July 17, 2014 at 8:24 AM ET
With summer in full swing and outdoor entertaining a regular event, there's no reason you shouldn't start creating the backyard of your dreams. In fact, there's no time like the present: Besides the July sunshine, mid-summer sales on gardening supplies make it the perfect time to get beautifying. Monica Pederson, interior designer and judge of NBC's "America's Dream Builders," shared with TODAY tips for creating your own at-home oasis with just five easy, do-it-yourself projects.
1. Clean up your concrete
One of the easiest ways you can clean up your backyard is by maintaining the concrete in it — in fact, it's even easier than rolling paint on a wall. All you have to do is clean it with a good hose or a power washer, or if it has a particularly bad stain, give it a good scrub with a concrete cleaner.
To make your concrete look like new, find a stain color that matches the look of your home's exterior and that mimics new concrete. If you're looking for total coverage, make sure to seek out a solid finish stain; if you're going for patterns or variance, look instead for a translucent finish.
Once your concrete is in top shape, you can keep it that way with just some simple upkeep: Quick touches with a paint roller will do the trick. There's also no need to worry about harmful effects with concrete stains, as most stains have low VOC (volatile organic compounds), which makes them safe for family, pets and the environment.
2. Refurbish your outdoor furniture
There's no need to go out and buy new furniture for your backyard patio — with a few easy fixes, you can have your old, weathered wooden or metal furniture looking like new. For a picnic table, use a paint designed specifically for exterior wood and decking. This paint lets you skip the primer, and it gives a smooth finish that resists cracking and peeling and conceals cracks and splinters (up to 1/4-inch).
Metal furniture is also easily updated. Simply scrub off the rust, sand down the old paint, wipe off the dust and spray paint (with a paint that doesn't require priming) with your new color.
And as a tip: Keep in mind that weather and certain climates can affect your paint finishes. For instance, if you live near the ocean (or have a salt-water pool), your wood and metal finishes are highly susceptible to corrosion — just something that's helpful to remember when diving into any new project.
3. Update your back door
Often people forget that your back door gives an aesthetic effect to your house, just like your front door. And updating your door can mean whatever you want it to — whether it's a fresh coat of paint, a new light fixture or a potted plant or two.
When refinishing your door, look for a finish that's not only great-looking, but long-lasting too. And just like your furniture, the paint on your door can easily be corroded. Make sure ahead of time that you're going with a paint that works for your area's conditions.
For just $15 to $20, you can get a beautiful new light fixture for your back door (a really elegant one will cost you about $15 more). Adding a new light fixture allows you to have more warm light that's perfect for entertaining, but it's also great since it doubles as a safety precaution.
4. Add landscape lighting
Lighting up your backyard with some landscape lighting can really create a great ambiance for the space. Besides being a beautiful way to entertain outdoors at night, it also adds to the safety factor of your home by illuminating an area where your kids might play when it's dark.
Inexpensive solar lights are a great option if you get a good amount of sunlight in your backyard — they come in some beautiful options, and are also very easy to set up. But if you don't get great sunlight there, you can opt for electric lighting instead. Though it's a little costlier, it works well and provides the most light.
5. Beautify your flower bed or mulch
Besides improving your plants' root system, mulch can also transform your flowerbed from tired-looking to exciting. Opt for dark brown mulch, since it's closest in color to brown soil — this helps to keep your flowerbed looking landscaped and tidy when bad weather or high winds thin it out.
To get the biggest bang for your buck when updating or creating a flowerbed, it's again important to keep climate in mind. This can mean skipping the annuals and instead choosing shrubs (like boxwoods) that will look great year-round, or easy-care perennials (like carpet roses or hostas).