If your home is your castle, then your backyard is your courtyard. Not only can it represent a great deal of your home equity, but it can provide you with a relaxing retreat, an entertainment area, or a gardening site for those of us that are into self-sufficiency. Like anything other remodeling project, the planning and design phases are what everything else hinges on. So how should you go about improving your free space? Here are 5 classic ideas, from conception to completion.

1. Lock in Your Master Plan.

Although it is fine to leave yourself some degree of leeway, it is important to at least have not only a game plan but also one that is realistic enough to fit within your operating budget. You might want to focus on a swimming pool as your backyard centerpiece. Or, are you considering a patio or deck complete with an outdoor kitchen? There are some important considerations. Your chosen central project may be where the bulk of your funds must be allocated, but leave enough to accommodate designing the surrounding area.

2. If You Already Have an Outdated Patio, Consider Refinishing It.

In this case, part of your job is already done. Even if it has some cracks or broken spots, these can be easily repaired. Concrete enhancement options today are more varied than they ever were. Consider staining; this can be done as one solid color, as a design, or a repeating pattern. Concrete can be stamped to resemble pavers, wood planks, and more.

3. Update and Consolidate Your Landscaping Theme.

Yes, landscaping is a wonderful thing. Problems can develop over time though, when additions are made on a whim and the plants and fixtures just don’t match. Look to your primary central project design for an inspirational theme. For example, tropical plants work well with a swimming pool or a water feature. If privacy is an issue in a tropical setting, bamboo is a great choice. Just be sure to use a clumping variety or you’ll get more than you bargain for! Another popular theme is to just plant native varieties. Obviously, these will be easier to care for.

4. Consider Adding a Path or Walkway.

These have many purposes but the two primary ones are aesthetics and functionality. If your backyard tends to be wet (and thus, muddy), a walkway will go a long way towards keeping your home clean. A path is a wonderful way to tie different areas of your backyard together. When it comes to building materials, you have many choices and one is sure to suit your taste and budget. Pavers are very popular and are available in a variety of shapes. Re-purposed bricks add a rustic look while staying close to the sustainable mindset. Crushed gravel makes for a fine DIY project.

5. Don’t Forget the Patio Furniture and Fixtures.

What good is your personal nirvana without some creature comforts? The price of patio furniture is all over the chart, from elite-grade to downright frugal. This is not to say that you have to invest in new items if you already have a set of “gently used” chairs, tables, and perhaps the complimentary umbrella. These can all be brought back into like-new condition as a DIY project or by farming it out to professionals. And don’t forget that chimenea fireplace for those cool fall evenings!

Any time of the year is a good time to invest in your backyard and comfort since it can be enjoyed year-round. Just make a plan, stick to your budget, and relax!