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Apr 30, 2021

10 min. read

Refresher Course

Spend even a tiny bit of time on Pinterest and you’ll be inundated with photos of beautiful backyards. But according to Alexandra Gater, a stylist and home decor expert known for her cost-effective DIY projects, you don’t need a big budget to make your space sing. Here are three easy ways to inexpensively update your backyard.

Tend to your timber

A simple blast with a power washer can make a tired deck look like new. Power wash decking, secure loose railings and replace lost or broken post caps. These small tasks instantly spiff up a space—and they can help extend the life of your deck too. But take care with the power washer: Used improperly, it can gouge the wood.

Zhuzh it up

“When I’m designing a backyard or patio area, I layer accessories to make it feel like an extension of the living room,” Gater says. Throw a beautiful tablecloth over a bland picnic or bistro table, and hang planter baskets filled with seasonal blooms. Textured pillows and patterned rugs can also make a space comfier while bolstering its appeal. If you’d rather not bring your accessories inside every evening, splurge on high-quality pieces designed to withstand the elements.

Light the way

“A simple string of twinkle lights or a few lanterns can add instant ambience to a backyard space,” Gater says. Just make sure they’re rated for outdoor use. For homes that don’t have an external electrical outlet, look for lights that use a solar power source instead.

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A wooden deck with a table and chairs.

Do Right By Your Deck

Whether you want to add a brand-new deck or spruce up the one you’ve got, there’s plenty to know about this backyard build. Calgary-based deck-building pro Matt Mensinga shares his advice.

Decide if it’s DIY

Leave structural work (joists, beams, posts, foundation) to the experts. “It needs to be designed and built properly to support the load of the deck,” Mensinga says. “But depending on the materials, resurfacing a deck—removing and replacing the existing wood boards—could be a DIY project.”

Need a permit?

In many municipalities, decks that are two feet or more off the ground require a permit to build—and an inspection when completed. “I look at it as the cheapest insurance you’ll ever buy,” he says. “An inspection gives you peace of mind that your new deck meets or exceeds the building code.”

Account for extras

If you’re building a new deck, it’s usually cheaper to incorporate extras—stair lighting, pergolas or built-in furniture—during construction rather than adding them later.

Staining and sealing

Low-maintenance decks, often made from recycled materials that don’t require sealant or stain, are increasingly common. “If you do need to refinish your deck,” Mensinga notes, “use sealant that’s breathable and won’t harm your plants.”

Keep critters out

Stop pests from playing house under your deck by enclosing it with deck skirting. Worried about animals burrowing under that? Dig a trench at least six inches deep around the deck, attach metal mesh to the inside of your skirting, and bury it to the depth of the trench.

A drawing of a patio with furniture and lights.

Patio Planner

Create a small-space oasis with these tips from stylist Alexandra Gater


  1. Choose chairs, sofas and other pieces you actually want to sit on. “There’s no sense buying uncomfortable furniture! You just won’t use it,” Gater says.

  2. “Think outside the box when it comes to pieces you already have,” Gater says. Turn a utility cart into a portable bar or repurpose an unused bench as food-service space.

  3. Outdoor furniture and accessories that complement your home’s indoor aesthetic can help connect the two—and create the illusion of a larger outdoor space.

  4. Add string lights, lanterns and a few candles to cast a warm glow on summer evenings.


  1. Cover cold concrete with a colourful outdoor rug or interlocking patio tiles.

  2. Add functionality with dual-purpose furniture: a table with built-in storage or an ottoman that can work as an extra table when guests come over.

  3. Take advantage of vertical space by creating a feature plant wall, or get some favourite photos printed on weather-resistant aluminum.

  4. Create a lush urban garden with potted plants in varied shades of green—for a Scandi-chic vibe—or planter boxes bursting with colourful blooms.

A woman is mowing her lawn with a lawn mower.

Love Your Lawn

Fred Taylor of Lawn Stylists, an organic lawn-care and gardening service in Winnipeg, offers advice on mowing, weeding and watering.

What’s the most important thing to know about summer lawn care?

Make sure your lawn has adequate water and keep it around three inches long. The longer leaf shades the ground, which means less water evaporates and fewer weeds will grow.

How do I get my lawnmower ready for the season?

Give it a basic tune-up, especially if it’s a gas-powered mower. Sharpen the blades, clean (or change) the air filter, replace the spark plug and change the oil.

How often should I mow?

Aim for every seven to 10 days, or as required. Mowing too frequently can stress the lawn and compact the soil, which leads to grass needing more water. When you do mow, make sure you’re only removing the top third of the grass. And always use a sharp blade to ensure the grass is cut rather than torn or ripped, which can stress the plant.

How can I keep my lawn happy without using too much water?

It depends on the type of grass and the condition of your soil. You want to water to the depth of your root system without causing run off. One good hack is to place empty cans around your yard when you start watering, then note how long it takes for the cans to collect an inch of water. That way, you’re not running the sprinkler for longer than necessary.

A person sitting in a shed at night.

Office Sheds

The pandemic has made working from home a necessity for many. And some intrepid homeowners are taking it outside. Options abound for beautiful and functional sheds, from easy-to-assemble kits to repurposed shipping containers to bespoke, contractor-built structures. But check with your municipality before you build.

Office sheds are accessory structures, meaning your city may have rules about where they can be located. You might also need a permit, depending on the size and if you’re adding electrical, plumbing or gas. And don’t forget to tell your insurance company. Most homeowners policies cover detached structures like sheds, but if you’re going to splurge on a comfortable new space, be sure to check that your level of coverage is appropriate.

Call a CAA Manitoba Insurance broker at 204-262-6065 or book an appointment online at caamanitoba.com/insurance.

A man cooking on a bbq grill.

Safety First

Five tips for safely enjoying your backyard this season.

  • If you use a barbecue, make sure it’s placed on a flat surface, away from flammable materials like trees, shrubs, fences, awnings, and vinyl or wood siding. Never grill in your garage.
  • Don’t operate power tools, lawn mowers or other electrical equipment in wet weather. There’s a higher risk of electric shock, and wet grass can make the mower harder to control, especially on a slope.
  • Never leave lit candles, lanterns, firepits or other open flames unattended.
  • Trampolines and bouncy castles are fun for kids, but make sure they’re safe. Set them on level ground, far from buildings and trees, and never allow children to use them unsupervised. Check your homeowners insurance too: You may require additional liability coverage.
  • Keep garden supplies, including fertilizer and pesticides, in their original packaging, so application instructions are handy. Store them in a large, waterproof container—so they stay safe and dry—and out of reach of children and pets.
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