Image: Amy Kinkead

Whether enjoying our morning coffee, hosting an impromptu virtual happy hour, or giving the kids some much-needed pool time, Houstonians are spending more time than ever on our patios. We have to be to stay sane.

Since we’re utilizing our outdoor spaces more often, you may want to freshen yours up a little. We’ve consulted the pros on five projects you can do yourself—but don’t be daunted.

Says Jake Turner, cofounder of design and build company Everything Outdoors of Houston: “A lot of this stuff is homeowner-friendly.” Sounds great to us.

Rehab your greenery

“Plants can get stressed this time of year,” says Zach Buchanan of Buchanan’s Native Plants in the Heights. You can avoid a sad, droopy garden with once-weekly deep soaks (long enough for the water to filter out the bottom of potted plants; about 30 minutes for larger garden plots) instead of daily morning watering. Just one soak, says Buchanan, “makes a strong, more resilient plant.”

Don’t have plants at all? You've still got time. “It’s the last month to start pumpkins,” says Buchanan. And if you’re not up to growing anything from seed, perk up the patio with a starter plant: salvia, esperanza, pentas, gaura, cactus, and rosemary can withstand the summer heat and are drought-resistant.

Administer a wellness shot

Giving everything from potted plants and veggies to shrubs and the lawn a dose of organic amendments—nutrient-rich seaweed, molasses, or compost—improves the condition of the soil and even the plant’s biology, says Buchanan, “ultimately making the plant more successful, no matter what it is.” And one more thing: if you put mulch down in spring, now’s a good time to refresh it to keep plants cool and retain moisture in the soil.

Throw some shade

“Pergolas are pretty easy to build,” says Turner. “It’s just four posts, and you’re stacking on each other.” If you dare to build, use weather-resistant cedar for the entire structure, and consider a Polygal roof instead of the standard slatted style. It’s a thick, multi-wall sheeting that lets sunlight in but not the rain. If you don’t feel that handy, a fashionable sun-sail or other canvas topper works just as well, though you’ll have to remove it for periodic power washings.

Get cookin’

Installing an outdoor kitchen can be a game-changer for home cooks. Plus, the most basic kitchen setup is available as a DIY kit with a drop-in (or built-in) grill (Turner recommends Blaze Grills), counter space, and upgrades—a fridge, a sink, even a hibachi.

But Turner urges caution if you're mulling over putting in something more fancy, like a stone workstation with a granite countertop customization. Says Turner, “I wouldn’t recommend homeowners do that themselves.” That kind of job is likely to start at around $12,000.

Plan ahead for fall

Over the past five years or so, fire pits have become, you know, a hot item. “It creates an ambience outside, and a gathering place for friends and family,” says Turner.

The easiest way to build one? You guessed it—with a kit. Companies like Belgard will even customize your pit’s colors, textures, and shapes, but you can still install it. After about 30 minutes of work, you’ll be all set for our first cold front.

Of course, we won’t judge you for firing it up in summer—just respect any social distancing recommendations that may still be in effect before inviting the neighbors to come gather round to sweat and roast marshmallows.

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