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The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Landscape Design

Landscape design plays a pivotal role in creating an inviting and aesthetically pleasing outdoor space. A well-thought-out design can transform your outdoor area into a haven of beauty and tranquility. In this beginner’s guide, we will take a comprehensive look at the art and science of landscape design.

Understanding the Basics of Landscape Design

Before you grab your shovel and start planting, it’s essential to understand the fundamental principles of general landscape design. These principles serve as the foundation for creating harmonious and visually appealing outdoor spaces.

Unity and Harmony

Unity in landscape design refers to the coherence and consistency of the elements used. Aim for a harmonious flow by repeating certain colors, textures, or shapes throughout your design.

You will achieve harmony when all elements work together to create a unified and balanced whole.


There are two types of balance: symmetrical and asymmetrical. Symmetrical balance involves mirroring elements on either side of a central point, creating a formal look. Asymmetrical balance, on the other hand, is more relaxed and involves distributing visual weight without perfect symmetry.

Three rocks balanced on top of each other in the lawn

Focal Point

Focal Point

A focal point is a central element that draws attention and adds interest to your design. It could be a striking plant, a sculpture, or even a seating area. It is an intentional design element to draw the eyes and make the viewer take notice.

Proportion and Scale

  • Proportion refers to the size relationship between different elements. Ensure that the size of plants, structures, and other features is proportionate to the overall space.
  • Scale, on the other hand, considers the size of elements in relation to human perception. A large garden in a small backyard might feel overwhelming, so pay attention to scale. Finding the right proportion and scale is essential. 

Assessing Your Outdoor Space

Once you have a grasp on the basics, it’s time to assess your outdoor space. Take a few steps back and observe the following aspects.

Sun and Shade

Identify areas that receive direct sunlight and those that are shaded. Different plants thrive in different light conditions, so this information will guide your plant selection.


stone staircase in beautiful backyard landscape

Make note of any slopes, hills, or flat areas in your spaces. Understanding the topography will help you plan drainage and choose plants that suit the landscape. Following the natural topography also gives your design a natural feel and flow.

Make note of any slopes, hills, or flat areas in your spaces. Understanding the topography will help you plan drainage and choose plants that suit the landscape. Following the natural topography also gives your design a natural feel and flow.

Existing Features

Take stock of existing elements such as trees, shrubs, and structures. Decide which elements you want to keep and incorporate into your design.

Utility Areas

Consider the practical aspects of your outdoor space, such as access points, seating areas, and storage. Integrate these functional elements seamlessly into your design.

Creating a Conceptual Plan

With a clear understanding of your space, it’s time to sketch a conceptual plan. That may sound daunting, but we’re not looking for Rembrandt-level artwork – a simple outline will suffice. As you design your landscape, include the following elements.

Main Features

Identify the main features of your landscape, such as planting beds, pathways, and seating areas.

Planting Zones

Allocate areas for different types of plants based on their light and water requirements. Create a zone map to plan and organize plant placements.

Focal Points

Decide where you want to place focal points to create visual interest.


Plan the flow of your landscape. Consider how people will move through the space and where they will linger.

Selecting Plants for Your Landscape Design

Now comes the exciting part – choosing the plants that will bring your landscaping plan to life. Follow these tips for plant selection.

Climate Considerations

Choose plants that thrive in your climate. Consider factors such as temperature, rainfall, and humidity. 

Color and Texture

Use a variety of plants to create visual interest. An assortment of smaller and larger plants will give you versatility. Consider also the color and texture of both leaves and flowers.

Seasonal Interest

Select plants that offer interest throughout the seasons. This ensures that your landscape is vibrant year-round.


Be realistic about the amount of time you can dedicate to maintenance. Choose plants that fit your maintenance preferences, whether low or high.

Implementing Your Landscape Design

With a final plan and plant selection behind you, it’s time to put your design into action. Follow our step-by-step guide.

1. Prepare the Soil
Ensure that your soil is healthy and well-draining and pay attention to pH levels. Amend your soil with compost or other organic matter as needed.

2. Planting
Follow planting guidelines for each type of plant. Pay attention to spacing to allow for growth.

trailer filled with mulch behind truck

3. Mulching
Apply a layer of mulch in the flower beds and around plants to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and improve the soil.

4. Irrigation
Set up an irrigation system or plan a watering schedule to keep your plants hydrated.

5. Hardscaping
If your design includes features like pathways, patios, or walls, start implementing these hardscape elements.

6. Finishing Touches
Add decorative elements such as outdoor furniture, lighting, and accessories to complete the look.

Maintenance and Long-Term Care

Congratulations, you’ve successfully brought your landscaping project to life! However, your journey has only just begun. Regular maintenance is crucial to ensure your outdoor space continues to thrive. Get started with the following maintenance tips.

  1. Watering:
    Monitor the moisture levels of the soil and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
  2. Pruning and Trimming: Prune plants to encourage healthy growth and remove dead or damaged branches. Trim back individual plants that have overgrown as needed.
  3. Weeding:
    Keep an eye out for weeds and remove them promptly. This will prevent them from competing with your plants for nutrients, sunlight, and water.
  4. Fertilizing:
    Provide nutrients to your plants by fertilizing according to their specific needs.
  5. Maintaining Your Lawn:
    Your lawn is the easel on which you display your landscape design ideas. Proper backyard and front yard lawn maintenance is essential to keeping your landscape looking amazing.
  6. Seasonal Updates: Make seasonal adjustments to your landscape, such as changing out annual plants or adding seasonal decorations.

Enjoying the Fruits of Your Labor

Starting your landscape design as a beginner may seem daunting. However, with the right knowledge and a bit of creativity, you can create a stunning outdoor space that reflects your personal style. Remember, landscape design is a dynamic and evolving process. As your plants grow and your tastes evolve, feel free to make adjustments to keep your outdoor space vibrant and enjoyable.

After all, you are creating intentional ambiance for you and your loved ones to spend time together. Get ready to roll up your sleeves and watch as your landscape transforms into that beautiful masterpiece you envision.



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