How to Make a Backyard Zen Garden on a Budget - Backyard Boss
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How to Make a Backyard Zen Garden on a Budget

A backyard zen garden is a great way to bring tranquility and peace of mind to your home. Traditional Japanese gardening is beautiful and can have many unique elements that tie a space together and make it harmonious and relaxing. If you have been thinking about making yourself a zen garden for your backyard, there are a lot of different ways to go about it.

In this article, we have put together some methods and tips you can use to create your backyard zen garden on a budget. One of the nice things about this style of garden is that it can be as simple or complex as you would like. You don’t need a lot of money to bring some peace to your life and create something extraordinarily beautiful.

Step 1: Gather Your Tools and Materials

Person Relaxing in Zen Garden
Image credits: Jeremy Levine Design via Creative Commons

While you don’t need to spend a lot of money on your zen garden, there are a few things that you will need. By gathering these materials, you can design something that is exclusively your own and caters to your unique vision. Luckily, many of these materials are easy to come by and are not very expensive.


Some of the tools you will need to build your zen garden include a rake, tape measure, and perhaps a level. One of the most important things in Japanese gardens is symmetry, and these tools will help you accomplish this. It is crucial to remember that everything must be balanced and that anything you add should complement the other elements.


Many traditional zen gardens use landscaping gravel as their main surface material. This gravel is then meant to be raked in concentric circles as an activity that can help center your thoughts and focus your mind. Gravel also comes in a wide variety of shades and colors, so you can pick one that meshes with your taste and what you want out of your zen garden.


Many zen gardens use sand as a way to bring some softness to simplicity to the area. Sand also comes in a wide variety of colors and textures so you can create designs and patterns that you find the most pleasing and tranquil. Try contrasting different colored sand with gravel areas to make complex shapes.

Landscaping Rocks

Large landscaping rocks are a great way to create barriers and points that draw the eye to your zen garden. There are so many different types of rock and they can almost all be used to create a Sanzon-ishigumi. A Sanzon-ishigumi is a decorative stone triad in Japanese gardening that represents a deity and two supporters on the side. Arranging landscaping rocks in this way can bring a sense of calm and connection to the spiritual world.


Plants are another important element of traditional Japanese gardening. Choosing the right plants is essential since they will be a big part of the garden itself, and they should be easy to maintain and fit in with your style. There are very few rules to a zen garden, it should just be a place where you feel happy and comfortable, and your plants should reflect that. Flowers and trees should also be added in accordance to your own taste. The Bonsai tree is a staple of Japanese gardening and can be grown in a small container if you don’t have a lot of space or patience for planting trees. 

Step 2: Design Your Garden

Large Professional Zen Garden
Image credits: timtak via Creative Commons

Keep it Simple

The goal of a zen garden is to make it as simple as possible. Clutter and disorganization are big no-nos with this sort of project. Luckily, simplicity is very inexpensive, and you don’t need a lot of money to achieve this goal.

Pick a Good Location

Location is also important for a zen garden, and you should build your garden in a place that makes you feel safe and comfortable. If you are planning on watching the sunrise or set from your garden, make sure it is located in a place that is optimal for this kind of viewing. Carefully consider the location to make your zen garden as effective as possible.

Make it Meaningful 

The only thing that matters with a zen garden is that it has to fit your taste. You do not have to make it very traditional if you don’t want to. You can instead create a space that is meaningful to you. Find plants and statues that will remind you of things that have meaning and will help you feel at peace in your garden.

Step 3: Add Features

Zen Garden Water Feature
Image credits: Ronald Douglas Frazier via Creative Commons

Water Features

While traditional zen gardens are just made up of stones, Japanese gardening makes heavy use of water. Water can be a helpful element with peace and going with the flow. Many people feel that a water feature can help with the energy of a space. They also do not necessarily need to be expensive. A low-cost water feature can be bought for less than $50 and can step up your zen garden.


Bridges are essential to Japanese gardening. They represent crossing over from one state of mind to the next and can be a big help in walking meditation. Even if you don’t have room for an actual working bridge, small versions can be bought that are great objects for reflection on the nature of the mind and how it can be changed.


Lighting in your zen garden is incredibly important, especially if you plan on sitting in it at night. Choose lighting that has an air of magic about it and a little bit of whimsy. String lighting is perfect for this kind of application, and you can find inexpensive, battery-powered lights that will be easy to install.


Choose some statues that represent things that make you feel at peace and tranquil. They do not need to be religious if you don’t want them to be. They need to make you feel a certain way that will be conducive to happiness and relaxation.

Step 4: Care for and Maintain Your Garden

Once your zen garden is installed, it will have to be regularly maintained. Luckily, one of the main purposes of Japanese gardening is keeping it up and finding tranquility through the simple activity of caring for your space.

Rake Gravel

If you have installed gravel in your garden, you can use a wide-toothed rake to keep the rocks in order and within their particular borders. Not only will this keep the patterns and shapes of the garden together, but it will also help you focus your mind on one task and keep you centered and calm as you keep it up.

Trim Vegetation

You will also have to keep any vegetation pruned and trimmed. Shrubs and plants can quickly grow out of their intended space if they are not properly cared for. This can disrupt the harmony of your garden’s shapes and patterns.

Install Drainage

Drainage is another important aspect of zen garden maintenance. When it rains, make sure that standing water does not sit on top of the gravel or in the receptacles of any plants. Install drain pipes at the bottom of any grades and place filters in them to ensure that they don’t get clogged with twigs and other debris.

Enjoying Your Zen Garden

Zen gardens are a great addition to any home. If you are interested in creating a mindful, specific space, all you need to do is think about what can bring you that feeling. Arrange it however you want and make sure that it is personal to you.

You don’t need a lot of money to create something peaceful and effective in your backyard. All you need is a good idea of what you want and what makes you feel centered and in harmony with nature. The right elements in a zen garden can make all the difference, and creating one will do wonders for your mental health and feelings of oneness.