Landscape Design: A How-To Guide For Beginners

using hardscape to enhance your landscape design

Imagine stepping into your backyard and being greeted by a beautifully designed landscape that perfectly complements your home. Creating your dream landscape may seem overwhelming, but with the right guidance, even beginners can successfully design their outdoor oasis. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the essential components of landscape design, offer tips on how to create a space tailored to your needs, and provide valuable insights into working with landscape professionals or taking on a DIY landscaping project.

Key Takeaways

  • Landscape design involves combining hardscape features, softscape components and water elements to create a visually appealing outdoor space.

  • Assessing your yard’s potential, establishing a purpose for the space, setting a budget and timeline are essential steps in landscape design.

  • DIY tips include sketching ideas, visiting garden centers for inspiration and breaking the project into manageable steps.

Understanding Landscape Design Elements

A well-designed landscape is a harmonious blend of hardscape features, softscape components, and water elements that create a visually appealing and functional outdoor space. Landscape designers play a crucial role in generating a sustainable and aesthetically pleasing landscape, which enhances your property’s curb appeal and provides a relaxing environment, by understanding the fundamentals of landscape design, such as color, line, and texture.

Hardscape Features

Hardscape features are the backbone of your landscape design, providing structure and functionality to your outdoor space. These non-living elements include pathways, patios, walls, and structures such as pergolas and gazebos. Residential landscape designs often incorporate driveways, stone patios, walkways, retaining walls, decks, fences, outdoor kitchens, fire pits, and swimming pools. These features not only define spaces and establish focal points but also provide support for other components in the landscape, creating a cohesive and visually appealing design.

Softscape Components

Softscape components breathe life into your landscape, adding color, texture, and vitality to your outdoor space. These living elements consist of plants, trees, and shrubs that provide contrast and interest to your design. The diverse array of plants used in softscape designs includes:

  • Shade trees

  • Evergreen trees

  • Flowering trees

  • Ornamental trees

  • Shrubs such as saucer magnolia, sweetbay magnolia, dogwood, redbud, oaks, maples, and arborvitaes.

Arranging softscape components with various colors, textures, and sizes forms a harmonious composition in flower beds, adding depth and dimension to the overall design, and creates a visually captivating landscape.

Carefully consider factors such as:

  • soil type

  • sunlight exposure

  • growth patterns

  • climate

  • maintenance requirements

When selecting softscape components for your garden, consider the overall garden design.

Water Elements

using fountain features to enhance your landscape design

Water elements, such as ponds, fountains, and waterfalls, can significantly enhance the overall aesthetic and ambiance of your landscape design. When installing a pond in your garden, consider the following factors:

  • Location

  • Depth

  • Type of pond

  • Permits

  • Water source

  • Soil conditions

  • Desired shape and size

Considering these factors will help ensure a successful installation.

Other water features, like streams, water walls, and rain gardens, can also be incorporated into your landscape design to create a soothing and refreshing atmosphere. As with any landscape element, careful planning and consultation with local regulations and professional advice are crucial for the successful installation of water elements.

Creating an Outdoor Space for Your Needs

Designing an outdoor space tailored to your needs involves more than just selecting the right plants and hardscape features. It also requires assessing your yard’s potential, establishing a purpose for your outdoor space, and setting a budget and timeline for the project.

By taking these factors into consideration, you can create a landscape that not only enhances the beauty of your property but also meets your unique needs and preferences.

Assessing Your Yard’s Potential

Evaluating your yard’s potential by considering factors such as:

  • regional climate

  • topography

  • soil type

  • microclimate

is key to creating a successful landscape design. Proper water management is also crucial, as encouraging water movement away from your home can help prevent damage to the foundation.

Microclimates, the specific conditions in your yard determined by the amount and duration of sun and shade exposure, play a significant role in the selection of plants for your landscape, as different plants thrive in different microclimates.

Establishing a Purpose for Your Outdoor Space

Creating a landscape that meets your needs and preferences starts with determining the primary purpose of your outdoor space. Consider how you and your family will use the area – will children be playing in the yard? Do you have pets? Are you looking to entertain guests outdoors?

To design an outdoor space for entertainment, for example, consider incorporating the following elements:

  • Expanding seating areas

  • Incorporating an edible garden

  • Utilizing layered lighting

  • Integrating features such as a fire pit and hammock

  • Augmenting privacy

  • Incorporating decor items for a cozy atmosphere

Setting a Budget and Timeline

A clear budget should be established in advance when designing a landscape, allowing the designer to propose the most suitable options. To calculate costs for materials and labor in landscape design projects, follow these steps:

  1. Establish a project plan.

  2. Calculate overhead costs.

  3. Calculate material costs.

  4. Estimate labor costs.

  5. Calculate total costs by adding up material and labor costs.

  6. You may also want to consider adding a markup percentage for profit.

Several factors can influence the timeline of a landscape design project, such as:

  • The size of the project

  • Changes in design

  • Weather conditions

  • Terrain restrictions

  • The availability of resources and personnel

Ensuring a smooth and efficient landscaping project requires setting a realistic budget and timeline.

Choosing the Right Plants for Your Landscape

using plants to enhance your landscape design

Creating a visually appealing and sustainable outdoor space that complements your home and enhances your overall landscape involves selecting the perfect landscape plants for your design. This selection process involves considering more than just aesthetics, including factors such as native plants, plant size and growth patterns, and color and texture.

Native Plants

Native plants offer many benefits for your landscape design, as they are well-suited to your local climate and soil conditions, making them a sustainable and low-maintenance choice. To identify native plants in your area, you can:

  • Use online resources such as the Native Plant Finder by the National Wildlife Federation or the Audubon’s native plants database, which allow you to search for native plants specific to your location by entering your zip code.

  • Review plant lists for your state.

  • Acquire a native plant book.

  • Explore the resources provided by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

When selecting native plants, consider the soil type, as different plants are attuned to specific soil types, including elements such as soil drainage, pH, and organic content.

Plant Size and Growth Patterns

Considering the mature size and growth patterns of plants is crucial to ensure they fit well within your landscape design and do not become overcrowded. By researching the specific plants you’re interested in and measuring their growth rate, you can predict their mature size and create a balanced and visually appealing landscape.

Some plants also exhibit unique growth patterns that can add interest and variety to your design. Examples include:

  • Bamboo Plant

  • Patio Plum

  • California Firecracker

  • Green Passion

  • Bat Flower

  • Cupcake Blush

  • Harlequin Glorybower

  • Donkey Tail (Sedum Morganianum)

Color and Texture

Color and texture play a significant role in creating visual interest and harmony in landscape design. By selecting plants with varying colors and textures, you can form a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing composition. To effectively combine plant colors and textures, consider the following:

  • Establish balance by using one texture as a point of emphasis and others as accents.

  • Unite plants with complementary colors to create a harmonious color scheme.

  • Blend fine-textured plants with coarse-textured plants for variety and interest.

By following these guidelines, you can create a visually stunning landscape design that incorporates color and texture effectively.

Some plants with unique textures suitable for landscaping design include:

  • Acer Palmatum Dissectum ‘Sunset’

  • Sanguisorba Tenuifolia ‘Chocolate Tip’

  • Briza Media

  • ‘Moonshine’ Lungwort

  • ‘Storm Cloud’ Agapanthus

  • Orange New Zealand Sedge

  • ‘Lemon-Lime’ Heavenly Bamboo

  • ‘Hidcote’ English Lavender

  • ‘Rainbow Sunrise’ New Zealand Flax

  • Asian Jasmine

  • Wood Ferns

  • Mondograss

  • Canna

  • Hosta

  • Oakleaf Hydrangea

  • Elephant Ear

  • Japanese Aralia

  • Erigeron Karvinskianus

  • Heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’

  • Leptospermum ‘Ruby Glow’

  • Hydrangea Quercifolia

  • Pennisetum Alopercuroides ‘Hamelin’

  • Magnolia Soulangiana

Working with Landscape Professionals

If you prefer to work with experts, a collaboration with landscape professionals can help realize your dream landscape. This process involves:

  1. Selecting a landscape designer or architect

  2. Collaborating on a landscape plan

  3. Hiring a landscape contractor to ensure your project is completed to your satisfaction.

Selecting a Landscape Designer or Architect

Verifying the credentials and experience of a landscape designer or landscape architect is crucial when choosing a qualified professional. Landscape professionals should possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in landscape architecture and may require a valid license depending on the state.

To select a landscape designer or architect based on their experience, you can follow these steps:

  1. Consult with friends and neighbors for referrals.

  2. Assess their memberships in professional organizations.

  3. Inquire about their experience in the field.

  4. Examine their previous work and portfolio.

  5. Request a job site visit to observe their designs in person.

Collaborating on a Landscape Plan

Working closely with your chosen professional, you can develop a comprehensive landscape plan that includes hardscape features, softscape components, and water elements. The process typically involves an initial consultation to define objectives, a site assessment, a conceptual design meeting, and a final design. Open communication and addressing any challenges, such as discrepancies in vision, budgetary limitations, technical proficiency, time constraints, and stakeholder participation, are essential for a successful collaboration.

Hiring a Landscape Contractor

Hiring a reputable landscape contractor with the necessary skills, equipment, and experience is essential to bring your landscape design to life and complete the project successfully. Ensure that they are licensed, insured, and experienced in the type of project you are looking to complete, and request references and check reviews to confirm the contractor’s reputation.

The cost to hire a landscape contractor can vary depending on the size of the project and the specific tasks required, but homeowners can generally anticipate paying between $2,600 and $13,700. A careful selection of a landscape contractor ensures that your landscaping project runs smoothly and efficiently.

DIY Landscape Design Tips

diy landscape design

Several DIY tips can assist those who prefer a hands-on approach to landscape design in creating the perfect outdoor space. These tips include:

  • Sketching your ideas

  • Visiting garden centers for inspiration

  • Breaking the project into manageable steps to make the process less overwhelming and more achievable.

Sketching Your Ideas

A rough sketch of your landscape design ideas enables visualization of your dream outdoor space and facilitates necessary adjustments to your landscape plans. Utilize drafting pens and pencils, a drafting board, a T-square, a drafting chair, and paper to sketch your ideas, including the placement of hardscape features, softscape components, and water elements.

Practice and develop your drawing abilities for outdoor spaces, and use exercises and techniques to cultivate better sketching habits. Start by drawing basic shapes like rounded, oval, pyramidal, and spreading to create attractive compositions, and observe the sizes and shapes of plants to introduce contrast and visual appeal.

Visiting Garden Centers

Local garden centers are treasure troves of inspiration, providing a wealth of knowledge about plant options and the latest landscaping trends and materials. As you explore, look for plants that appeal to your tastes and are suitable for your local climate, and talk to the staff at the garden center to receive advice on the most suitable plants for your landscape.

In addition to plants, garden centers typically offer materials such as soil, mulch, pavers, decorative stone, gravel, and sand for your landscaping project.

Breaking the Project into Manageable Steps

Breaking a large landscaping project into smaller, manageable steps can make the process feel less overwhelming and more achievable. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Identify the tasks that must be accomplished to achieve your overall objective.

  2. Divide the project into major milestones or phases in a systematic and orderly manner.

  3. This approach helps ensure that the project is completed in a timely and effective manner.


In conclusion, creating a beautiful and functional landscape design is an achievable goal for beginners with the right guidance and resources. By understanding the essential components of landscape design, creating an outdoor space tailored to your needs, choosing the right plants, and working with landscape professionals or following DIY tips, you can transform your property into a visually appealing and inviting environment. Now it’s time to turn your dream landscape into a reality!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 7 principles of landscape design?

The 7 principles of landscape design consist of unity, scale, balance, simplicity, variety, emphasis, and sequence as they relate to line, form, texture, and color, interconnecting each element.

What is in landscape design?

Landscape design is a creative artistry which incorporates five key elements: line, form, texture, color and scale, as well as horticultural finesse and expertise to bring harmony and beauty to any space.

What are the main components of landscape design?

The main components of landscape design are hardscape features, softscape components, and water elements.