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How to Design Your Own Backyard Landscaping

The landscaping in your backyard reflects your personality and vision of the home as a place to live and play. Backyards are private places and can be made serene and lovely for times of quiet contemplation or fun places with swimming pools, decks and activity areas. How you landscape your backyard depends on what you want to do there. As you design your own backyard landscaping, remember that the landscape is more than plants; it includes paths, fixed objects such as fences, waterfalls, and statues and natural features of the land.

Make a list of the activities you and your family would like to do in the backyard. Allow yourself to dream a bit—what would be the ideal. Don’t forget that children will grow older with different interests and, of course, pets may share the space with you. Be sure your backyard landscape design supports your planned use of the space.

Get ideas from others. Use planned or spontaneous visits to study how other people landscape their backyards and decide what you like and do not like in their designs. Check out examples of backyard landscape designs on line.

Measure and sketch your backyard either on a pad or computer with landscape design software. Put in any fixed features and existing landscape plants and trees that you do not want to move. Be sure to include the mature height of trees so that shade tolerance can be included in your plant selection criteria where applicable.

Review recommended plants for your area. It is always best to design your backyard landscape using native or well-adapted plants that will not die during the hot summer or cold winter. To complement the large perennial plants and trees, you can add annuals that provide spots of color and decorative borders.

Decide if you want your backyard to have a formal landscape design or a natural feel. Formal designs tend to be geometric using squares or lines or concentric circles of equally spaced plants. Informal or natural looks feature groupings and asymmetrical plant placement.

Develop a general plan for the entire backyard landscape design. Although it is not necessary to do everything at once, an over-all plan provides guidance in plant selection and placement as well as desired fixed features and containers.

Complete the detailed design of each area in your backyard that will be landscaped considering the largest features in that area first. The largest or tallest feature provides a focal point around which your design will add plants, paths and lighting. Shape the area to be landscaped around these larger features with curved or straight-line beds.

Add specific plants to your detailed design areas. Select plants that work together based on size, color, texture and bloom times. Select plants from the list of those native or adapted to your geographic growing region. Fill in around plants with gravel or mulch, paths and border plants.

Add landscaping light to your backyard landscape design. Landscape lights can be placed down-facing from trees to highlight paths or fixed features, up-facing into trees to accent shadows, or strategically along paths and decks for safety and ambiance.

Evaluate your backyard landscape plan against commonly held design standards such as unity, repetition, balance, simplicity and proportion.


For many people, it is easier to envision a finished landscape design from a picture generated by landscaping software than from a pencil sketch. Most people prefer low-maintenance plants for most of their landscaping because they require less water and pruning during the year.

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