7 Landscape Design Tips for Beginners

Follow our beginner-friendly gardening landscaping tips to turn your yard into a blooming paradise and get advice for personalizing your outdoor space.

If you've never tried your hand at designing a landscape before, you might find all the choices you can make a bit overwhelming. Which plants do you want to include, and where should they go? Should bed lines and paths curve or run in a straight line? And what about accessories such as stylish benches, eye-catching planters, and birdbaths to attract colorful wildlife? It can help to think of a space in your yard as you would a room inside your home because many of the same principles that guide your room setup inside can guide your designs outside, too. Here are seven considerations that will help get your new landscaping project off to a super start.

backyard deck orange umbrellas
Bob Stefko

1. Determine Landscape Needs and Wants

Make a list of needs and wants. Do your kids need a play space? Do you want to grow vegetables? Would your family enjoy gathering on a patio around a fire pit table (like this Better Homes & Gardens Carter Hills Propane Fire Pit Table, $349, Walmart)? Do some very rough sketches of the yard with thoughts of where you want to place things; it's a great organizing principle for landscape design for beginners. They don't need to be master plans (they can just be ideas), according to Marianne Lipanovich, author of the Big Book of Garden Designs. Her sketch for her front yard landscape design overhaul was just a few lines and a couple of circles. You can easily play around with ideas without a lot of time and commitment.

2. Think About Location

Study the sun and wind patterns. You might want to place a patio on the west side of the house, but it will get lots of afternoon sun, which means dinnertime in August could be unpleasantly hot. And wind whistling around a corner will quickly extinguish a fire pit. Those are common mistakes in backyard landscape design for beginners. Your design should take into account what the sun and wind do at different times of the day and year before setting out patio furniture (such as this Better Homes & Gardens Willow Sage All-Weather Wicker Outdoor Cuddle Chair and Ottoman Set, $369, Walmart). It's also a good idea to find out your Hardiness Zone and do a soil test before planting.

3. Spend Time in Your Landscape

Coming to quick conclusions about your yard can lead to choices that don't work in the long term. Live with it for a while before making any changes. After spending more time outdoors, you'll start to see areas where you want to go and sit that you wouldn't have thought of at first, Lipanovich says. Select patio furniture and accessories (such as this Better Homes & Gardens Davenport Outdoor Console Table, $347, Walmart) that are flexible and could work in several areas of your yard.

4. Start Small

Sure, complete outdoor makeovers can happen in just three days on your favorite home and garden show, but they have a huge crew to handle the heavy lifting, which is not a situation enjoyed by most beginner home gardeners. Part of creating a landscape you'll love is slowly developing a plan and enjoying the process. From your master plan, start with a small flower bed. Go out and work on it for an hour or two when you have the time, and worry less about filling everything up right away. Lipanovich notes that when you take your time with your DIY landscape design, you're less likely to get sloppy or resort to shortcuts you'll regret later.

garden firepit outside backyard irrigation
Marion Brenner

5. Find a Focal Point

Any good garden design has a focal point or series of focal points, and it's an easy principle to put in place. That may be a sculpture or a stunning tree or a series of shrubs. Let the design draw your eyes around the landscape, Lipanovich says.

6. Focus on Scale and Pacing

It's the trickiest principle in landscape design for beginners, but scale and pacing give your yard a pulled-together look. There will be variations in size, shape, and color, with tall plants against a building or in the back of a flowerbed, and paths that lead people through the space. Lipanovich emphasizes the importance of finding a good balance between repetition and new elements. Repetition gives a sense of cohesion, but you also don't want it to be monotonous. An occasional new element is better than having all different elements throughout.

7. Be Open to Change

Unless you're strongly devoted to something, be honest about what's working for you and what's not in your design. Even Lipanovich has found herself discovering elements she once liked that no longer reflect her style. It's okay to experiment and edit as you go.

Remember: Patience is key to landscape design for beginners. If all of that bare space is too much to look at, and the kids and dogs are tracking in mud, rely on temporary solutions, for example, plunking down some annuals, mulch, and fast-growing groundcovers, to cover an area while you're figuring out what you want. Lipanovich also recommends using annuals and small perennials around larger plants that need time to grow and fill in. You can always dig them up and move them somewhere else if you realize they're in the wrong spot later on.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much does designing a landscape cost?

    The exact cost of designing a landscape can vary greatly depending on the size of your yard, the scope of your plans, and the cost of plants in your area. On the low end, expect to spend around $1,000 for a pro-vetted plan and plants, all the way up to $10,000 or more.

  • What are the essential elements of a landscape design?

    Landscape design centers around five main principals—texture, color, scale, line, and form. Professional designers rely on these cornerstones to develop a design that is beautiful, timeless, balanced, and seasonally appropriate.

  • What are some popular styles for a landscape design?

    Just like home decor styles, there are a myriad of landscape design styles homeowners can choose from. Some of the most popular (and identifiable) include English garden, Japanese garden, French garden, and native garden.

  • What can a professional landscape designer help me do?

    A professional landscape designer can be a helpful addition to your team, particularly if you're starting your home's exterior from scratch. Not only can they help you devise the ideal layout for your home and style, but they can also point you in the direction of the right plants for your area and help with care tips.

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