Backyard landscapes serve a different purpose than the front yard that more people--visitors and passers by--see. And if you're like most families, you spend more time in the backyard. So you should design your backyard landscaping to be functional for your family's activities and provide pleasing aesthetics for you and your guests. Your backyard landscaping can include fixed elements not practical in the front of your home, such as seating, tables, pools, hot tubs, decks and patios. Those elements should be integrated into your backyard landscape design.
Decide on a general theme that will direct the design of your backyard landscape and your selection of plants and hardscape items. The theme ties together the look of each of the separate landscape areas, creating a sense of unity to the entire backyard. Typical themes include formal, native and tropical. However, the theme can also be a mood such as quiet and contemplative, energetic and playful, or whimsical.
Walk your backyard and identify areas that can be landscaped using your theme. Measure these areas and note characteristics like sun hours, prevailing winds, and slopes; these characteristics affect plant selection.
Sketch your backyard, placing existing fixed features and outlining the areas to be landscaped. Make your sketch correct in size and scale to the total backyard area and the areas to be landscaped. Use graph paper and pencil or landscape software to create your backyard landscape design.
Select new fixed features that will be added to your backyard landscape design first. The rest of your landscape will be designed around these existing and planned hardscape features to add complementary looks, focal points, colors and textures.
Select plants to be added to your backyard landscape design. Begin placing the tallest plants into your design and then add smaller plants, border plants, pathways, and seasonal color spots. Apply basic landscape design principles in making your selections such as: unity, simplicity, balance, color, natural transition, line, proportion, and repetition. Select plants that fit your theme and the growing conditions in your backyard landscape. You can get help with your selection by consulting a nursery or garden store, or using a regional plant reference book.
Place landscape lighting into your backyard design. You can choose from a combination of step lights, pathway lights, flood lights, building mounted lights, and pole-mounted lights. Lighting may be down-facing or shine upward into tall trees. Most landscape design software offers a feature that shows a representation of the various illumination patterns from landscape lights onto your backyard landscape.