It may seem impossible for you to turn your landscaping dreams into reality when you don’t have any idea where to even begin. How do you transform a yard riddled with weeds into a well-manicured haven? How would you convert a dull contractor-grade yard into a beautiful English garden?

Even if you have a green thumb, completely overhauling your front or backyard requires thoughtfulness and plenty of planning, and while your favorite TV series might lead you to believe it could happen over a weekend, yard upgrades are very difficult for a novice to replicate.

If you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get up close and personal with your yard, then keep reading ahead to learn how some basic landscape planning will help get you started.

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Evaluating Your Landscape Needs

simple backyard

The first step to overhauling your yard is determining exactly what you want. Here are a few things to consider:

  • How will you use the space?
  • Who will use the space? Do you have kids? Do you have pets?
  • What is currently surrounding the perimeter of your yard? (A fence? Trees? Nothing?)
  • Is your yard flat? Does it have an incline?
  • Do you desire privacy?

Do not allow yourself to breeze through this evaluation step!

After you’ve spent a good amount of time thinking about the answers to these questions, you might discover some elements you would like to include in your plan and others that won’t work for your lifestyle.

For example, the lawn in my backyard isn’t the greatest, and while I could definitely work on improving it, I would really like to use the area for entertaining. We’ve talked about removing the grass and adding in a pea gravel patio instead, which would allow us to incorporate seating and a fire pit.

However, when I take into consideration the questions above, the plan doesn’t work completely. Our dog, Honey B, also uses the yard, and she would really miss the grass if we got rid of it.

Because we evaluated our yard needs, we altered our plan to make sure Honey B has a significant amount of grass to sniff and play in.

You also should spend time in your yard before determining the new design. Take note of shady areas, areas that receive full sunlight, or puddles when it rains—especially if those puddles turn into tiny streams. This will help you address existing problem areas in your design and avoid creating new ones.

It’s particularly important to take note of how much sun your yard receives and where.

If your backyard receives less than six hours of full sunlight per day, then you will have to choose plants that are appropriate for the space. Knowing where and when the sun hits your yard will also help you decide where to put any seating areas. Placing a bench in an area that receives full afternoon sunlight might not be the best idea if you can’t stand the heat, but maybe some morning light would work if you enjoy drinking your coffee outside.

Along with measuring the amount of sun the area receives, you will also need to determine which plants thrive in your climate, but at this stage, it’s only important to know your climate. We’ll discuss how to choose specific plants later.

Determining Your Landscape Design

Now that you’re more familiar with your yard and what design best fits your lifestyle, it’s time to look for inspiration, which can be found in many places—the internet, magazines, your neighborhood, parks, or botanical gardens. On your search for inspiration, you’ll start to notice that most well-designed landscapes have a combination of hardscapes and softscapes.

Hardscapes and softscapes

hardscape versus softscape

Hardscapes—like walkways, fountains, decks, walls, and pergolas—are inanimate objects that help to balance out natural elements. Softscapes—like shrubs, trees, grass, and gardens—are natural elements that soften the appearance of an area. Because they’re living elements, softscapes grow and change according to the season or environment.

A nice balance of both hardscapes and softscapes is present in any basic landscape design and necessary to creating a cohesive landscape.

When looking for inspiration, it’s important to pay attention to the elements that make up the landscapes that you like. Look at colors and textures of both the hardscapes and softscapes. How are paver stones being used? Is there a colorful flower bed? Does a walkway wind through the yard? Notice what you like and dislike, take note of what styles you prefer, and think about how those designs would fit your yard and lifestyle.

Choosing the components of your landscape

There are several factors to take into account when selecting the softscapes and hardscapes you want to incorporate into your landscape. Choosing plants alone can seem overwhelming when you consider that there are 400,000 different varieties of flowers and that each flower is classified as either an annual, perennial, or biennial. It can be hard to decide, but there are some ways to narrow down the options:

1. Do your research.

Now is the time to start researching any plants that interest you and determine if they work with your climate and your yard. Remember to keep in mind how much sun your yard receives, especially noting areas of shade. Also research the growth cycle of the plants you choose—how tall and wide will they grow? How does it behave when the season changes from summer to fall?

2. Incorporate symmetry and contrast.

Another key to a design-worthy landscape is to create balance amongst the different elements you incorporate in your yard. The color, shape, size, and texture of each piece you decide to introduce into your landscape work toward creating a cohesive design.

3. Add function.

There are many ways to make your yard functional. It could include building a deck for entertaining, creating a paver walkway that leads out to your garden, or positioning shrubs around the perimeter of your yard as a living fence. How you choose to add function will depend on greatly on what you choose to use the space for, but for some hardscaping tips, you can read this article about creating functional outdoor spaces.

4. Think about lighting.

Another component that’s often overlooked in landscaping is lighting. Depending on the type of lighting you choose, it can serve a functional purpose like illuminating a pathway or a more aesthetic purpose by enhancing areas of your landscape at night.

5. Consider special cases.

No yard is perfect—some come with their own unique issues. My front and backyard are overrun with weeds. Your yard might flood every time it rains. You might live in an area that’s suffering from a drought and should consider xeriscaping instead of more traditional plants. Whatever your situation is, make sure to factor in any special considerations.

Planning Your Landscape Overhaul

backyard with deck

By this point in the process, your vision for your landscape should be clear enough to create a sketch. The sketch will not only be helpful in breaking your plan down into different stages, but you can also use it to explain your vision to landscaping professionals.

Now that you have a visual plan, it’s important to create action items that will put everything into motion:

1. Set a budget.

A novice could easily underestimate the amount of money necessary to landscape a yard. Plants and mulch alone could be very costly, and that’s just a small fraction of what’s needed to complete the job. Research the cost of every aspect of your project so you can create a realistic goal. Make sure to add a buffer in your budget for unexpected expenses.

2. Choose a starting point.

No matter how big or small your plan is, it would be difficult to finish it in one weekend. Even if you hire a professional to assist you with the project, it will still require a ton of time and effort. Deciding what to conquer first will help you make progress while maintaining your sanity. Continue to break your plan down into smaller segments with realistic time frames for completion.

3. Figure out where you need help.

I am a do-it-yourself person at heart, but even I realize that there are some tasks that require a professional. Once you’ve determined how to segment your project, decide at what phase in the project you should bring in a professional—whether that’s at the beginning or only at certain parts.

Bottom line: Transforming your landscape into a functional space that fits your lifestyle isn’t something that can be accomplished in a weekend, but it is achievable with proper planning. I hope this plan gives you a starting place so that you can make your landscaping dreams a reality.