How to Design a Landscape Using Free Computer Software

Written by joshua smyth
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How to Design a Landscape Using Free Computer Software
A new house is a blank canvas. Use software to fill it in. (new construction landscaping image by Photoeyes from

A landscaping project is a big undertaking, with a lot of time and physical labour involved. Landscape-design software lets you sketch your design out on a computer before taking a shovel to the ground. This preplanning helps you discover what works and what doesn't without lots of costly and tiring experimentation. Most landscaping software allows you to add, move and alter common landscaping elements --- plants, stonework and water features --- and will produce a photographic preview of your project. Most landscaping software must be paid for, but free programs and trials are also available.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Photographs of your project area

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  1. 1

    Download landscaping software (see Resources) or access it online. Free packages include online applications such as ShowOff Landscape Designer and BBC Virtual Garden Designer. Downloadable free trials are available for Upperspace's 3D Landscaping for Everyone and Garden Planner 2.5. As of October 2010, no downloadable freeware for landscaping is available, so if you need to use the program for more than 15 days, you must either pay or use a free online planner.

  2. 2

    Draw up a budget. Before you plan your landscape design, decide how much you are willing to spend. This will avoid time wasted on the computer placing unaffordable plants and design elements.

  3. 3

    Contact local landscape product providers and get price lists for plants, stone and any other elements you might integrate into your design. Keep these on hand while you plan.

  4. 4

    Install your design program of choice and double-click on its icon in your Applications folder to open it. If working online, you may have to register to use free landscape planning services.

  5. 5

    Enter the dimensions of the area you want to landscape and upload a photo of your home to function as background.

  6. 6

    Read the "Help" menu items and instruction manuals for your chosen program to understand how to raise and lower terrain and select different elements.

  7. 7

    Click to select the element to place -- for example, a small tree -- and click on your design in the spot where you want it. A tree will appear in your drawing.

  8. 8

    Look at your drawings from both birdseye and facing perspectives to get an idea of the sight lines and spacing of your plan. Move elements to make sure that plants don't crowd each other.

  9. 9

    Print copies of your design and keep it with you to consult as you build your project.

Tips and warnings

  • A well-designed plan, printed in full colour, is an excellent sales aid if you're a landscaper offering your business services. Many people need to picture a job before they can agree to it.
  • Most available free software is relatively limited in power. If you'll be using it often or professionally, it can pay to invest in a commercial package.

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