Getting back to nature

If you already have an established garden, you don’t have to tear it out. You can mix in native plants with traditional ones.

A red flowering plant, columbine can grow up to 36-inches tall and blooms from May to July.

Above, when the flower on prairie smoke opens up, the seeds flow out. Below, native bees and other insects are attracted to native dogwood, which can make a great hedge.

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Minnesotans only have a handful of months in which to enjoy their backyards. 

By creating outdoor living spaces, you can get the most enjoyment and relaxation out of those months.

Unfortunately, constructing outdoor living spaces can get expensive, especially if you keep adding amenities. But by having a plan ahead of time you can ease into projects while saving money and avoiding headaches.


Figure out space

The first step after deciding that you want to have an outdoor space is measuring your yard to determine what you can fit in, says Sue Morrison of D-Rock Center in New Brighton. This may mean an outdoor kitchen and sitting area, or a patio sitting area and fire pit. 

Morrison says if homeowners want anything beyond an outdoor sitting area, they should consider a space that is at least 150 square feet. However, if the space is just going to be a sitting area, it can be whatever size the homeowners want.


What do you want to spend

Another thing to consider before embarking on building an outdoor living space is budget. 

If you aren’t able to do the work yourself, Morrison says the rule of thumb is to double or triple your product cost to hire out the project. 

“You really want it to be there forever, so you don’t want to cut corners. If you cut corners, you may be cutting the life out of it,” Morrison says.

When building outdoor spaces, it’s smart to invest in good products that are going to last in Minnesota’s freeze-and-thaw cycles.

Doing the work yourself is one of the biggest ways to save money. However, there are some aspects Morrison recommends leaving to the experts, such as installing natural gas lines or plumbing work.

“Anything inside your house that you would have to have inspected or a certified person doing it, definitely the same applies for outside,” Morrison says.

What is used for the outdoor flooring can affect cost. Prices can vary greatly between material like pavers, gravel and tile. Using gravel like driveway trap can sometimes save thousands of dollars.

Determining your priorities can help decide what fits in the budget and what doesn’t. Over the long term, would you prefer a cobblestone floor for your new outdoor space, or will you be just as happy with the less expensive crushed pebbles?

Prices for projects can vary greatly depending on size of space, product and amount of work done by the homeowners. 


Who will use it?

When designing your outdoor space, it is important to keep in mind if kids, adults or both will use this area. 

Besides figuring out what the space will be used for, also keep in mind where it will be situated. If you’re building an outdoor kitchen, you probably don’t want the smoke from the grill wafting back toward the house. The same goes for installing a fire pit or outdoor fireplace.

If you are creating an outdoor kitchen, keep in mind the size of appliances. The bigger the appliance and the more appliances you have, the bigger space you need.

Just like an indoor kitchen or room, you will want plenty of room for storage.


What else to keep in mind

Each city has certain requirements or codes. Check with your community to learn about ordinances and what building permits you may need.

Always make sure to check with utility companies before you start digging to make sure you aren’t going to hit any buried utility lines. 

Some businesses, like D-Rock, offer a free service to help homeowners design and get ideas for outdoor spaces. They will help work out costs and break down what needs to be done.

Morrison recommends homeowners take baby steps when working on their outdoor spaces.

“Don’t feel like you have to do it all in one jump. If you want to start doing something, start with just a patio and little by little add from there,” Morrison says. 


Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or

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