Looking out at your bare backyard and all you see is a pile of dirt. It is empty and it almost feels as if your yard is lonely. It is time to get to work and figure out exactly what you have to do. Having trouble figuring out how to cover up the mess of emptiness? Don’t worry, I am here to help with my list of 9 Cheap Ways To Cover Dirt In Your Backyard.
You can cover dirt in your yard with fresh sods, a concrete slab, artificial turf, mulch (wood chips), a small wooden deck, paver stones, plants, a picnic area, or you can build a playground in the dirt area.
But what brings you here? Maybe you are here because your pets keep destroying the yard? It could also be a new house you just purchased? No matter what the issue is I understand you’re having no luck with bringing this desert back to life. Let’s figure this one out together and take a look at the affordable options below:
Table of Contents
1. Lay Sods
It all depends on the size of your yard. If you have a huge yard and you are looking for an affordable way to fix the mess, sods may or may not be your first choice. The average cost of sods is between 0.20-0.75 cents per square foot. So let’s say you have 1000 square feet, which is just a bit bigger than half of an indoor volleyball court. The cost of the sods would range from $200 minimum to $750 up. Let’s not forget, if you have them delivered, installed for you, there can easily be extra costs. I recommend installing them yourself because it is a simple job, and a good bit of exercise.
Question: Can you lay sod over dirt?
Answer: Yes, however, you need to prepare the soil so the sods can take in as much nutrients as possible. This requires a few steps including, tilling. For the dirt yard, to till, you must shovel the area a minimum of 5 inches deep for air and water. Do not remove dirt, just mix it up so air and water can rest. This creates a better-growing foundation for the sods to stay healthy. Before laying the sods make sure the ground is level and there are no weak ground areas. This is to prevent bumps in your new yard. Try rolling out the dirt first and spraying it with water, then apply sods.
Sods are a great option if you are interested in having a yard of grass, it is a simple and super quick way to have the lawn you always wanted.
2. Concrete Slab
Having someone come in and pour a perfect concrete slab will definitely cost you a decent amount of money, likely anywhere from $6-10 dollars per square foot. Your paying for the product, but more importantly you’re paying for the labor. Labor costs are how you make it or break it, you spend so much just for the installation/work of almost anything. It is actually fairly simple to mix and pour your own concrete slab, however, keep in mind that once you build it that it is not easy to remove.
Paying For Already Mixed Concrete
Pouring your own concrete slab will cost you a fraction of the cost. If you do not want to mix your concrete from scratch you can easily pay a company to drop off the mixed concrete. Really this depends on the size of your slab, if it is really big then this idea will probably fail. Why? Because once they drop it off you only have a certain amount of time to pour it before it hardens. A standard time is 30 minutes from when the mix reaches your wheel barrel/bucket. So pouring a large slab will take more time, just do the math beforehand making sure it will be enough time.
Firstly, prepare the area of your slab. If above ground, you must build a wooden box (2×4) in which the mix can be poured into. If below ground, dig the hole to your preferred size and then case it with a wooden frame. The reason for a wooden box is to shape the slab correctly. Add rebar for extra reinforcement. If you want to know how much concrete you will need from the company, simply do measurements of your slab size, or ask the workers dropping it off. They should have the experience to tell you how much you need. Once you have everything prepared and your mix delivered, pour it in and scrape the slab level on top. Watching videos might help you get a better understanding.
Mixing Your Own Concrete
To mix your own concrete you need sand, concrete mix, gravel, water, hose, wheel barrel, and shovel for mixing. Easily mix to the instructions on the concrete mix you bought. I recommend watching some videos to get an easy understanding. It is a simple procedure and will save you a large sum of money.
I recommend spacing out parts of your slabs so you can do pieces of it at a time. Just because a wheel barrel can only hold so much mix. If you do more yourself you can lower the price of a concrete slab down to 3-6 dollars per square foot.
3. Artificial Turf – Lowest Maintenance
When it comes to the process of installing artificial turf people think it is difficult. Realistically, the process is fairly easy and anyone with a bit of skill can do the job. The cost of artificial grass is a little more expensive, but what I tell anyone who is looking for a low maintenance idea, that this is exactly what you are looking for. Once the turf is installed, you are looking at no maintenance for 10-20 years easy. Doesn’t that sound relaxing? This idea can become more intriguing when you’re digging up the sods you had placed because you “forgot” to water the grass all month.
The average price of artificial turf is $3-15 dollars per square foot. It depends on how much you are buying and who you buy it from, plus labor or not. Wholesalers tend to sell turf at an average of $3 dollars a square foot. This is only in high bulk, so local turf places will most likely be a minimum of $6 per square foot. Definitely adds up quickly, but it is long-lasting. You can even buy some Premium Artificial Grass on Amazon, I recommend leveling the land before placing turf.
The process is similar to pouring a concrete slab. Firstly, you clear off an area where you plan to have the turf and level it off to how you want. Pack down the ground with a shovel or a roller. Secondly, build a frame box with wood and design it to the shape you want it to be. A good idea is to figure out the size of turf you are buying and build the box to that size, this means no extra work hand cutting to the desired shape. Next, you place the turf down in the area boxed out. Use roofing nails and hammer the edges into the surrounding box shape, this keeps the turf in its place. Make sure the nails are properly nailed in so they do not come out. Add your turf sand as needed. Turf sand keeps the grass pointing upward.
This is just a brief explanation of how it is installed. I want to give our readers the idea that it is a possible DIY activity that will save you a large sum of labor costs. Remember sweat equity is a huge lifesaver!
4. Mulch The Area
Having a backyard that has a huge dirt spot can really take a toll on the overall appearance. There must be an idea that is low cost to fix it up? With mulch, we can save on lots of costs just by covering the area up. If you can’t fix it, cover it. Mulch is basically decaying wood chips, bark, leaves, etc, that is placed together.
The average cost of mulch varies on location and type, but typically mulch is 0.15-0.60 cents per square foot. Often the more you buy the less per square foot.
Why is mulch a good idea to cover up dry soil?
Mulch is an organic material, once it begins to decompose it actually strengthens the health of the soil. This means over time if you want to remove the mulch and give grass and plants another try it is possible.
Another reason it is a good idea is that mulch is an easy, but also a stylish gardening idea. Shape out the mulch area, create a border, and fill it in with mulch. Many gardens that have difficulty growing just place mulch all around, then place decor items. Sometimes the decor is just as simple as a rock. When I piece together mulch gardens I always place rocks inside and add mulch around. It is super stylish for the garden, but more importantly, it is so easy.
Mulch is available in a variety of colors, pick and choose to your preference.
If you love to purchase items online, you can find Cocoa Shells Mulch on Amazon for a decent price. It is organic and has a very nice cocoa fragrance for the yard, however, if you have pets consider using an alternative as cocoa mulch is said to be toxic for dogs. Having enough mulch to fill the area is important, you can order large quantities of Cedar Mulch at 48 quarts on Amazon too. The prices are great but it totally depends on where you live whether you can order it or not.
5. Build A Small Deck
A patio deck is a great way to hide that dirt yard…
Building a patio can definitely be an expensive option. However, if you can do it yourself then you can build a small deck at affordable prices. When having the skills to build then you should use them. Like I said a few times in the article, labor is what makes things cost so much. When you can put in the work, you save the money. (Update: now lumber has increased in price drastically in the last few years, making it more expensive than ever to build a deck)
When building a deck the costs you are looking at are the materials. Really wood and screws could be the only materials needed, that just depends on how you build the patio. Having the ground leveled out beneath is important, if it isn’t level you can still build one it just takes a bit more work. The base is constructed of deck blocks, this is where the wood sits and is kept from moving. Or you can dig into the ground and have your posts sit into concrete.
What are the average costs of building a small patio deck?
Building a small deck just to cover the dirt, with sweat equity, you can be spending on a lower scale $500 to $1000 dollars. However, prices can always vary depending on the height of the deck and other factors. The type of materials you buy will also determine costs, don’t expect low costs if you want to use higher-grade wood like Ipe and Redwood. The most affordable wood choice recommended to build a deck is pressure-treated decking. Things start to get really expensive when you get into composite decking.
The average cost to build a smaller deck is $16-80 per square foot, cost varies on cost of lumber and if you are paying someone to build it for you. Labor costs are very expensive when it comes to building a deck, if you have these skills you are one step ahead and can save a lot of money for your time.
Check out our backyard fence calculator here!
What does a deck provide?
What I like about patio decks is the option to hang outside in an area that isn’t muddy, dirty, and just plain gross. You can maintain a deck just like an interior part of a home. Place chairs outside, tables, and enjoy the outdoor living space. Placing the BBQ creates a location where you can invite friends and family over for a nice social gathering. Why not build a patio? I think it’s worth it.
Decorate In Style
Read our article on 10 Of The Most Comfortable Lounge Chairs, this list has comfy and super stylish chairs that I picked specifically for a backyard area. Having nice outdoor furniture is important for you backyard space, although things can get pricy take a look at the best patio conversation sets for less than $1000 this year has to offer.
6. Lay Paver Stone
My favorite part about paver stones is the unlimited variety of design ideas you can come up with. From squares, rectangles, triangles, circles, name any shape, if you find the pavers then you can install them in. If you want to save money use the regular rectangle-shaped bricks. They are usually around 50 cents per brick, making it quite affordable. The average cost of a paver stone patio is $5-30 per square foot. You can also spice it up if you throw in a 12″x12″ paver every now and then because they are only about $3 dollars a piece. I am sure prices vary in different locations, but you are bound to find something affordable when it comes to pavers.
Read this full guide on how I installed a concrete paver stone patio for $763.75 all by myself. See photos and all the details by clicking here.
BUY USED PAVERS
You might think that 50 cents per small brick can add up in costs, but there’s one secret about pavers that can save you a fortune. Find used pavers! I only live in a smaller area but I always see pavers for sale, either used or leftover. They want to get rid of them and I know you will get a steal of a deal. You can find them on the Facebook marketplace, local shopping pages, Craigslist, Kijiji, and any classifieds for the area. I am sure you can save a lot on pavers if you can find them leftover!
Brief Instructions & Tools Required To Install Pavers
- To begin, you must find the area where the pavers are going to be placed. This area must be dug up to the depth that when the pavers are laid out they are at the correct height, not to high and not to low. Just measure your pavers and dig accordingly.
- Next, when the base is dug open lay paver base sand. It’s best to compact it flat with a compactor machine or roller. This will create a smooth surface for the pavers to rest on.
- When totally flat begin to lay pavers in sequence. Make sure you have the required tools to cut pavers. If you can place the pavers without needing to cut them, that saves time and work. However, for the most part, cutting paver stones is going to happen for most paver projects.
- When placed out, you need to prevent them from moving. The rain and other weather conditions can break pavers apart. Place paver sand on top and make sure it compresses within the cracks of each stone. Lightly spray a thin layer of water over the top but don’t forget to compress the stone like earlier first.
- Lastly, repeat the most recent step again. Fill paver sand all around, compact then lightly spray. Brush off after things dry up and enjoy your new beautiful paver stone area!
These steps are just to give you an idea of how it all works.
7. Cheap Plants or Free Plants
It’s time to find some plants that are on sale at the nursery, you might even find something for free! Simply, head out to a nursery or retail store that has a garden center. Look around and find the sale section, see what plants you can help bring back to life for a low cost. They are usually on sale because they are starting to die, but that’s where you come into save them. With some love and care, you can heal the plants to create a beautiful garden.
Finding cheap or free plants to cover dirt can cost you an average of $0-2 per square foot.
How can you get plants for free?
I used to work at a garden center in my local community. When plants would start to look bad they would quickly end up in the dumpster. However, one thing I noticed was that some plants could have easily been planted and brought back to a good-looking state. I couldn’t see myself getting mad at someone who wanted these, so go out and find them for yourself!
I did some research on how people get free plants, I will list them here:
- Garden Tours – People might give you cuttings, or if they have any older plants they planned on ridding, ask if you could have them!
- Yard Companies – One of my friends worked for a company where they cleaned up yards. They had some sort of dumpster brought to every yard they were cleaning. If you can find a company like this in your location, ask them if there are any plants they were throwing away? If so kindly ask if you could have them for a cheap backyard garden!
- House Construction – I know that a home going into huge renovations might come across a full yard excavation. This means “bye-bye” to the garden. If you can ask permission to get ahold of these plants before they are torn up, then you can end up with a full garden amount!
- Gifts – Having a party? Yard party? House Opening Party? If presents are being provided, there is no harm in asking for plants. People will provide you with a variety of amazing plants you can use to start your garden.
Inexpensive Way To Have Plants?
If you do not want to buy plants, or hunt for them try planting them! Figure out what plants would be easiest to grow in your area, and buy some seeds. Seeds are extremely low costing and if done correctly can end up being a luscious garden. It’s not rocket science, but you can definitely learn something from it.
8. Kids Playground
Do you have kids? Well covering up the dirty backyard with a small playground can do the trick. Playgrounds you purchase can certainly add up in costs pretty quickly. For something of decent quality, you’re are looking at a minimum $1000. However, there are ways to build your own small play areas for a minimal price. It all starts with what your game plan is, what are you looking to build?
The average cost of building a home playground is anywhere from $150 up to $2000. Of course, this totally depends on what you want to build. The larger the playground the more expensive, but you can get creative and save a lot of money building easy things I mention below.
First, consider if you are capable of building certain things. If it is a Jungle Jim, it must be built with expertise because your kids will be jumping around like a monkey. Making something smaller is a good start.
Cheap Kids Playground Ideas:
- Build a Swingset – This is the easiest and in my opinion the most stylish idea to make. The photo on my right is my cabin, and the swing set was easily built. Materials needed are: Three 4×4 post lumber, Two heavy-duty ropes, One 2×4 lumber for the seat, and 2 steel brackets that hold in 4×4 across the top. You need to dig a hole on each side, place 4×4 in the hole. Surround each 4×4 post by rocks, or what I did was mix cement and poured a base.
- Teeter-Totter – Building a teeter-totter is low cost and fairly easy to put together.
- Jungle Jim – A Jungle Jim will require lots of work, more wood, meaning higher costs. Though, it would cover a dirt yard quite nicely!
- Sandbox – A sandbox would be a super simple playground idea. Make a boxed-in area, then fill with sand and you are done! Kids will love the idea and it will keep them occupied. Placing artificial turf around it will cost a few extra dollars, but it will keep the area looking much cleaner.
Keep in mind, you are not out to build the best backyard playground in the world… Build a small idea at first, this gives you an idea if the playground is a good choice for you and your family.
9. Backyard Picnic
It might be easiest for you to just cover over this dirty mess. Try building a picnic area where your family and friends can hang around. Almost treat it as a campsite, have your picnic table placed with a colorful tablecloth. Decorate the table with decor and set up the dining dishes. You can always branch out with ideas like this. Install an outdoor kitchen, put a keg together, build an outdoor bar? Really whatever comes to your mind that could be fun!
Lights? Figure out a way to have hanging lights that connect to your home on one side, and maybe a tree or wooden post on the other. This idea can really bring out the overlook and feel in your yard. I have these string lights in my backyard and I love them. You can choose what color you want lighting up your yard!
Another idea that can fill in space is to just place box plants around the picnic area. It can fill in space so everything doesn’t look so bare?
Easily place the barbeque outside and the picnic area turns into an area you never thought you’d love so much! Place any old firepit that the family can sit around and enjoy some guitar. Seriously, just get creative because the picnic idea lets you customize to your yard however you want! Furthermore, check out some of the best movie projectors for awesome backyard movie nights!
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Throughout the article, I managed to gather up 9 different and some totally unique ideas to cover up dirt in your boring backyard. Sometimes it can be an easy fix, others it may cost a few extra dollars. However, on my list, there should be some affordable options to choose from and I hope you decide to go ahead with one of them. If you couldn’t decide on any 9 options I gave, comment on some options you think are available?
Learn from the pros & thanks for reading in!
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.