Simple Projects To Refresh Your Outdoor Living Space

After an Idaho winter, you’re ready to enjoy your outdoor living spaces, but long months of winter in the Northwest can leave yards, decks, landscaping and everything in between shabby, dull and maybe even a bit wild. The experts at Franklin Building Supply are ready to help with some simple projects that will let you tame the chaos and make the outside areas of your home fresh and new, just the way nature intended—only better.

1. Raised Cedar Garden Beds—A gardener’s best friend, garden boxes can save soil from compacting or eroding while also preserving your back and knees. They also offer superior drainage and better control over weeds and pests. Plants like them too, typically thriving and growing more quickly, and you can extend your growing season by adding a cold frame.

Raised beds can be any size, but long narrow rectangles are tried-and-true designs.

  • Widths of no more than four feet help ensure you can always reach the center.

  • Interior reinforcements every four to six feet prevent bowing.

  • Common depths are 11 to 36 inches, but deep beds will need cross-supports to contain the soil’s weight without bowing.

Cedar is the lumber of choice not only because it’s naturally beautiful and weathers well, but also because it resists moisture, rot and insects. However, treated lumber works well too. For hardware, opt for galvanized screws that won’t rust or pop. Build long and low for a bed of prize summer tomatoes, or go a little taller for an ornamental array of fragrant herbs handy to the kitchen door. Designs with supporting stakes and a wide cap board can even let you just sit a while to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

2. Natural Stone Fire Pit—The flames and warmth of a fire pit never fail to send worries—and mosquitoes—fleeing far away. With their rounded design rooted in stone or masonry, fire pits are a natural draw for family and friends in search of a gathering place. They’re also the most highly desired outdoor feature for homeowners who don’t have one

Fire pit designs are fairly universal, with a fireproof inner wall and a heat-resistant nonflammable outer wall bridged by a finishing wall cap.

  • Fire pits usually measure about 36 to 44 inches in internal diameter.

  • Walls should be at least a foot tall, their height coordinating with any associated seating.

  • An internal steel ring extends the life of the inner wall’s fireproof block.

  • Clean, popular, smoke-free and spark-free fuel systems include ethanol, propane and natural gas.

  • It’s important to check your local fire codes if you’re building a fire pit. There are often restrictions on size and setback from other structures to be aware of.

Whether it’s surrounded by lush grass and overhanging shade or steals the show as the centerpiece of a matching laid-stone patio, a fire pit’s ambiance is undeniable—toasted marshmallows included.

3. Custom Window Planting Boxes—For irresistible charm, small, lush gardens suspended beneath a window are hard to beat. Securely lag-bolted into a wall, a properly constructed box can easily hold its weight in potting soil and cascading plants. Custom-made window box designs are limitless, but some common themes apply:

  • Start with a slim rectangular design proportional to your windows.

  • Be sure to drill drainage holes in the bottom that drain moisture away from your house.

  • To get a custom look, add moldings, apply lattice for a design in relief or work patterns with thin trim boards.

  • Lag bolts should support your box, but many homeowners incorporate the extra security and style of functional yet decorative brackets that you can purchase or build to match.

Beyond window settings, window-style planters are extremely versatile, perfect for brightening an otherwise sterile-looking wall, edging expanses of green with splashes of color or placing a small potted flower bed where none will otherwise grow.

4. Treated Lumber or Block Retaining Wall—Retaining walls are easier to build than you might think, and they’re the perfect solution for that slope that’s just “there” yet too steep to hold ornamental plantings. Since ground is usually still soft, spring is a perfect time to establish that perfectly level baseline essential for a strong bottom course of timbers or masonry block.

  • You’ll need to prepare a level track, and dress it with a well-compacted base material that will maintain a level foundational course.

  • Go deep enough so that the first course or so will be buried to prevent forward slippage.

  • Build back so that timbers or blocks have the advantage of gravity in anchoring the backing soil. Retaining wall blocks typically have a lip to help align blocks properly while ensuring maximum contact.

  • For large areas, consider terracing walls for effect, staggering plantings for each layer.

Done correctly, your handiwork will yield a hardscape that can turn an eyesore into an asset with a purpose—one that’s both functionally strong and aesthetically pleasing.

5. Privacy Fencing and a Bigger Gate—If you’ve been considering adding a fence or yard partition, springtime is the perfect time. Concrete can set, and temperatures are perfect for painting or staining. Once your fence is done, you’ll be able to enjoy it all season long and for years to follow.

If you already have a fence, it’s a good time to give it a once-over. Leaning, sagging fences marred with mildewed and discolored boards, rot, or missing or broken pickets make an entire property look sorely in need of some TLC. It may be time to replace posts, boards, rails or hardware or to haul out the pressure washer.

Don’t forget gates. Replace a section of fence with a gate that will allow access from the other side of the house or the back side of the property. Widen an existing gate so that a pickup load of mulch will fit, or shore up posts and hinges with a set of wheels so that you can actually use the gates that you have.

Whether you want total privacy or an area screen, a boundary marker or a functioning barrier, fencing materials come in more options than ever before. Choose from natural wood lumber like treated pine or cedar, durable vinyl, ornamental steel or engineered wood composites that look like wood but wear better than iron.

6. Flowering Arbor, Trellis or Pergola—Climbing roses, Lady Banks’ roses, clematis, wisteria, trumpet vine, firethorn and other climbing ornamentals need structural support, and if you build it, they will thrive. Not only will they thrive, but large or vigorous species can turn a simple idea into something special.

  • Build an arbor, and climbers will eventually become a bower of perennial greenery you can look forward to year after year.

  • Build a wall trellis, and all sorts of growers can be espaliered—trained to spread to each side—to turn a blank area into a favorite storybook-worthy spot.

  • Build bigger, and make it a pergola that climbers can turn into a canopy of shade. Next year, add a bench or two, a small koi pond or a paved patio underneath.

Trellis, arbor or pergola, all are ways of adding vertical interest to an otherwise horizontal space and creating landscape features you can fall in love with year after year.

7. Sturdy Potting Bench and Display—If you’re a gardener dreaming of a wide, sturdy counter with equally sturdy shelves able to handle all the dirt, peat, fertilizers, pots, gardening tools, and other magical detritus that are all essential to a successful planting, build one. Create the outdoor workspace you’ve always wanted.

Most benches are designed like a deep, heavy, counter-height table, with an equally deep lower shelf and a higher back strong enough to support a few shallower shelves and their contents.

  • Start with 4 x 4s for the legs—two shorter ones in front, two taller ones in back—or break out the 2 x 4s, and start framing.

  • For counters or shelves, 1 x 4s plank surfaces, with narrow spacing leaving room for drainage.

  • Some plans even incorporate sinks complete with spigots and hookups for a garden hose.

  • Others extend vertical storage with panels of evenly spaced horizontal furring strips fitted out with hooks, clips and tools.

  • Still others add a roof and walls to make their potting bench a potting shed.

As for the best part of a potting bench—once planting is done, a tall, broad bench doubles as a fantastic display for all that your green thumb was able to do with a little bit of earth and a few little plants.

8. Refurbished Mailbox—Even if the snowplow didn’t launch your mailbox post into the middle of your yard, you still might want to give it a critical look. Leaning or rotten posts, failing box supports, peeling paint, algae, mold, damaged or missing numbers, and rusty mailboxes are but a sampling of the issues that can make a disappointing first impression.

If you’re looking for our simplest, smallest project for your yard, make your mailbox post-perfect. A bag of concrete, your choice of post or treated lumber, and a bit of paint will usually get the job done.

After a long, cold Idaho winter, a few simple springtime building projects can bring you, your yard and your entire home back to life, ready for all the fun and enjoyment summertime brings. Pick your projects. Then, come visit the experienced experts at the Franklin Building Supply store nearest you. With locations all across Idaho and Northern Nevada, we have all the treated lumber and outdoor building supplies you need, and we’re ready to show you how to make them work for you.