Beginner’s Guide to Landscaping

Low-Maintenance Landscaping - House with well landscaped front-yard

Taking on a landscaping project is a great way to customize your lawn and add to its curb appeal, but figuring out where to start can be overwhelming. This guide will cover landscaping from a beginner’s perspective, from the basics of landscaping theory to common mistakes and ideas for beginners.

The 4 basic elements of landscaping

Landscaping combines four primary building blocks: lines, form, texture, and color. But what do each of these elements mean, and how do they work together to create a full landscape? Read on to learn how to make these elements work for you.


Colorful Landscape

You don’t have to cover your yard in stripes to incorporate lines in your landscape. In the world of landscaping design, lines are created where two materials meet, where edges are visible against a background, or where a structure in a linear shape sits in a yard.

Sound a little abstract? Here are some examples of lines in a landscape:

  • Fences
  • Garden bed borders
  • Sod lines
  • Garden paths
  • Patio borders
  • Tall trees
  • Pole-mounted birdhouses (or bat houses)

Lines can influence the character of a landscape – straight lines create structure and formality while curves create relaxation or natural ambience. Vertical lines create movement and excitement and can emphasize certain features, while horizontal lines evoke rest and work to divide or tie a space together.


garden shed
Jeremy Levine | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Form refers to three-dimensional shapes in the landscape, such as bushes, garden beds, and hardscaping structures like sheds, walkways, or gazebos. 

Form is typically considered in conjunction with the style of your home – for instance, round or soft shapes will complement a Mediterranean or cottage house, while right angles are best for mid-century modern and ranch-style houses.

Form organizes the landscape and typically determines the style of the garden. Geometric forms include circles, squares, and polygons, while naturalistic forms include organic edges like boulders and foliage, as well as pathways or garden beds with meandering lines that mimic water. 


Dinesh Valke | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Texture refers to the feeling and appearance of surfaces in the landscape, such as plants, hardscape elements, and rocks or boulders. Texture can create contrast or unity, which is generally determined by whether the surface is coarse or fine – coarse textures stand out more, while fine ones blend into the surrounding landscape.

The surface of bark, the shape and size of leaves, the intensity of color, and the cut or finish of hardscaping brick or stone all carry texture. A peeling crape myrtle, for instance, will create a more dominant texture than the smooth bark of a birch tree. Coarse textures can make a landscape feel smaller, while fine ones can make a small space seem larger.


Colorful Flowers

Color is the most noticeable element in a landscape, but it also changes the most throughout the year–– colorful flowers may go dormant or die off as their blooming season ends, while lush green leaves turn into an array of fall colors. Still, brightening up your landscape with a color scheme is a great way to customize and take advantage of the functionality it can offer.

Here are just a few ways color can work for you:

  • Attract attention to a focal point, such as a door or water feature
  • Divert attention away from functional elements, such as utility boxes
  • Combine with texture to make your yard appear bigger or smaller

Use of color in landscape design is guided by the color wheel, which maps out warm colors red, yellow, and orange, and cool colors blue and green. Purple can appear cool or warm in a landscape depending on the colors around it. Warm colors create excitement and pop in your landscape, while cool colors blend into the background and evoke serenity and calm.

What to consider when designing a landscape


Creating a landscape design for your home isn’t just about mapping out the perfect appearance. Here are some important considerations as you begin the process.


Safety should be the first consideration of any landscaping project. You don’t want to break ground and discover you’ve also broken a main water or natural gas line. Before you start your landscaping project, map out where you want to dig with chalk or twine, and call 811. This nationwide hotline will map the underground utilities in your yard to prevent your work from disturbing them.


Consider the needs of your home’s inhabitants in the early stages of coming up with a landscaping plan. Do you have little ones who will need protective mulch for outdoor play, or any family members with sight or mobility issues who would benefit from accessible landscaping? What about an unsightly view that you’d like to mask, or a patio you’d like to lend a little more privacy?

Keeping in mind the needs and goals of your landscaping project will help create a space that you love to spend time in. Whether you’re gardening with kids or catering to curb appeal, your garden design should feel like you.


It’s important not to bite off more than you can chew when it comes to beginning a landscaping project. With all the endless possibilities, it can be easy to end up with a more expensive scheme than you bargained for. Consider your priorities and start small. Setting aside a budget that meets your needs will help you make an impact without overspending.

Looking for a thrifty landscaping project to start with? Try a rock garden, vegetable garden, or native plant butterfly garden. These hardy design schemes will look beautiful and save money in the long run.


Keep location in mind while planning your project to tailor it to your yard. Do you have a south-facing yard, or a north-facing one? Are you planning for full sun, or a shady oasis? Considering your yard’s climate, sun conditions, and weather patterns will allow you to make the most of your space.

Common landscaping mistakes and how to avoid them

Backyard Landscape

Starting with plants

It can be tempting to build a landscaping project around your favorite blooms, but starting with plants in a landscaping project may leave you with an uneven design – or scrambling to protect your plants while you install new hardscaping features. You want your landscape to last throughout the seasons. 

To avoid this issue, design your landscape around hardscaping elements. Build off of these from the house outward with a variety of plants – first trees and shrubs, then smaller flower beds and flowers. Plan for evergreen and winter interest to keep your lawn looking wonderful no matter the weather.

Disregarding your environment

Your yard is connected to the environment around it, so it’s important to consider environmental factors when designing a landscape. Ignoring nature can prove costly and time-consuming, but working with it will lead to a beautiful and healthy low-maintenance landscape.

Take into account your USDA Hardiness Zone when planning a landscape, as well as the drought tolerance of your project and whether the plants you want to include may be invasive. Your lawn will thank you!

Forgetting drainage

Forgetting to consider drainage when planning a landscape design can have major consequences, leaving you at risk of lawn diseases, pests, and other expensive problems. 

You might wince thinking of unsightly gutters and pools of rainwater, but drainage can complement your landscape and even add an eco-conscious focal point. Consider a French drain system or a rain garden to help with erosion and keep your yard from getting waterlogged.

Not hiring a professional

There are lots of backyard projects that you can do on your own, but when it comes to a large landscaping plan, it’s best to hire a professional for help – especially if you’re a beginner. Having the advice of a pro will save you a lot of time and money in the long run and leave you more satisfied and less exhausted with the final result of your project.

Landscaping ideas for beginners

Ready to get out in the yard? These beginner landscaping project ideas will put you well on your way to green thumb status.

Outdoor entertaining

If you’re looking to spend more time outside, creating an outdoor space for entertaining is a great way to start. A little creative landscaping can extend the seasonal use of your lawn and make the most of your space inside and out

When it comes to outdoor landscaping, there’s no need to start off with a large-scale project like an outdoor kitchen. Moving the party outside can be as simple as nestling a fire pit into your patio with a few chairs and lights for a cozy enclave. 

Tend to garden beds

Adding garden beds to your lawn can help organize your landscape and increase its visual appeal. For an easy introductory landscaping project, try mulching your beds or installing edging. There are plenty of edging options to suit your taste, including bricks, stones, pavers, wood, and logs. 

Themed gardens

Themed gardens are an easy and fun way to get started with landscaping. Whether you’re envisioning an edible landscape or eager to incorporate your personality with a cottagecore touch, these gardens will teach you how to design a landscape and leave your yard looking lovely.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Brew your own cup with a tea garden
  • Step into an immersive sensory garden oasis
  • Give back to the ecosystem with a butterfly garden
  • Show off your personality with a goth garden

Water feature

If you’ve dreamt of spending your days with the sounds of cheerful frogs or a babbling brook, a backyard water feature may be perfect for you. Incorporate a natural touch by adding rocks to form the outline of your pond or stream. Why not add a small waterfall, too?

If you’re looking to start a little smaller, try setting up a solar-powered fountain with a small rock garden. You’ll have a serene retreat right in your backyard. 

Landscaping made simple

There are plenty of possibilities when it comes to landscaping your space, but if you’re just getting started, it’s best to get the expert help of a professional. Landscaping pros are ready to bring your landscaping vision to life – just a call or click away. 

Once your landscape is complete, connect with a local lawn care pro who can bring the whole look together with a manicured lawn.

Main photo credit: Pixabay

Annie Parnell

Originally from the Washington, D.C., area, Annie Parnell is a freelance writer and audio producer based in Richmond, Virginia. She is passionate about gardening, outdoor recreation, sustainability, and all things music and pop culture.