Landscape Design Basics 101: Everything You Need To Know

How do design a landcape

Embarking on the journey of landscape design can transform your outdoor space into a stunning oasis that reflects your personal style and enhances the value of your property. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a novice eager to learn, understanding the basics of landscape design is essential. At Salens Landscaping, we’re dedicated to helping you navigate this creative process, ensuring your outdoor space is not only beautiful but also functional and sustainable. This article will explore the fundamental principles of landscape design, providing you with the knowledge and inspiration to embark on your landscaping project.

landscape designs - picture of artificial turf with concrete edging with a wooden bridge
Landscape Design Basics 101: Everything You Need To Know

How to Create a Landscape Layout

Creating a landscape layout involves combining the elements of art and principles of design to map out your outdoor space effectively. Here’s a simplified approach:

  1. Gather Inspiration: Collect images and ideas that inspire you to help shape your vision.
  2. Understand Your Space: Measure your site and note any existing features, like trees or slopes, that need to be considered in the design.
  3. Define Activity Areas: Decide where you want features like a patio, garden beds, or a play area, based on how you plan to use your space.
  4. Sketch Your Design: Begin with a rough sketch to place your chosen elements within the space, keeping in mind the principles of unity, balance, and variety.
  5. Refine Your Plan: Convert your sketch into a more detailed plan, specifying plant varieties, materials, and construction details.

Understand Your Space

The first step in landscape design is to thoroughly understand your space. This involves assessing the size, shape, and topography of your property, as well as considering the climate, soil type, and existing vegetation. Pay attention to how sunlight and shade patterns change throughout the day and across seasons, as this will influence plant selection and placement.

Types of Landscapes

When planning your landscape design, it’s essential to consider the different types of landscapes that can complement your home and lifestyle. Each landscape type has its unique characteristics and benefits, catering to various preferences and functional needs. Here are some of the most popular types of landscapes:

Types of landscapes
Landscape Design Basics 101: Everything You Need To Know

1. Formal Landscapes

Formal landscapes are characterized by their symmetrical patterns, geometric shapes, and orderly placement of plants and hardscape elements. These designs often draw inspiration from classical garden styles, such as those found in French and Italian gardens. Formal landscapes require meticulous maintenance to keep their precise lines and shapes intact.

2. Informal Landscapes

Informal landscapes, in contrast, embrace a more natural and relaxed approach. They feature curving edges, random plant placement, and a mix of plant varieties that mimic nature’s randomness. This type of landscape is ideal for creating a cozy and inviting outdoor space, with lower maintenance requirements than formal landscapes.

3. Xeriscapes

Xeriscaping is a landscaping philosophy that focuses on water efficiency. It involves selecting drought-tolerant plants, improving soil quality to retain moisture, and incorporating mulches to reduce evaporation. Xeriscapes are perfect for areas with water restrictions or for homeowners looking to reduce their water usage and maintenance efforts.

4. Native Landscapes

Native landscaping centers around the use of plants that are indigenous to the local region. This type of landscape supports local ecosystems, attracts wildlife, and requires less maintenance, as native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions. Native landscapes offer a sustainable and eco-friendly approach to gardening.

Edible Landscape. An illustration of a setup of how to organize landscape we can eat
An illustration of edible landscaping.

5. Edible Landscapes

Edible landscapes integrate food-producing plants into the decorative aspects of your outdoor space. This can include fruit trees, vegetable gardens, berry bushes, and edible flowers. Edible landscapes not only provide fresh produce but also add beauty and variety to your garden.

6. Coastal Landscapes

For properties near the ocean, coastal landscapes are designed to withstand the harsh, salty conditions of the seaside environment. They often feature sand-tolerant grasses, dune plants, and other species that thrive in sandy soil and salty air. Coastal landscapes create a natural, beachy feel that complements the surrounding environment.

residential cottage house with courtyard
Landscape Design Basics 101: Everything You Need To Know

7. Cottage Gardens

Cottage gardens are known for their dense plantings, a wide variety of flowers, and an overall quaint, charming appearance. They often include a mix of ornamental and edible plants, with pathways and arbors adding structure to the design. Cottage gardens evoke a sense of whimsy and abundance.

8. Contemporary Landscapes

Contemporary landscapes are defined by their minimalist approach, using clean lines, simple plantings, and a restrained color palette. These landscapes often incorporate modern materials, such as metal and concrete, and emphasize architectural plants. Contemporary designs focus on simplicity and sophistication.

4 Major Design Principles

Effective landscape design is grounded in five key principles: unity, balance, proportion, emphasis, and rhythm.

  • Unity is achieved by using consistent materials, colors, and plant varieties, creating a cohesive look.
  • Balance can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, ensuring that no single area of the garden overwhelms another.
  • Proportion refers to the size relationship between elements within the landscape, ensuring they fit harmoniously within the overall design.
  • Emphasis involves creating focal points, such as a striking tree or water feature, to draw the eye and add interest.
  • Rhythm guides the eye through a sequence of elements, creating a sense of movement and flow.

How to Design a Landscape: A Step-by-Step Guide

Designing a landscape can be a rewarding process that enhances the beauty and functionality of your outdoor space. Here’s a systematic approach to help you design your landscape:

Step 1: Analyze Your Space

  • Assess the Area: Begin by evaluating the current state of your landscape. Consider the size, shape, and slope of your property. Identify existing features to keep or modify.
  • Understand Conditions: Take note of climate, soil type, and exposure to sun and wind. These factors will influence plant selection and placement.

Step 2: Define Your Needs and Wants

  • List Your Requirements: Determine how you want to use your space (e.g., entertainment, relaxation, gardening). Consider the needs of pets and children, as well as maintenance preferences.
  • Sketch a Rough Plan: Draw a basic outline of your yard, marking areas for different activities. This doesn’t have to be to scale initially but should help visualize the layout.

Step 3: Landscape Design With Intention

  • Choose a Style: Based on your personal preferences and the architectural style of your home, select a landscape style (e.g., formal, informal, native).
  • Create Zones: Divide your space into functional zones (e.g., dining area, play area, garden beds). Use pathways, hedges, or changes in materials to define different areas.

Step 4: Select Plants and Hardscaping Elements

  • Choose Plants Wisely: Select plants that thrive in your climate and soil. Consider their mature size, maintenance needs, and seasonal interest.
  • Incorporate Hardscaping: Decide on non-plant elements like paths, walls, and water features. These should complement the overall design and add functionality.

Step 5: Plan for Growth and Maintenance

  • Consider Growth: Allow space for plants to reach their full size. Think about how the landscape will evolve over time.
  • Maintenance Plan: Be realistic about the time and effort you can dedicate to upkeep. Choose elements and plants that fit your maintenance capabilities.

Step 6: Implement Your Design

  • Start Small: Tackle the project in phases. Begin with areas of highest priority or where you spend the most time.
  • Hire Professionals if Needed: For complex projects, consider hiring landscape architects or contractors who can bring your vision to life.

Step 7: Review and Adjust

  • Live With It: Spend time in your newly designed landscape to see how it functions and feels.
  • Be Flexible: Be prepared to make adjustments as plants grow and your needs change.

Choosing Plants and Materials

Selecting the right plants and materials is crucial for a successful landscape design. Consider plants that are well-suited to your climate and soil, and think about how their size, color, and texture will contribute to the overall design. Incorporate a mix of trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals to ensure year-round interest. When selecting hardscaping materials, such as pavers, rocks, or wood, choose those that complement your home’s exterior and the natural setting.

Sustainability Practices

Sustainability is a key consideration in modern landscape design. Opt for native plants that require less water and are more resistant to pests and diseases. Incorporate rain gardens, permeable paving, and rain barrels to manage stormwater runoff and conserve water. Composting and mulching can improve soil health and reduce waste.

Plan for Growth and Maintenance

A successful landscape design is not only about how the space looks today but also how it will evolve over time. Consider the mature size of plants to avoid overcrowding and ensure they have enough space to thrive. Plan for maintenance requirements, such as pruning, watering, and fertilizing, to keep your garden looking its best.

Embracing Technology: Landscape Design Software

In today’s digital age, landscape design software has become an invaluable tool for both professionals and DIY enthusiasts. These powerful applications can help you visualize changes before implementing them, saving time and money. Here are some key points to consider when exploring landscape design software:

Benefits of Using Landscape Design Software

  • Visualization: See your ideas come to life in 3D, making it easier to envision the final landscape.
  • Efficiency: Quickly experiment with different layouts, plants, and hardscaping elements without physical labor.
  • Planning: Calculate materials needed and estimate costs, helping you stay within budget.
  1. SketchUp: Renowned for its flexibility and user-friendly interface, SketchUp offers both free and paid versions. It’s suitable for creating detailed landscape designs with a vast library of 3D models.
  2. AutoCAD Landscape: A professional-grade tool that offers precision and complexity for detailed designs. Ideal for architects and designers seeking advanced features.
  3. Home Designer Software: Offers specific versions for landscaping and garden design, providing a balance between usability for homeowners and powerful features for professionals.
  4. Garden Planner: An easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interface that’s perfect for quick garden designs. It offers a library of over 1200 plants and objects.
  5. Lands Design: A plugin for Rhino and AutoCAD, Lands Design is geared towards landscape architects and designers. It provides tools for terrain modeling, plant species selection, and dynamic 3D visualization.
  1. SketchUp Free: SketchUp offers a free version that is web-based and allows users to draw in 3D. While it may not have all the advanced features of SketchUp Pro, it’s quite capable for basic landscape design and visualization.
  2. Garden Planner: Garden Planner offers a free trial that allows users to experiment with garden and landscape design using a simple drag-and-drop interface. Although the full version requires a purchase, the free trial can be useful for initial planning stages.
  3. The Visualizer: A home design tool that allows you to upload photos of your garden and then overlay them with various landscaping elements, such as plants, outdoor furniture, and more. It’s a great way to visualize changes to your existing landscape.
  4. DreamPlan Home Design Software: DreamPlan offers a free version for non-commercial use. It allows users to create 3D models of landscapes, gardens, and outdoor spaces, as well as floor plans and house designs.
  5. Microsoft Paint 3D: While not specifically designed for landscape design, Paint 3D offers tools that can be used creatively for basic layout and visualization. It’s free and available on Windows 10.
  6. Kerkythea: A free and open-source rendering software that can be used in conjunction with modeling software like SketchUp. It’s great for creating realistic images of your landscape designs, though it has a steeper learning curve.
  7. GIMP: Similarly, not a dedicated landscape design tool, but GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) can be used for creating visual layouts and modifying images of your garden or landscape project. It’s a free, open-source alternative to Photoshop.
  1. iScape: Available for iOS devices, iScape utilizes augmented reality (AR) to allow you to visualize your landscape design in your actual space. Users can add plants, trees, lawn furniture, and other elements to their outdoor space to see how they look before making any real changes. iScape offers both free and paid versions, with the paid version providing access to a wider range of features.
  2. Home Outside: This app offers a simple interface for designing landscapes and outdoor living spaces. It’s available for both iOS and Android devices. While the basic version is free, there are in-app purchases available for more advanced design elements and features.
  3. My Garden Planner: Although not an app, My Garden Planner is a web-based tool that works well on any device, making it convenient for mobile use. It offers a free trial and allows users to design their gardens with a drag-and-drop interface, including plants, structures, and paths.
  4. PRO Landscape Home: With a user-friendly interface, PRO Landscape Home allows users to create realistic landscape designs using their tablet or smartphone. Available for both iOS and Android, the app lets users take a photo of their space and then modify it with various landscape features. The app is free, but there are in-app purchases for additional design options.
  5. Garden Tags: While not a traditional design app, Garden Tags is an excellent resource for inspiration and plant identification. Available for iOS and Android, it’s a social network for gardeners where you can share photos, get advice, and find ideas for your landscape design. It’s free to use and offers in-app purchases.
  6. PlantSnap: This app is focused on plant identification but can be incredibly useful in the landscape design process. Available for both iOS and Android, PlantSnap allows users to take a photo of a plant, and the app will identify it. This can help in selecting the right plants for your design. The basic version is free, with a premium version offering more features.

Tips for Using Landscape Design Apps

  • Experiment with different apps: Since many apps offer free versions, try out several to see which one best fits your needs and design style.
  • Consider your project size: Some apps are better suited for larger landscape design projects, while others are more appropriate for smaller garden planning.
  • Take advantage of tutorials: Many apps provide tutorials or guides to help you get started and make the most of their features.

Landscape design is an art

Landscape design is an art that combines creativity with practicality, transforming outdoor spaces into beautiful, functional areas that reflect your personal style and enhance your quality of life. By understanding the basics of landscape design, including design principles, plant and material selection, and sustainability practices, you can create a stunning outdoor space that thrives for years to come. At Salens Landscaping, we’re here to guide you through every step of this exciting journey, ensuring your landscape design project is a resounding success.

Optimize Your Landscape Design with Salens Landscaping

For more insights, tips, and professional guidance on your landscaping projects, visit Salens Landscaping’s website. Our team of experts is dedicated to helping you achieve the outdoor space of your dreams, combining aesthetic beauty with environmental sustainability. Contact us today to begin your landscape design journey.

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Salens Landscaping, Inc., based in Elk Grove, CA, has earned an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), an accolade reflecting their commitment to quality, trust, and customer satisfaction. This prestigious rating is a testament to their excellence in the landscape contracting industry, bolstered by a longstanding accreditation since May 21, 1998. Remarkably, they have achieved this without any customer complaints, highlighting their dedication to exceptional service and reliability over their years in business【5†source】.

Get A Free Quote Estimate

Salens Landscaping, Inc. offers a convenient “Get A Free Quote Estimate” service for potential clients looking to plan their landscaping projects. This service is designed to provide an easy and efficient way for customers to receive an estimated cost for their specific landscaping needs directly from Salens Landscaping. By providing some basic information about their project, customers can get a tailored estimate that helps in budgeting and planning for high-quality landscaping and concrete services.


  • Cleanup And Hauling
  • Tree – Shrub Removal And Hauling
  • Debris, Dirt, Rocks, Weed Removal And Hauling
  • Concrete, Asphalt, Bricks, Pavers Removal And Hauling
  • Pool Demolition And Back Filling
  • Grading Work
  • Solid And Perforated (French) Drainage Systems
  • Custom Concrete Work-Broom Finish, Colored Stamped, Salt Finish, Wet Look Sealing
  • Landscape Borders-Concrete, Bricks, Epic Boards, Bender Boards, Etc
  • Custom Brick Patios, Walks, Walls, Etc
  • Custom Masonry Work
  • Outdoor BBQ And Kitchens
  • Outdoor Fire Pits
  • Pavers, Slate, Flagstone Patios And Walkways
  • Retaining Walls -Concrete, Stackable, Bricks, Stone, Etc
  • Custom Decks And Rails-Wood, Trex, Composite, Etc
  • Custom Patio Covers-Alumawood, Durawood, Redwood, Etc
  • All Types Of Fencing – Wood, Iron, Chain Link, Concrete, Etc
  • Sprinkler And Irrigation Systems
  • Soil Preparation Work For Planter Beds, Lawn, Etc
  • Tree And Shrub Planting
  • Decorative Rock, Decomposed Granite, Mulch And Bark Installation
  • Low Voltage Garden Lights
  • Ponds, Waterfall Design And Construction
  • Electrical Work
  • Installation Of Sod, Hydro-Seeding, Hand Seeding
  • Artificial Turf And Putting Green Installation