DIY Landscape Design: How to Get Started

Landscape design is part science, part art. The science part means looking at the site, making any needed modifications, and choosing plants that fit the conditions. The art is about making something out of your imagination. So let’s get started!

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Landscape design is part science, part art. The science part means looking at the site, making any needed modifications, and choosing plants that fit the conditions. The art is about making something out of your imagination. So let’s get started!

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Write down your goals. What do you want to accomplish? Landscape around a deck or patio? Create a spot for entertaining? Have a combination edible/ornamental garden? Here are 17 great tips for landscaping your backyard.

Start collecting ideas. Look at garden magazines, garden-related websites, Pinterest. Walk around the neighborhood. Visit botanical gardens. Go on garden tours. Get a feeling for what appeals to you in terms of hardscaping, plants and garden style (for instance, rustic vs. contemporary).

Study your site. Walk around the area you plan to landscape. Study it at different times of day and in different conditions. Notice how long it’s in sunlight and what time of day (morning sunshine is gentler on plants because temperatures are lower). Any drainage issues after rain? If so, your landscape plan will need to address them—either with a drainage solution such as a French drain or with plants that like soggy conditions. See how to achieve better yard drainage.

Plot out a plan. Measure the area you want to landscape and plot out where things would go: a path here, a hedge there. Use hoses or rope to make imaginary boundaries for planting beds and items sitting around the garage to represent larger plants like shrubs and trees. This helps you imagine where larger plants would go in relation to the rest of the landscape. Discover excellent tips for DIY backyard landscaping projects.

Choose your plants. You know what the conditions are like (e.g., morning sunlight, afternoon shade, good drainage) and you know how much space you have available. Now start choosing plants. You can research them online, in plant catalogs or at the nursery, where each plant will have a tag telling you what conditions it prefers and how big it will get at maturity. A nursery visit is great because you can place several plants next to each other to get a better idea of what partners work well together. Plus, you don’t get your heart set on a plant only to find out it’s not available in your area.

Design your landscape. You can pencil it out on grid paper with circles representing the mature size of plants. Or you can design a landscape with any number of computer programs available. This can be a fun exercise and good programs allow you to design on a grid, then view the results in a 3-dimensional rendering. You can even add hardscaping elements and garden accessories such as benches and fountains. Check out these hardscaping and design ideas for your yard.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.