25 Tips for Planning the Perfect Garden

Updated: Sep. 08, 2023

Follow these 25 perfect garden tips to sketch out garden landscapes that are sure to flourish with minimal upkeep and without pricey do-overs.

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shutterstock_20147953 backyard landscaping layout plan
Scott E. Feuer/Shutterstock

Planning the Perfect Garden

Die-hard gardeners will tell you that a garden is a work in progress. Even established gardens require a little tweaking from season to season. But if you thoughtfully plan before you plant, your landscape will beautifully endure for years to come without costly and time-consuming alterations or additions.

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Removing rootbound evergreen tree from pot
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Take Advantage of Leafless Panoramas

With most trees and shrubs showing only bare bones, winter is a fine time for spotting ho-hum holes in your landscape. Check for areas that could use a punch of winter interest—consider adding evergreens, berry-bearing shrubs and trees with interesting forms or bark to boost four-season appeal.

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butterfly on sunflower
Birds and Blooms

Know Your Site

Spend a day or two checking how many hours of sun your gardens receive each day to ensure you incorporate light-appropriate plants into your design. Keep in mind that full-sun plants require at least 6 hours of sun, partial-shade plants need between 3 and 6 hours and shade-tolerant plants benefit from 2 or 3 hours of direct light or from receiving indirect or filtered light all day.

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garden archway trellis rebar
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Consider the Big Picture

Sketch out an overall picture of your yard, including entertainment areas, your house and other buildings. Enlarge the sketch and mark off existing landscape features like trees, shrubs and gardens. Pencil in proposed plantings to see how they fit within the existing landscape.

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Borders and Edging gravel path brick
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Allow Plenty of Room

Design extra-deep borders large enough to house an array of low, medium and tall plants and that allow you extra space to add more plants as the mood strikes.

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rain garden figure a
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Pace Off Measurements

Before you sketch, estimate the amount of space you wish to dedicate to a planting bed. Use the measurements to draw a blueprint to scale on graph paper. Keeping in mind plants’ mature sizes, pencil in desired plants to get a realistic idea of how many you can fit into the space.

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mini-garden impatiens and wizard mix coleus flowers

Color in the Lines

On your plan, use markers, watercolors or colored pencils to color in existing plantings. Then color in your planned additions to make certain that the old and new hues complement each other.

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hardscaping landscaping
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Make Like a Landscape Pro

Design gardens that carry the eye from earth to sky. Anchor borders and beds with structural plants, such as trees or tall shrubs, and then layer in climbing vines, smaller shrubs, varying-height perennials and sprawling ground covers.

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trim shrubs

Settle on a Style

Determine whether you’re going for a clipped formal look, casual cottage appeal, a native prairie or a combination of styles.

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Pick a Palette

Are you partial to pastels? Do red-hot hues get your creative juices flowing? Working within a color scheme will help you set a cohesive scene and prevent you from buying unsuitable plants in weaker moments.

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mark hole with hose and paint digging pond

Lay the Groundwork

When planning your design, include pathways, arbors, ponds, large containers, fountains, statuary and garden benches that draw both foot traffic and attention through the garden.

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mulch and perennials
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Cultivate Perennials for Pennies

Designate a sunny corner for growing perennials from seed. Sow the seeds in early spring, and by mid- to late summer, you’ll have loads of plants to fill out your borders.

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raised gardens
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Add Raised Beds for Vegetable, Herb and Cutting Gardens

Growing your own produce and easy-care annual flowers for summer arrangements saves money. Plus, raised beds take less time to weed.

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Create a Budget

Determine how much you want to spend for this year’s plantings, mulch and soil amendments. Learn more in our mulch guide. Plan on putting in paths and buying the larger, structural plants first. When budgets are tight, think about filling in your design over the course of several years.

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grandma in the garden gardening

Reiterate a Scheme

Plan on replicating plant forms, colors and textures to easily fashion flow, a sense of movement and a harmonious whole garden.

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pink roses on white fence
Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock

Forget the Finicky

Opt to include native plants or ones that are hardy and reliable in your planting zone—you won’t have to replace them down the road.

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Panicle Hydrangea flowering shrub
My Rubio Garden/Shutterstock

Look for Deals

Many spring garden catalogs offer inexpensive bare-root forsythia, hydrangea and red-twig dogwood saplings. The stick-like, rooted saplings take a few years to fill out and flower, but their bargain-basement prices allow you to mass their forms inexpensively or to add them throughout the landscape as a repeating element.

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Hosta shrub

Invest in Gardener’s Gold

Incorporate plants—such as daylily, hosta, bearded iris, bee balm, purple coneflower and yarrow—that you can divide in a few years for more plants.

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shutterstock_163190240 kale in fall container flower pot
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Think Foliage, Not Flowers

Sketch in plants with silver, gray, chartreuse, variegated and bright-colored foliage for gardens that remain colorful as flowers fade.

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flowers garden bloom

Consider Every Season

Slot in plants with different bloom times to ensure a succession of blossoms throughout the year.

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Plant a Living Wall

Pencil in trellises, hedges and plant groupings to camouflage unattractive views, define garden rooms and buffer traffic noise.

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Supersize It

You’ll fill a lot of space without spending big bucks if you include large, quick-growing plants, such as Russian sage, fountain grasses, Autumn Joy sedum, hydrangea and shrub roses like Carefree Delight, Knock Out and Magic Carpet.

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Contemplate Companions

Peruse garden books, plant catalogs and search online for garden images that showcase appealing plant combinations that you can duplicate in your design.

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flowering cactus garden
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Pair Like-Minded Plants

Group those with similar light, water and soil requirements together—if you plant water-thirsty cultivars with drought-tolerant plants, you’re sure to lose one or both to either too-dry conditions or root rot.

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Enhance the Wow Factor

Add one or two plant groupings or shrubs for curb appeal that are sure to stop passersby in their tracks.

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Vary Forms and Textures

Incorporate plants with ferny fronds, grassy spires, coarse spikes, fuzzy foliage, waxy surfaces and broad leaves in varying mounded, cascading and upright forms.