Landscaping tips

It’s time to love your garden! Landscaping is not limited to parks and estates. Every residential home can benefit from a thoughtful yard design and garden layout. Here’s how to create your own plan with landscaping tips to get started creating your dream yard!

Traditional landscaping with a yew hedge, lavender shrubs, and dark mulch

Landscaping basics for homeowners

Landscaping can dramatically improve the look and feel of your home. Garden landscaping can create an inviting space to relax with family and enjoy the outdoors. Front yard landscaping can enhance your home’s curb appeal and value. When done correctly, DIY landscaping can make your home a more beautiful and useful place!

A basic landscaping definition is as follows:

Landscaping is the process of altering land by changing natural, living, and/or environmental elements.

Natural elements such as the shape of the land and water bodies are the foundation of the landscape. Any earthworks or other changes to the landform are generally completed prior to adding new plants or hardscaping finishes. The shape of the land is generally altered to make it more useful or attractive from a human perspective. Alterations must take environmental elements such as weather and sunlight into account, as well as wildlife habitat.

Important factors in the definition of landscaping

Landscaping involves working with the land to make it both practical and beautiful. Access is a key contributor to the practicality of a piece of land. Garden paths are often hardscaped with gravel, organic mulches, or stones to provide a durable and aesthetically-pleasing surface. Lightly-used access paths may be planted with lawn turf grass or other ground cover plants.

Trees and shrubs fulfill a host of garden layout purposes to complement the underlying landform. They can be used to provide shade from the sun and shelter from the wind. They also can provide a habitat for beneficial insects and other wildlife. Trees and shrubs can be used together to create layered landscaping that feels welcoming and cozy.

Landscape design

Landscaping design requires skill in both horticulture and visual arts. Landscape design is often done informally by homeowners and landscape contractors. Formal landscape design takes many different forms ranging from technical to artistic. Landscape designs might be produced by landscape designers, landscape architects, civil engineers, surficial geologists, exterior decorators, and/or permaculture designers, among others. Due to its interdisciplinary nature, landscape design is often completed in teams that include a variety of professionals.

Residential boxwood hedge - landscaping tips

Residential garden landscaping

Garden landscaping is an important element of small-scale outdoor residential design. As described above, garden landscaping should increase both the practicality and beauty of the home garden. A good yard design can make a huge difference in how you use your outdoor space. Landscaping includes planning which plants to plant where, but also involves “hardscaping” with structures such as patios and walkways and systems such as drip irrigation and garden lighting.

Garden landscaping encompasses everything from perennial cottage flower gardens to a formal potager vegetable garden. The layout for most gardens often includes several different types of gardens in a given space. Front yard garden landscaping may include a grass lawn, foundation planting, or dedicated raised garden beds. Backyards may include hedges, vegetable plots, lawns, perennial gardens, hugelkultur, or other garden layout elements.

The purpose of garden landscaping

A yard design depends on the location and function of the garden. The goal of front yard landscaping might be to increase the value of a home by adding curb appeal. A backyard garden layout may be designed to provide a relaxing oasis or outdoor play area. Consider the goal of your garden layout before going shopping for patio furniture or getting your shovel out!

Garden landscaping takes time to plan and install. If you’re considering taking on planning your garden landscape, invest some time in reading detailed garden landscaping books. These books help you think about the purpose of garden landscaping elements and how they fit into your overall landscape.

Front yard landscaping ideas

Front yard landscaping often focuses on aesthetics, with practicality as an underlying concern. Design updates are often done to enhance the curb appeal of a home. That being said, many front yard landscaping elements also have practical uses. A formal hedge, for instance, contributes not only to the curb appeal of a stately home but will also increase privacy, decrease street noise, and provide shelter from wind and dust.

To get your front yard design started, consider the style of your home. Certain styles of houses already have a defined type of front yard landscaping. Checking out the front yard landscaping of other houses that look similar to yours is a great way to start. Take note of neighborhood front yard design ideas that you like, and also check online. Try this gallery of front yard landscaping images for some inspiration!

Common house styles and landscaping combinations

  • Cottages and farmhouses often have English-style or cottage gardens.
  • Mid-century modern homes and ranchers often have modern landscaping.
  • Southwest-style houses often have desert, Mediterranean, or xeric landscaping (xeriscaping).
  • Formal homes often have traditional English landscaping or modern landscaping.

These combinations are common but not necessary. The style of your front yard landscaping is totally up to you! Just be sure to research the applicable bylaws and HOA regulations for your land as part of the early design process.

Other yard design considerations

Once you have a general idea of the landscape elements you’d like for your front yard, it is very important to research whether or not these elements are reasonable in your environment. For instance, a standard cottage garden full of lush flower beds will require a great deal of water in a dry climate. Looking for drought-resistant perennial flowers that achieve a similar look would be a much better option.

Because landscaping varies so much by region, it is helpful to have a local garden mentor to help you. Someone with local knowledge of environmental challenges and common solutions will help keep your design reasonable.

It is also helpful to become familiar with a piece of land before doing any major earthworks or making other landscaping decisions. See how you use the property and which areas require attention before completing a detailed design. Proper observation is an important part of the landscape design process (and saves a lot of headaches down the road!).

Backyard landscaping for residential yards

Backyard landscaping is often more practical than frontyard landscaping. Because the backyard is such an important part of outdoor living, thinking of your goals for the space is key. Here are some example scenarios.

DIY landscaping: Family backyards

Family yard designs almost always include a lawn for outdoor activities, as well as an informal eating space. Pools or ponds are often fenced when there are children around for safety reasons. These dedicated garden layout spaces are often connected with durable paths (without jagged edges) to create a safe circuit for playtime.

Large, sturdy landscape trees can be used for tree forts or swings (just be sure not to harm the tree!). Dwarf fruit trees and butterfly gardens can provide a seasonal learning opportunity for children. Plants with toxic portions, thorns, or common allergens should be avoided in the yard design where possible.

DIY landscaping: Relaxing backyards

The backyard can be a relaxing oasis that acts as an outdoor extension of your home. There are a few simple garden layout ideas that can make a backyard more relaxing. The first thing is that a relaxing backyard should not take a lot of work to maintain! Your outdoor space should be welcoming rather than a reminder of yard work that must be done.

Consider replacing labor-intensive grass lawns and annual flower gardens with low-maintenance perennials or hardscaping. The patio can be expanded to create space for lounging and for outdoor dining. A culinary herb garden or berry garden in easy-to-maintain raised beds with wide comfortable paths provides a quiet respite from city life.

Low-maintenance trees and shrubs can provide shade and wind shelter. Scented plants such as lavender also add to a relaxing backyard atmosphere. Avoid large fruit trees that require annual pruning and harvesting. These trees can create a mess along pathways that can be a bother to clean up. If you do have fruit trees that you’re not harvesting, consider researching local gleaning societies to see if the food bank can collect the fruit.

DIY landscaping: Natural backyards

The backyard can also be reimagined as a place to celebrate nature. By forgoing traditional formal landscaping and moving towards a more ecologically focused yard design, the backyard can attract more wildlife while taking less work to maintain.

Opt to create a natural meadow garden layout of low, drought-tolerant native perennials rather than an expanse of turf grass. Research local birds, butterflies, and native bees and consider planting some of their favorite food and shelter plants.

Provide a clean source of water such as a circulating pond or bird bath. Lastly, don’t forget to include human-focused design elements! A quiet meditative bench, meandering meadow pathway, and secluded al fresco dining area can let you enjoy being part of the natural world.

Garden fence ideas

Garden fences add to yard design by creating an organized garden layout, adding privacy, and creating a windbreak. Consider the purposes of a garden fence before deciding on a style. An ornamental fence is installed for many different reasons than high deer fencing. Modern landscaping fences look much different than traditional fences.

Raised garden bed

Raised garden beds are a wonderful addition to landscaping. These giant container gardens can be filled with ideal soil that warms up early in the spring. They are often easier to tend and keep neat than in-ground gardens. Beginners and experienced gardeners alike love raised bed gardens!

Raised bed garden - the best types of gardens | home for the harvest

Garden edging ideas

Garden edging is a key part of landscaping. Whether your garden requires a long-lasting solid edge or a more natural soft edge, there are many different ways to approach garden and landscape edging.

Garden edging can be anything from gradual transitions between garden layout elements, to crisp-cut garden edges to hardscape edging options. Beautiful gardens that have thoughtful edging can actually be less maintenance in the long run.

Gradual transitions can be the least amount of work up front, but may look a bit wild or messy if the environment allows for weeds to thrive or otherwise doesn’t support the growth of your preferred plants. For a crisp cut edge, Stihl makes a garden edging power tool as part of their Kombi system. For garden edging hardscaping, plastic, concrete, metal, and wood barrier options are available.

Garden edging

Garden edging separates garden soil from the surrounding lawn, gravel, or other separate area. Edging may take the form of a fence (as discussed above), but is more often low-lying. Informal garden edging may simply be a gradual transition between mulch and turf grass. Some gardens which border turf grass are edged with cutting tools to create a crisper line. Small gardens may also be edged with wood, stones, or bricks.

Hardscaped landscape edging

Landscape edging is large-scale garden edging. Hardscape or informal edging may be used along lawns, pathways, garden beds, or other features. It may also include structures such as retaining walls.

Although prone to rot, wood is sometimes used as landscape edging, particularly in drier climates. Some types of wood such as cedar are somewhat rot-resistant and may last for years. Plastic landscape edging is quick to install but not very durable. Metal landscape edging products designed without sharp edges are available for modern landscaping. For a truly long-lasting landscape edging option, consider a poured concrete divider or stone masonry wall.

Mulch in the landscape

The importance of mulch in landscaping

Landscaping would not be complete without mulch! Mulch protects soil from erosion, moderates soil temperature, and increases moisture retention. These characteristics make mulch the perfect addition to many landscaping applications such as pathways, perennial gardens, and even food gardens.

Mulch is an important part of yard design. Garden mulches can include everything from organic mulches like compost or wood chips to inorganic mulches such as plastic or fabric sheeting. Many home gardeners prefer the look and benefits of select organic mulches.

Landscaping rocks

Landscaping rocks are often used as low-maintenance inorganic mulch. Pea gravel is common for pathways, as are other types of decorative gravel, especially between raised beds in potager gardens. Stepping stones are also used in combination with gravel in high-traffic areas. Cobblestone or flagstone are also popular choices in yard design.

Rocks may also be used as mulch in garden beds. This is common in perennial landscaping applications in dry areas. Xeriscaping techniques often use rocks as mulch to help the soil retain what moisture is available and also to discourage competition from weeds. Rock mulch can look quite formal or casual, depending upon the type of rock used in the garden layout.

Organic mulch in landscaping

Organic mulch is a mainstay of a healthy garden. Organic mulch such as compost is applied frequently to food gardens and perennial beds to enrich the soil. More durable organic mulches such as arborist wood chips can be used to cover large areas and add organic matter to the soil. Living mulches such as hardy perennial ground covers are also popular in lawns and between flagstones.

One word of warning with organic mulches is not to put them up against the bark of a living tree! Organic mulches retain water which will invite dampness, disease, and critters into the tender lower bark of a tree. When applying mulch around a tree, keep the mulch at least six inches away from the base. The original soil line where the tree meets the ground should remain completely visible.

Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a quintessential Canadian gardener. An engineer by trade, she tends to an ever-expanding collection of plants. In her world, laughter blooms as freely as her flowers, and every plant is raised with a dash of Canadian grit.

Mary Jane is a certified Master Gardener and also holds a Permaculture Design Certificate. She's also a proud mom of three, teaching her little sprouts the crucial difference between a garden friend and foe.

When she's not playing in the dirt, Mary Jane revels in her love for Taylor Swift, Gilmore Girls, ice hockey, and the surprisingly soothing sounds of bluegrass covers of classic hip-hop songs. She invites you to join her garden party, a place where you can share in the joy of growing and where every day is a new opportunity to find the perfect spot for yet another plant.

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