Gardening Landscape design

10 Suggestions for DIY Landscaping

Landscaping in front of a suburban home

Follow these tips to create a home landscape that will rival the best professional plans.

By Mathieu and Larry Hodgson

Are you thinking about doing your own landscaping? You might not realize this, but that’s what the majority of homeowners do. In fact, the very best landscaped properties are almost always the work not of landscape professionals, but of their owners. Also, the price is unbeatable: you only have to pay for materials and plants!

But first, there are some situations where you should seriously consider letting a professional guide you. If you have very uneven terrain, water accumulation problems, issues with bank stability along a watercourse or other complex issues, it may be wise to contact a landscaper or a certified landscape architect. In some cases, you many even need to consult an engineer!

In addition to savings, you’ll probably find that you find great pleasure in doing your own landscaping and you’ll be all the more proud of the results you obtain than if you paid someone else to do it. Also, doing it yourself allows you to spread the work over several years, according to your energy and your budget. Of course, it’s also possible to entrust part of the work to a certified landscaper, in the case you have more complex aspects (such as retaining walls over 2 ft/60 cm high), and to carry out the rest of the work yourself. You do have to know your own limits!

The 10 Essential Rules of a Successful Home Landscape

A very solid and perfectly level staircase.
Think safety first. For example, a staircase should be wide, sturdy and perfectly level. Photo: swensongranite.com

1. Think about “security” and “access” (walkways, stairs, lighting, etc.) first. Only once these necessities have been taken care of should you proceed with major plantings.

Hammock in the backyard.
In your landscape plan, you can even include an open-air bedroom with a hammock. Ill.: Claire Tourigny

2. Draw your plan by starting with structural elements: fences, hedges, trees, shrubs, walls, etc. Consider dividing the lot into sections: a rest area, a terrace, etc., using plants to create the divisions. Garden designers often use the idea of “garden rooms.” Thus, you can create an outdoor living room, kitchen, dining room and even your own “open-air bedroom” with a hammock.

3. Think about how you are using your yard now and how you would like to use it in the future. Do you often entertain friends or family or do you prefer to snuggle up comfortably on a sofa with your sweetheart? Maybe the vegetable garden is your priority. Don’t forget the practical side of things, either: storage space, composter, trash bin, barbecue, etc. It’s important to think about where these elements need to be located in your landscaping rather than realizing after the fact that there’s no room for them. Also, identify problem areas on your property—any accumulated clutter, places where water builds up, unsightly elements you’ll want to hide, etc.—and make resolving those situations a priority.

Illustration of a man showing how to plant by grouping plants to create a better effect.
To create harmony, plant in large enough groupings to create some impact, then repeat the groupings! Ill.: Claire Tourigny

4. Push the repeat button! Choose a limited palette of materials, plants and colors: beautiful combinations will be that much easier to achieve. Also consider repeating the color of the house elsewhere on the lot to ensure better integration. In flower beds, plant by color groupings: three or four identical perennials together, 10 to 15 annuals, etc. It creates more impact than scattered colors. Now, repeat the groups. Three groupings of perennial X, five of perennial Y, etc. This will lead to a harmonious effect.

5. Make sure you always have something in bloom. Write down the flowering period of each plant you plan to use. If you notice a gap in the bloom season, find varieties to fill it. There are also some plants with a long-blooming period that are therefore very useful when space is too limited for a wide variety of plants.

Illustration showing plants placed in order of height.
In general, plant in order of height. Ill.: Claire Tourigny

6. Plant by order of height, with small plants towards the front and large ones to the back … but break this rule from time to time. This will give “movement” to the layout.

7. Try to balance your landscape’s elements. You can simply use symmetry as a guide by repeating the same elements or use the shape of the plants or their color, for example, to balance your garden.

8. Flower color isn’t the only way to add variety to your garden. Also consider using shape, texture and foliage.

9. While it’s important to include some variety, simplicity is even more important. Eliminate what isn’t necessary and limit your choices of material, then repeat them to give your landscape a sense of unity.

A curved path disappearing into the distance giving an air of mystery to the entire landscape.
To add a touch of mystery, make sure the entire garden is not visible at first glance. Photo: twobuttonsdeep.com

10. Add mystery to your garden! Rather than creating a straight path, design curves in such a way that you can’t see the end point. Install a screen of shrubs or fencing to hide a shade garden or rest area. In short, make sure that you don’t see your entire garden at first glance, but rather need to take time to discover it.

Drawing Your Own Landscaping Plan

Making your own landscape plan isn’t difficult. 

Woman cutting out landscape design ideas from magazines.
Cut out favorite landscape design ideas from magazines to get an idea what you like. Ill.: Josée Fortin

Start by collecting ideas, cutting out pictures you like from magazines and grouping them together by theme (shade garden, main entrance, etc.). Then, sit down as a family and make your final decisions, combining two ideas if necessary.

To transfer these ideas to paper, dig out the property survey for your yard (a map of your property you would have received when you bought house) and have it enlarged. Then, cover the plan with tracing paper and draw your ideas, each on a separate sheet. If a design doesn’t work, try again, moving the elements to different positions. Only when everything fits together should you draw up your final landscape plan.

It may be useful to mark out the main elements of the layout in the field using stakes and garden twice to better visualize your plans.

Landscaping plan designed by software.
You can use landscaping software to help you draw your plan. Ill.: boiteachansons.blogspot.com

There is also landscaping software that can help you draw your plan. First, enter the dimensions of the lot and the house. These programs include a variety of virtual plants that you can select so you can visualize the effect your plan will create in real life. Some types of software even allow you to see plants grow in size over the years and thus avoid the problem of trees and evergreens blocking views or getting in the way of electrical wires as they mature.


So, can you plan and landscape your property pretty much on your own? Of course you can! Just let the tips above guide you!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “10 Suggestions for DIY Landscaping

  1. I bet you’ve broken a few in your own garden, Larry 🙂

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