevating your garden bed is a great way to add a little vertical interest and sometimes even privacy to your space. It’s also super easy to do!

 If you want to elevate your garden bed, you can use various materials like bricks, stones, timbers, cinder blocks, old tires, or pre-made tubs. There are also a wide variety of raised planters available online that are relatively inexpensive. 

Raised beds are designed to eliminate the necessity for people to get into them, giving easy access to all areas of the bed. According to the University of Georgia Extension website, it’s optimal to build elevated beds that are 4 feet wide and 36 inches above the ground (you can make them any length you want).

Recycle Old Things to Create New Hardscape Decor

recycle things

There is hardly a nicer method to display those old but charming vintage and thrift store purchases than in your garden scenery. Recycling materials is an excellent way to customize your outdoor retreat and give your hardscape some personality.

Making interesting backyard designs requires imagination, effort, and passion—you barely need to spend a penny! You can easily transform drab and uninspired places into eye-catching landscape areas by adorning your yard by constructing spectacular art pieces, making usable products out of cans and bottles, repurposing steel or plastic items, or even just repainting your fences a different shade. You can use almost any item, such as wood pallets, old doors and windows, barrels, tires, and more, to create a unique look for your garden or patio.

To make the most of your recycled materials, consider adding decorative touches to your planters or trellises to give those old hardscape features a bit of new interest.

Compartmentalize Your Landscape

compartmentalized garden

Using borders to improve front yard or backyard landscaping is an inexpensive strategy to enhance your hardscape. This technique can add to the landscape if you vary your materials and blend different materials to create one cohesive yet interesting look.

You may have an idea of what you want to do in the front yard, but you might need a clearer idea of what to do in the back or side yards. That’s why dividing your space lets you experiment with multiple projects, each with its design focus and budget. An inexpensive way to do it is to use big ornamental rocks to adorn your borders.

Gardeners often compartmentalize different areas of the yard into separate little “rooms” with the landscape.

Inexpensive Landscape Lighting

cheap outdoor lights

These inexpensive landscape lighting ideas will help you transform your yard into a stunning, dreamy sight in the evening. But if you’re on a budget, it can be hard to figure out where to start. Here are some ideas that may help you save money while illuminating your outdoor space.

String lights come in a variety of sizes, styles, and colors, making it hard not to get an outdoor space that looks fantastic. These are straightforward ways to add flair to a place without modifying much. Because most of them are now LED, they will also conserve electricity in the long term.

You may use landscape lighting to accentuate or highlight features of your landscaping or as a general lighting source in areas like pathways and steps. Either way, it can make a huge difference to the hardscape.

Cut Costs by Making Your Garden Furniture

diy garden accents

You can save money by building your wooden garden furniture. The materials are readily available, and you only need basic tools. Creating your outdoor furniture will add a unique touch to your garden and reduce costs for the summer months. Plus, you can create pieces that match existing house furniture or go in a completely different direction with a fun new look that reflects your personality. Once you get your projects going, it’s fun and satisfying to have a set of DIY garden chairs or tables and some simple shelving for your potted herbs.

You can always repurpose indoor tables and chair set that don’t get much use, or you may have some old cushions that you could make into pillows or seat pads. Just be aware that water absorbing materials are usually not the best choice for outdoor spaces unless you live in a very arid area. You could even take old pieces apart and build something new with them — like a bench or tabletop. The possibilities are endless when looking to make unique outdoor furniture!

Use Fancy-Looking Outdoor Rugs for an Inviting Patio

outdoor patio carpet

Instead of investing in a replacement patio, conceal a worn-looking deck or pavement with beautiful outdoor carpets, mats, or rugs. If you want to go the eco-friendly route, pick ones made of recycled plastic! You’ll be surprised at the variety of designs and colors. It’s a very affordable object that instantly makes a difference in the landscaping look.

Being cozy to the feel, they are the simplest and most effective method to incorporate your taste in design into your outdoor seating area and a useful centerpiece to organize pieces around. Furthermore, they are simple to maintain, may be left outside no matter the weather, and dry quickly.

Stylish Fencing for a Neat-Looking Perimeter

stylish fencing

If you’re looking to spruce up the exterior of your home, an easy way to add style and curb appeal is by getting a gorgeous fence. And if you’re on a budget, there are many ways to get creative with your fence design and materials.

Decorative fencing is available in many different styles and materials, including wood, metal, and vinyl, but you’ll want to choose one that complements your home’s architecture and style. You can also choose from an assortment of shapes, sizes, and heights when choosing attractive fencing.

Wooden fences are classic in design and come in many different styles and colors, including wood stain finishes, stain color options, natural wood finishes, and pressure-treated wood species such as cedar or redwood. Vinyl fencing is another popular choice for homeowners who want something durable yet still look modern or traditional in appearance, depending on their needs.

 Many people have created their own fences using nothing more than intertwined branches, twigs, and vines.

Modify the Borders Surrounding Your Backyard

modify borders

A great way to add interest to your backyard is to add some splashes of hard materials to the surrounding garden beds. 

Having a large boulder or even a small section of fence in a bed full of plants will help draw your eye from one area to the next and add a bit of intrigue. 

Doing this is an easy way to transform your backyard into something that feels more finished and is also an excellent option for those who don’t want to spend money on expensive materials.

 The options are limitless, and constructing borders in any environment can also establish visible boundaries dividing flower beds, grass, and other plantings. It’s a terrific technique to make the best use of even a little area and make it fascinating.


What is Hard and Soft Landscaping?

Landscaping is the act of transforming our outdoor spaces to suit our individual needs. The entire landscaping process uses many different materials, but they all can be classified as either hard or soft. Many people ask What is Hard and Soft Landscaping and this article will try to explain this concept a bit further and provide you with some examples.

Hard vs. Soft Landscaping

I’m not sure when this hard and soft landscaping concept came about, but it’s simply people trying to categorize things as we are apt to do. It’s a fine idea, but not always very useful or clear. Everyone probably has their favorite, but it’s a lot like apples and oranges when comparing the two. Hardscapes are generally easier to maintain, while softscapes are prettier, more environmentally friendly, and harder to maintain. But, it probably doesn’t matter, since you need both to have a great landscape.

Any landscaping that you do will include both aspects. You will need to blend the two components to give your yard a balanced and integrated look and feel. Having too much of either will significantly affect the appearance of your property.


hard and soft landscaping

In general, hardscapes are all of the unchanging, nonliving things in your landscape: hard, inanimate objects made of rocks, bricks, concrete, plastic, or metal. Hardscapes can be natural or man-made materials.

Do not go overboard with hardscaping, or your yard will start to look like rigid, lifeless architecture. In

Examples of hardscape materials:

  • Brick (actually made of clay or concrete)
  • Block (concrete)
  • Rock
  • Asphalt (tar and rock)
  • Concrete (actually just a mix of rock and minerals)
  • Gravel (really just broken up rock)
  • Edging (plastic or metal, stakes, spikes)
  • Wood? (more later)
  • Pumps
  • Piping
  • Wire
  • Clamps
  • Hardware
  • Draintile (clay, concrete, plastic)
  • Landscape fabric (plastic)
  • Furniture (fabric, metal, plastic, concrete)

Hardscaping Features

masonry buildings

In landscape architecture, hardscaping refers to hard components—tough, long-lasting, large, and stable materials that give structure, add height, or define a path. Hard landscaping is important because it retains the parts of your property. Hardscaping is like the bones of your landscape. It’s the starting point; it is the foundation upon which everything else is based.

Examples of hardscape features:

  • Outdoor Kitchens
  • Pools
  • Patios
  • Walkways
  • Stairs
  • Decks
  • Stepping Stone Paths
  • Gazebos
  • Driveways
  • Fountains
  • Decorative walls
  • Statues
  • Retaining Walls
  • Irrigation Systems (piping, clamps, plastic heads, timers, etc.)
  • Landscape Lighting Systems (transformers, wire, fixtures, etc.)
  • Fencing
  • Decking
  • Pergolas
  • Arbors
  • Gazebos
  • Grottos
  • Ponds and Waterfalls? (more later)
  • Fireplaces
  • Benches

Sometimes, hardscaping can be multipurpose. You can build a small retaining wall to act as additional seating space, or you can install flat stone pieces to act as stepping stones through a garden and to keep down weeds in blank spaces. Hardscape features can also affect the environment in both good and bad ways. Paved surfaces prevent the soil from absorbing runoff, but paving and stone can also protect the soil and prevent erosion.

Maintaining Hardscapes

patio at night

For the most part, hardscapes take care of themselves; that’s the beauty of them. They are not living and typically don’t change a heck of a lot. Your hard surfaces may need some cleaning over time, and patios and walkways tend to need some re-grouting or sanding, but if installed correctly, they should last a lifetime.

I believe that rocks and boulders are the stars of the landscape world. They come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors, they last forever, they can be used to decorate or to retain, you can walk on them, sit on them, drive on them, run water over them, etc. The possibilities are endless; rocks are fantastic!

If you’re a fan of low-maintenance landscaping, weed barrier covered with gravel or washed stone is some of the most maintenance-free bed treatment you can get.


front yard hard and soft landscapes
plants are softscapes

Softscapes are all of the living and changing things such as trees, grass, water, flowers, mulch, etc. If you go too crazy with softscapes, your yard will look like an overgrown mess.

Examples of softscape materials:

  • Flowers
  • Trees
  • Shrubs
  • Grasses
  • Vines
  • Herbs
  • Aquatic plants
  • Soil?
  • Mulch?
  • Water? (we will address these three later)

Soft Landscaping Features

mostly softscapes

In landscape architecture, softscaping refers to all of the pretty plants that fill out our gardens, cover our bare ground and help to soften our hardscapes. If hardscapes are the bones, then softscapes are the skin. Softscaping elements are all of the living plants in your landscape. Softscapes bring life and natural beauty to your landscape and are an essential component.

With softscaping, the possibilities are almost endless. The vast quantity of plants available to us, each with its own individual appearance and characteristics, can make your head spin.

Add to that the potential combinations of plants, and deciding on a few plants for your front yard, can turn into a two-day event. Add to that the fact that softscapes change with time, and it becomes a real live puzzle.

Sofstscapes are continually changing, from month to month and year to year; they just don’t stop. Until they do, and then it is time to find yourself some new softscapes.

The advantages of softscapes are their beauty, adaptability, and environmental value Plants are the only thing saving our earth from destruction. Plants are cleaning our air, our water, and our soil. Plants can shade us, block the wind, hide a fence, block sound and provide us with a dazzling display of beauty.

The downside to plants is that they will likely need to be maintained and that one day, they will die. Softscapes, unlike hardscapes, typically only do well in certain zones and conditions, whereas hardscapes don’t care where you put them; they will likely remain unchanged.

Maintaining Softscapes

front yard softscapes

Unlike their hardscape counterparts, softscapes need our attention. At least most of them do. Most softscapes are plants, and plants need water, nutrients, and air to live. Most plants also need pruning over time. They just keep growing and changing, so you need to keep an eye on them.

Most softscapes are alive, which is their benefit and their downfall. They help us maintain our environment, and in return, we must help them. They also, in a roundabout way, lead to pollution.

We humans tend to dump tons of harmful chemicals on our lawns and garden beds every year in an attempt to care for our precious plants. We wrongly assume that these plants need to be doused in chemicals to survive.

More to Discuss?

I know that this article is all about soft and hard landscapes, and I think that we have pretty well covered that, but there are a few more topics that I think we need to address. I’m sure that these are not right there at the top of your list, but having been in the industry for so long, I have given them a bit of thought.

Blankscaping / Airscapes?

some blank spaces

I feel that this is the part of landscaping that many homeowners and landscapers alike have trouble with. It is a fairly basic concept, but it seems to get lost over time (literally). What I am referring to is the hallowed blank space or separation.

Most landscapes start with plenty of separation and blank spaces, but people forget about its importance over time.

Don’t get me wrong; I love having my flowers hang down onto my patio, I love how a creeping juniper will trail down into a waterfall, I love the way that a clematis will cover and hang from an arbor.

All of these things are great, and there is a time and place for everything, but when that everything starts growing into everything else and overtaking all of the blank spaces, we need to acknowledge it and fight back. Once everything is allowed to grow together, we lose the distinction and importance of the individual features. Rocks and fountains get buried, edging gets hidden, the lawn is growing into the beds, and the beds grow into the lawn.

It is not all about the materials, hard or soft; it is also about how they work together and apart to create a pretty and functional landscape. I have seen way too many over-planted and overgrown yards over the years. They might have looked nice for the first year or two, but now they are a mess.

Please find some time to pull out the pruning shears and the edging shovels and reclaim some of that precious blank space that has been lost over the years. One good long day of separating things that used to be separate and uncovering features that have been hidden will bring your landscape back to life. Believe me; it will be time well spent.

The Gray Area

Okay, now we step into the gray area. I want to discuss the materials that may or may not fit into either category of hardscapes or softscapes. You may have noticed above that some of the listed materials had question marks behind them. These and others are the ones in question.

Hardscapes and softscapes are fine, but are they classified by how they look, how they feel, or what they are made out of?

Here are the Gray items:

  • Wood Mulch, bark chips, etc. – most people consider mulch to be a softscape, and I’d somewhat agree because it comes from plants and is light and biodegradable, but what about wood for other uses?
  • Wooden Fencing – I guess it is a hardscape made out of a softscape material?
  • Timber Retaining Wall – another hardscape made from a softscape?
  • Water – seems like a softscape, but a pool seems like a hardscape?
  • Pond – seems like a softscape if it is unlined and natural, but lined with rubber and rock, it seems hardscape-ish.
  • Waterfall – again, if all that I see is water flowing through plants, I think softscape. If it’s water rolling over rocks, I think hardscape?
  • Rubber pond liner – it’s soft like a softscape, but EPDM is entirely synthetic, so I guess it would be a hardscape?
  • Soil – Many classify this as a softscape, but then is a berm considered a softscape?
  • Clay Bricks – Bricks are hardscapes, but clay is a type of soil, so is it a hardscape made from a softscape?
  • Sand – sand is technically very tiny stones, so it must be a hardscape, but when I see it in a landscape, it sure looks like a softscape.
  • Rubber Mulch – okay, we are calling wood mulch a softscape, but wood timber a hardscape, and we are calling rubber a hardscape, so I guess rubber mulch can be a softscape?

Alright, maybe I’m splitting hairs here. We can leave these gray areas alone and call them whatever we want.


a mix of hard and soft landscapeing
hard and soft landscape from above

I guess when it comes down to it, the hard and soft designations come more from how the product or material makes the landscape appear to you. What sort of feel do you get from it? If I see a line of rock in a wall or a pond, I want to add some plants to soften the feel of it. If I see a large bed of plants, I’d love to add a boulder or three to give it a bit of structure. I often look at the softscaping as the glue or the paint that blends the hardscapes into one another and softens the entire look and feel of an otherwise rigid structure.