How to Create a Great Plan for Your Landscaping Project

Plan your landscape for the best resultsHaving a good plan in place before you begin any landscaping project is paramount to success. Your head is full of visually striking images of beautiful gardens, well-laid paths, and perfect seating arrangements—but how do you actually get there?

Creating a plan also helps you to create a budget. Do you know what tools you may need? Will there be a need for a subcontractor? Answering questions like these will help you establish a budget so you can stick to it without overstretching yourself. It can also help you determine whether you’re ready to take on the project. The last thing you want is a landscaping project only halfway done!

Step 1: Set Your Goals

In order to identify what you want, let’s take a look at why homeowners landscape to begin with:

  • Add value to your home
  • Organize your space for personal and guest use
  • Create harmony between your home and surrounding nature

In setting your goals, answer these questions. Do you:

  1. want to create an outdoor living area for friends and family to sit and talk?
  2. mind mowing a large yard?
  3. like to prune trees and bushes regularly or do you prefer minimal maintenance?
  4. want your home to blend in better with its natural surroundings?
  5. wish for year-round color and interest despite the season?
  6. need a permit for any of the work being done? (if unsure, evaluate this further in Step 2)

Answering questions like these will help establish what kind of plants to avoid if you don’t like high maintenance, and what grows best in your climate and area. You’re trying to figure out what you want out of the overall picture before you start to assemble the various pieces.

Step 2: Sketch / Create a Landscape Design

Now that you’ve established goals, it’s time to start creating a visual representation for your landscape design.

If you’re looking for Landscape Design Software, there are a few tools available out there that are free and for purchase. This is a great way to get perfectly scaled designs if you’re a computer savvy homeowner.

But never fear, using paper and colored pencils may be old-fashioned, but it doesn’t require computer knowledge to get it done!

If you’re looking to draw very exact sketches, you might want to consider taking photographs of your property, and blowing the images up on a wall with a projector. You could then take paper and trace the lines onto paper, and then use your colored pencils to fill in your plans.

You will want to stick to a simple, scaled drawing of your site, and be sure to include all utilities, driveways, and walkways. Be sure to note the surfaces—paved, gravel, grass, pavers, etc. Point out areas for flower beds, patios, decks, gardens, play areas, etc. – anywhere there will be a specific activity that dictates what goes in a particular area.

Once you have your sketch in place, draw orange arrows to indicate sun angles. It’s helpful to draw multiple arrows and noting what time of the day that angle occurs. This will give you the information you need when making purchases at the nursey to ascertain which plants will thrive in a particular location. Or, if you find it easier, you may want to draw 3 or 4 arrows with a time frame that indicates the sun. Do what’s easiest for you while being clear for the nursery caretaker.

Although many homeowners want to start with new plants, it’s important to note the existing plants you have on your plan; especially since some shrubs and small trees require special extraction and/or removal with special equipment.

Blue arrows are helpful to indicate wind patterns during the winter and summer (you can use a small “w” or “s” beside the arrow if the pattern is different during the season).

Another helpful thing to note is areas that you may need shade and/or wind protection—whether that’s for people or for plants.

If you have any height or width restrictions for plants, be sure to indicate that as well. Current drainage lines, and planned drainage lines will be extremely useful, too.


Always check with your local county and town officials in case the work you’re having done interferes with current cable, power, and water lines. Do you need a permit for the type of work you’re doing? Have you asked your local officials to pull up records for any buried lines on or near your property? You also need to make sure the work you’re doing has been cleared and is properly permitted.

Step 3: Survey Available Materials and Create a Budget

Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to start doing research on the cost of materials you’re going to need, where to find the best deals, and whether or not there are any changes necessary to your plan in order to accommodate features.


When you visit the nursery, growers will be very helpful in making recommendations for what type of plants will thrive on your property. You may also find that the one tree your had your heart set on won’t work because the location could cause damage to your home, or maybe your sun patterns aren’t ideal. Don’t fret—this is valuable information to have!

Information like this helps you to make informed decisions on changes to your plan. Now is the time to make changes if necessary – when your plan is still on paper!


Separate out materials you will need such as decking, hardware, pavers, etc. This will help you narrow your focus when researching vendors and whether or not you’ll need a subcontractor to do the installation work for you.


Be sure to call family and friends for recommendations on any company or individuals—especially when its related to the type of work you need to have done. Social Networks such as Facebook and Twitter pages can be valuable tools in determining a vendor’s reputation.

Once you have an idea of your costs it’s time to create a ranged budget. Your lower-end figure should be costs of materials after discounts all added up together. The higher end should be materials cost without discounts with a bit of rounding up to create some padding. Are you prepared to pay the higher end? Keep in mind that the buffer gives you wiggle room in case something goes wrong (maybe a back hoe busted your sewer line and now it needs repairing).

Step 4: Execute Your Plan

Once you’ve lined up your materials, plants, and delivery of said materials, be sure to create a time frame based on what the vendors told you. Try to have 3rd party labor stick to the schedule so that your project can be wrapped up on time. Talking to your vendors about time frames is hugely important as it will give you a sense of how long the overall project will take, and you may even learn about potential hiccups to watch out for (that tree you were wanting is backordered and won’t arrive for another month).

Remember to take everything in stride and recognize the things that can be done later without holding up the entire project. Be prepared for things to not go perfectly to plan, but close enough so that you get your end result. All that time and effort you’ve spent will have been totally worth it!