Landscaping Design Tips for Beginners

By Jennifer Merrigan

Curb appeal is everything when it comes to your home, but it can be challenging to determine where to begin, especially if it’s never been a top priority. If you’re completely new to landscaping or just want to get some fresh ideas, keep reading to learn how to get your front lawn and backyard looking like it was designed by a pro.

Basic elements of landscape design

There are four main landscape design elements you should keep in mind when beginning to design your yard: lines, mass, form, and voids.

1. Lines

Lines help create a focal point and physical flow throughout your outdoor space. For example, emphasizing clear, horizontal lines through straight paths and rectangular furniture will help make your yard feel broader. You can distinguish vertical lines in your space by using tall bushes or trees that will carry your guests’ eyes upward and give your front lawn or backyard a more expansive look. Straight lines can give your yard a much cleaner and formal appearance.

On the contrary, using curved lines in your landscape through winding paths will keep your guests constantly gazing over the area. These lines can also provide a more gentle and natural look, creating a more relaxing and soothing environment for you and your guests.

Before choosing which lines to emphasize, think about how you want your yard to look and feel.

2. Mass

Mass is the act of measuring the visual size of your space in the form of areas that are occupied by an object, such as your patio set, a fountain, or shrubbery. Find a balance between having enough open space in your outdoor area and enough mass to occupy the space.

3. Form

When thinking about form, consider the shapes of individual objects in your yard or garden and the style of your home. Again, this is all about balance and finding shapes that complement each other. For example, if you have a mid-century modern home, rectilinear forms will complement this style more so than a Mediterranean-style home, which would benefit from soft shapes like circles or triangles.

4. Voids

Empty spaces, or voids, also play a role in your landscape. You want the voids to balance out the mass and unite individual components. When you start your landscape design, intentionally lay out the voids, then fill in the rest of the area with your landscaping designs.

What to consider before you begin landscaping

In addition to the basic elements of landscape design, consider these additional factors:

Budget

Make sure you know exactly how much you have for your landscape design and how much each item costs. From mulch, shrubbery, and flowers to a patio set and paving features, the more detailed you are in your budget, the fewer financial surprises will arise throughout the implementation of your design.

Location of your landscape

Are you planning on redesigning your front yard or backyard? How much foliage is already there? How much sun hits the area you’re designing? These factors will play a huge role in the budget of your landscape, the types of plants you want to include, and where you want to place certain design pieces, like a fountain or patio set.

Landscaping style

What does your current yard look like and what is the overall style of your home? You want your landscape style to match that of your home and, depending on your budget, you want to find a happy medium between the landscaping you currently have and what you plan to add or take away.

Types of plants

The type of plants you choose will mainly depend on where you live (your climate zone) and how much maintenance you want to perform. For example, if you live in Zone 3, yarrow, floss flowers, and red maple are all viable suggestions. However, if you live in Zone 9, you’ll find that Japanese Maple, African lilies, and agave are more suitable.

When choosing plants, you’ll also want to consider whether or not they’re toxic (this is important if you have pets or small children).

Task maturity

When planning out your landscape, know your limits and don’t take on anything more than you can handle. For example, if you’ve never added pavers to your yard, you may want to table that idea for another time or hire a professional to help out. When in doubt, start small with your lawn and garden changes and add to them on an ongoing basis.

Common mistakes made by landscaping beginners

If you’re just starting out, try to avoid these common mistakes made by beginner landscapers:

  • Not creating a budget—Without a budget, it can be difficult to determine what you can do with your space. Do your research and create a list of landscaping items and their prices. If you don’t have the budget to create your dream landscape, start out in small stages and continue building from there.
  • Not hiring a professional for advanced designs—If you want to completely transform your yard, consider hiring a professional landscaper who can make the best use of your space, time, and money.
  • Neglecting the front yard—When beginning your landscaping project, don’t forget about the front yard. This area is often overlooked because of its smaller size compared to your backyard landscape. Give each space equal love when planning out your garden designs.
  • Forgetting to install the proper drainage system—One of the more serious mistakes when landscaping your yard is forgetting to install an irrigation channel or drainage system. Not only could neglecting this water feature lead to standing water in your yard, it can cause water damage to your foundation.
  • Overlooking hardscape needs—Some people can get caught up in how beautiful their lawn and yard look that they forget about hardscaping. Think about walkways, patios, and decks when designing your space.
  • Disregarding plant climate zones—One of the easiest mistakes to avoid when landscaping is choosing the improper plants for your garden. Determine which hardiness zone you live in and find plants that correlate to the weather and climate conditions in your area. You want plants to last for the long term and not just a single season.

Landscaping ideas for beginners

Just because you’re making small changes to your landscape doesn’t mean they won’t have a huge impact. Here are a few landscape design tips for beginners:

  • Add fresh mulch to a flower bed—Mulch tends to dry out, lose its color, and blow away over time. Consider adding fresh mulch to your flower beds to boost curb appeal and help protect your flowers.
  • Plant native flowers—Adding flowers that are native to your area is a great starting point and easy way to give some life to your yard without having to invest a lot of time or money. 
  • Create a small vegetable garden—If you’re looking for new ways to save money on produce, consider adding a small vegetable garden to your yard. When choosing your vegetables, pick items that you’ll frequently eat or low-maintenance vegetables, like basil and carrots, that don’t require much time or effort to maintain.
  • Line a walkway—Adding pavers to your front or backyard is both an inexpensive and practical way to brighten up your yard. Look at all kinds of different paver variations for your yard and choose the option that best matches your home’s style. Additionally, you could add a ground covering like creeping phlox or honeysuckle to your walkway to give pathways a more complete appearance.
  • Build a patio—If you’ve had the same patio set for the past decade, invest in a new set instead of redesigning your landscape. You’ll be amazed at the change a simple outdoor lounge area can make.
  • Get rid of pests—Pests can be the downfall of any beautiful yard, eating away at plants and causing them to rot. Along with the issue of visual appeal and health of your plants, pests can be dangerous to pets or small children that enjoy being outside. If you feel like your yard is already in great shape, consider investing in a safe and effective form of pest control to keep your yard healthy and beautiful.

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