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Beginner’s Guide to Landscaping

If beginning a new landscape has you stumped, you aren’t alone. It can be challenging to know where to start, whether you are dealing with a blank slate or looking to change things up a bit in the yard. Check out our beginner’s guide to landscaping, where we will highlight some key planning elements and points to ponder when creating your front and backyard oasis.

Modern patio garden lounge with a pond.

Planning A Landscape

One of the essential parts of the landscaping process is planning. If you don’t already have one, allocate a notebook as a landscaping or garden journal. As you see things that inspire you, have ideas, and learn along the way, you can jot notes and sketches in your journal for future reference. It’s a great way to keep track of your goals, dreams and help you overcome past mistakes.

Sketch A Landscape Design

If you are looking to design your landscape, start by sketching out a map of your yard. Include hardscape items that will remain in place throughout the project.  This includes walkways, patios, structures, developed trees, pools, and other permanent pieces.  Later, you can add structures that you’d like to include in your future plans.

Make some copies of your main sketch so you can draw out some different scenarios as you make decisions on where you’d like to move forward.

Observe Your Current Landscape

Take some time to sit out in your yard and just observe with your garden journal in hand. Note the landscape features like hills, low spots, and privacy considerations. Note how the sun moves around your property and where the full shade and full sun areas are located, and write them on your map. It’s an excellent time to identify your irrigation needs of proposed planting beds relative to the location of your water sources.

Research Landscaping

Pick up some gardening magazines, watch some home and garden shows, visit a horticulture show or check out your favorite websites for some design inspiration. Take a ride through town and make a note of any shrubs, styles, structures, or ideas that you’d like to try.

Set Goals For Your Landscaping Project

Set your goals for your landscaping project. Consider your current needs and dream big about future plans for your yard. Gardens and landscapes are a constant work in progress. Sketch out some ideas on your landscape map in your garden journal.

Some garden goals might include things like:

Landscape Design Ideas

Take a look at your home’s architecture and think about what kind of design you crave before you select plants, dig out garden beds, add structures, or plan pathways.

  • Clean, straight lines give a more modern appeal. Ornamental grasses and shrubs and more monochromatic color schemes suit this style nicely.
  • Curvy garden beds and pathways have a more natural feel.
  • Hedges can help create a friendly privacy barrier.
  • Would a fence help your privacy or safety needs? Many fence varieties are available from the stockade, picket, wrought iron, chain link, and post and beam.
  • Think about your pathways. Pavers have a clean and formal look, crush stone looks more casual, and stepping stones can add a whimsical way to get from here to there.
  • Map out your landscape design with twine, chalk spray, or even your garden hose before you start digging.
  • Lighting! Think about how you will light up entertaining spaces and walkways.
Stone wall, steps and planter on colorful, landscaped garden.

How To Set A Landscaping Budget

Now that you’ve allowed yourself to dream, it’s time to determine what you can reasonably afford to allocate toward your landscaping budget.  Keep in mind that good things are worth waiting for, and it is best to start small.  If you try to do it all at once, you will lose some of the joy in the process, and you may be tempted to stop working before the project is complete.

  • What projects will you be doing yourself?
  • Which projects require a contractor or landscape architect?
  • Price out material costs and plant costs.
  • Budget isn’t just about money. It’s also about time. How much time will each project take, and how much time can you spend on the tasks yourself?
  • Will a landscaper be necessary for upkeep?

Selecting Plants For Your Landscape

Plant selection is a crucial element of landscape design. It is essential to consider what types of plants you would like to have in your space.

  • Annuals will need to be added to the garden beds each season; it is recommended to mix garden beds with both annuals and perennials, so you aren’t starting from scratch year to year.
  • Perennial plants will come back bigger and stronger each year. Many types spread and can be divided in a few years to enhance your landscape further.  They are a significant investment in future gardens, so think ahead when purchasing plants.
  • Height matters when planting a garden. Always check your plant selection’s garden tag to assess its mature height—plant with thoughts of growing potential. Place taller varieties toward the rear of the garden but not obstructing windows.  Shorter border plants can be along the edges, and midsized plants can stagger in between.
  • If you are planning a climbing plant variety, consider what structures you will need to support it. Trellises, pergolas, arbors can make great focal points for climbing vines.
  • Provide adequate spacing, especially for perennials, trees, and shrubs. They may start out small, but they can really fill out space, and overcrowding can be a future problem.
  • Determine your color scheme and textures for your plantings. Do you prefer many different varieties or a more subtle mixing of hues?
  • Planting plants in odd-numbered groupings tend to have more visual appeal than even-numbered.

Planting Trees In Your Landscape

Planting trees can make beautiful additions to your landscape and add much-needed shade to your yard, and when strategically placed, they can even help reduce energy costs for your home.

  • Plant trees to shade paved areas. The sun’s heat strikes dark pavement like asphalt and is absorbed, causing the air and structures around them to be heated.
  • Planting trees on the east, west, and northwest sides of your home can help reduce heating costs significantly in the summer months.
  • Avoid planting trees near your home’s foundation. Transplants could grow to have extensive roots and can cause problems for homeowners. Planting too close to foundations and underground pipes and lines can cause damage to your foundation, requiring pricey repairs.
  • Plant small trees no closer to your home than 15 feet.
  • Plant medium or large trees no closer than 30 feet to 50 feet.
Welcome sign on colorful garden.

Encouraging Wildlife in Your Landscape Design

Don’t forget about the wildlife as you plan out your landscape design. Inviting birds to your backyard and pollinators helps create a wildlife habitat and significantly helps control the insect population, protecting your plants.

Here are some things to do to help bring a bit of nature into your yard:

  • Fill up some bird feeders or hang some suet and watch the array of birds that flock to the feast.
  • Add a hummingbird feeder!
  • Plant perennials like salvia, bee balm, rudbeckia, Shasta daisies, and other flowering favorites of hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.
  • Add a birdbath.
  • Add a birdhouse or two to help provide a safe new home for nesting.
  • Plant sunflower seeds so that the birds can enjoy the seeds in late summer.

Anticipated Landscape Maintenance

Before starting any project, consider the amount of time and effort you will need to maintain the space. Lawn mowing, weeding, mulching, pruning are all significant parts of landscaping. It’s best to start small and achieve success with a manageable space rather than carve out tons of garden beds that will look unkempt and weedy from lack of maintenance.

Be realistic about what time and desire you have to work in the garden throughout the year before you dive in on this beginner’s guide to landscaping.

Landscaping Safety

It is always important to ‘call before you dig.’ Most states have a call before you dig a program where utility companies will come to your home and flag any buried lines.  This is crucial for the safety of all so that you don’t sever gas or electrical conduits. Additionally, tree roots can cause severe damage to underground pipes and lines, such as gas, phone, cable, and electricity.


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beautiful green landscape with pond
landscape with ornamental grasses

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