How to Design a Garden with The Best Online Landscape Design Courses

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Research and planning are the two key factors for a successful and thriving landscape. A garden flourishes when it has the right plants and is carefully planned. But to create a prospering garden, it needs to follow a logical progression. This article covers tips for researching and planning a garden in the most efficient way before using CAD software.

Additionally, this article shows you where to find inspiration while providing the best online courses for teaching you how to design thriving, beautiful landscapes and gardens year-round.

1. Determine your USDA Hardiness Zone

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The first step before choosing landscape plants is to understand their ecology and the environment at which plants can grow in the area being designed. To understand what vegetation grows in a specific area, you must enter the zip code of the project at the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Once you know the hardiness zone, you can then start researching new plants that thrive in the designated area, and are suited to the micro-climate.

When researching plants to install in a garden, you should start by evaluating the existing plant life in the landscape. Document where existing vegetation is, so when you include new landscaping, these plants can be incorporated into the design. Consider where the most common focal points in the landscape are – position yourself in various locations around the project. Stand by the front window, back windows, bedroom windows, or backyard patios of a home and contemplate where landscaping will frame views within the house.

After recording the positive and negative characteristics of the potential landscape, consider what structures and features are already in place. Examples of these structures may include pools, gazebos, pergolas, air conditioning units, sheds, etc. You might be able to incorporate some of these features in a new landscape. However, there are other features you need to consider, such as neighborhood association guidelines or architectural character that may require lamp poles or specific ornamental fences that you will need to be aware of. Keeping and incorporating already-built structures and existing vegetation can be a good way to reduce the installation cost of landscaping.

When it comes time to select plants to install for a garden, you can take it one step farther by testing the soil type of your project. To check the makeup of soil and pH conditions, you can take a sample of soil from a project location and send the sample into a local extension office or purchase a soil testing kit from your local home and garden store near you.

Some of the hardiest and best plants to design and incorporate in a landscape are native plants. Native plants that grow naturally in an area can be an excellent choice for any garden. These plants are not only beautiful, but also require less maintenance. The type of soil you have determines which plants will thrive. So take your time and research the species that are suitable for the area and select a variety of plants to ensure biodiversity. Biodiversity will help combat pests while providing year-round interest for the landscape.

2. Selecting the Right Plants Based on Requirements and Conditions

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Oftentimes, the first few questions that come to mind when creating a garden are, “Where should plants be installed based on sun soil and moisture requirements? What is considered part sun or full shade? What plants are better, trees or shrubs?”. In this section, we’ll cover the definitions of each and the basics of each category so you can design a thriving garden!

Full Sun vs. Part Sun/Shade vs. Full Shade

To determine which type of plant is best suited for a certain location, consider studying light conditions in different areas of your project multiple times throughout the day. Take note of the amount of light that reaches your area during morning, afternoon and evening. Elements such as existing trees, structures or buildings can affect light requirements. You can grow plants in all different types of sun conditions per day, but there are some differences between them.

  • Full Sun – 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  • Partial Sun – 4 to 6 hours of sun per day.
  • Partial Shade – 2 to 4 hours of sun per day.
  • Full Shade – less than 2 hours of sun per day.

Full shade is difficult for plants to grow because of the soil moisture. In this case, the competition between tree roots and plants is particularly high. Consequently, plants that grow in dry shade should be shade and drought tolerant. Additionally, supplemental water should be applied to the soil. Dense shade is not the same as full shade because there is a significant amount of indirect light. This type of shade is often found beneath evergreen trees and in dark corners or passages between houses.

When shopping for plants, a plant’s tag should list its light requirements. This is useful in choosing the best location. For example, if a plant requires full sun, it should be placed in a sunny area. However, if the plant requires partial shade, it needs to be placed in a partially shaded area. Plants in part shade can survive without direct sunlight, but require protection from the hot midday sun.

Regardless of the climate, it is important to remember that the amount of direct sunlight provided to plants will determine whether or not they thrive. A plant that blooms in the middle of the day may need more direct sunlight during the afternoon. If specific plants have blooms, carefully review the sun/light requirements and know how the sunlight functions in the yard they’re being placed in. That way, these plants receive an adequate amount of light per day.

Trees vs. Shrubs

Before planting trees, you should first understand the canopy type and determine where to plan for these trees to be performative. For example, some deciduous trees have a more dense canopy, not allowing sunlight to penetrate through, which are perfect for shading direct sunlight on patios. Other tree and branch structures may be more umbrella type, with pinnate leaves, which let in some light to penetrate the ground, allowing light to other plants.

After understanding the canopy type, the next step will be to configure where the trees or evergreens will go first, before planning shrubs, perennials, grasses or annuals. When planning for a tree, consider the type of soil and sun exposure, how much shade it needs, and the distance from buildings, neighboring homes or other structures.

Once you know the trees, you can then begin to specify understory plants – like shrubs. Shrubs are the second layer to a landscape in terms of overall height. As mentioned earlier in this article, it’s best practice to follow a progression to design a thriving landscape.

Below are characteristics of any type of plant to consider when planning for a landscape. This criteria will be the reason your landscape thrives or dies:

  • Zone
  • Height
  • Width
  • Sun
  • Water

Read each plant’s characteristics carefully and be sure to know the above 5 factors before designing and creating your garden. The characteristics considered cosmetic and secondary are:

  • Bloom time
  • Maintenance
  • Flower color
  • Texture
  • Appearance

When selecting plants for outdoor use, remember that location matters. A plant that is well-suited to its surroundings will grow quickly and develop a strong root system. It will also have a higher resistance to problems. If you are unsure where to find requirements for trees, you can find out more information by either going to Missouri Botanical Garden or reading the tree tags at a local nursery.

Soil Types

Some plants prefer sandy soil and others need loam soil. Regardless of the type of soil, make sure you have enough moisture in the ground to support the plants you wish to grow. Soils with higher levels of humus and clay are more forgiving than sandy soils.

To find out which soil type suits your garden, dig a 6″ deep hole and observe the length of time it takes to drain water. If it drains water in three to four hours, it is most likely sandy. If it takes up to eight hours, then it is probably clay and may retain too much moisture.

In addition to sunlight and soil type, consider spacing between plants. For instance, low shrubs, with shallow roots, should have 1-gallon per hour emitters. Wider spacing will promote a larger root system and less watering time. However, smaller emitters tend to clog more easily. Also, choose emitters that are designed to provide uniform moisture near the surface. If you have sandy soil, space between emitters should be around two feet apart.

3. Planning for Plants to Mature in Size

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Many young landscape designers or even homeowners make this mistake when it comes to designing and creating a garden. The one major element you must consider when designing a garden is the plant’s mature width. By knowing the plant’s mature size, you can space plants accurately, so the plant grows into the space properly, ensuring and promoting adequate plant growth and health.

First, decide how dense or sparse you want the plants in your garden to be. The size of mature plants is based on their climate and environment, but you can also look at the average lifespan of the plants in your area. Many reputable local gardening professionals can give you an idea of what the plants will be when they reach maturity. Then, plan your garden accordingly. Using these tips, you can choose the plants that will grow the fastest and thrive the longest.

If you are planting trees or shrubs in the garden, be sure to consider their mature size before planting them. For example, a tree can reach a mature height of up to 60 feet, which is tall enough to be a safe distance from the home. Be sure to leave enough space for a ladder so the plant can be cared for, as well.

Remember, the most beautiful flowers are the ones that fill a garden. You should consider how much space each plant requires as they are filling out. If the plants are too close together, they may choke each other out, reducing their appearance. You should also be aware of whether or not deer have access to nibble on the seedlings.

Certain plants will grow well together, a practice called companion planting. Consult the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service for a list of compatible and incompatible plants.

Something not commonly thought about is how plants need to be rotated every year. Never place the same plant in the same spot twice in three years. A good general rule for spacing plants in a garden is that you should space them by their mature width. If you’re planting two 40-foot-wide trees, you should space them at least 40 feet apart, or 50 feet apart. For example, this spacing is equivalent to the radius of the smaller tree, plus the extra 30 feet of the larger tree.

Keep in mind the climate of your area. Different vegetables grow at different speeds and in different temperatures, so plant the ones that are best suited for the garden’s location. Consider the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and determine which plants and vegetables will thrive there. A few plants may be intolerant to certain climates and won’t grow well in your area. Make sure to choose hardy varieties that are well-suited for the climate you’re designing in.

Choosing plants with a variety of shapes is another way to maximize the space you’re designing. Hardy Geraniums, Peonies, and Hostas can create broad mounds of foliage. Ornamental grasses and ferns can form arching fountains. Tall Asters and garden Phlox grow into pillows or mounds, while shade-loving Lamiums have towering spikes.

Consider the types of colors you want to see in your garden, as well. If you are planting perennials or shrubs, choose plants with interesting foliage for texture and color year-round. As a general rule of thumb, it is always best for your garden to have a mixture of perennials and annuals.

Homeowners should be aware that when it comes to taking care of a newly built garden, it is best to water a newly planted plant daily for the first 30 days so it would get used to its new surroundings. The top 2 inches of soil should always be dry between watering sessions. Watering should be reduced if it rains. After rainy days, watering can occur less frequently. For the first thirty days, watering a newly installed plant every day would ensure that it thrives in the ground.

Once the number, spacing, types, colors and textures of plants have been decided based on soil, location, climate and preference, you can start using CAD software to put the design together. There are online courses to help you learn how to do this.

4. Resources and Ideas for Creating a Landscape

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The internet is a great place to find inspiration for creating a garden. Browsing Pinterest is the easiest way to find ideas for a landscape and they make it easy to create mood boards. Thousands of photos, videos, and ideas are pinned by professional landscape architects and designers and are collected in these visual catalogs. Creating a vision board of types of gardens helps designers and homeowners understand the plethora of styles that are available.

Another great way to find inspiration for creating a garden is to visit local botanical gardens. By visiting botanical gardens, you can visibly see the plants and how big they get while ensuring they will grow in your area. Take pictures of these plants and document the appearance of the plant. You may want to replicate certain aspects of those designs, or create a completely new design altogether.

Different types of landscape architecture and garden styles have different objectives, but they should all have a balance in terms of the space and mass of their individual components. In both garden and landscape designs, open space is the focus of both, and individual plants should be sized to fit within the space of their respective plantings. 

Landscape design has evolved from the early days of architecture to include the use of color. Using color wisely is crucial when creating a garden. Consider the four seasons of the year, and plan accordingly. Summer flowers and winter plants may be brighter than winter ones. Hardscapes can also incorporate color in a design. A garden is not complete without plants and a well-chosen theme can help make it unique and beautiful.

Classical landscape designs, considered to be one of the oldest styles, tend to feature pure geometry and symmetry. These gardens are typically suited to luxurious homes and feature well-defined pathways. They may include a sculptural water feature and ceramic pots arranged in symmetry.

Traditional Japanese gardens are characterized by an aesthetic of tranquility. These gardens take their design cues from Buddhist, Shinto, and Taoist philosophies. They also utilize key elements: balance, asymmetry, and borrowed scenery. These landscapes usually feature a variety of plants, such as bamboo, and are characterized by a mixture of traditional and modern elements. Decorative items are also a key element of traditional Japanese gardens.

The most popular and widely used design style is the Modern garden. In general, modern landscaping focuses on the natural beauty of the landscape, and is often more organic in appearance. Modern landscapes often use concrete and metals, while contemporary designs generally favor wood accents and natural-looking plants. A benefit of modern landscaping is it partners great with different style homes. So, if you have a traditional home and want to update the exterior design, you can choose a more modern landscape style. A two-story brick colonial can also look fresh and modern with a concrete path and monochromatic river stones.

The layout of a Modern garden is usually characterized by clean lines and a sleek, minimalistic style. The color palette for this style is typically white or grey, and pebbles are often used as paving. Modern gardens are more functional and minimalist than other styles. This style is perfect for low-maintenance environments and great for different temperatures.

5. Best Online Landscape Design Courses to Design a Garden

When it comes to finally putting together all of your garden research to design a landscape or a garden, courses are a sure way to reduce the learning curve and get your design completed faster if you don’t already utilize a computer aided design software.

Taking a landscape design course online will give you the skills you need to design any garden or any landscape. With a great program like AutoCAD for Landscape Design, you’ll have access to a large library of pre-built libraries with various mature width sizes so you can plan and design your garden for adequate sizing and overall health. You’ll be trained for the practical side of the job and it’ll cost you a fraction of what you’d pay at a university. Unlike an on-campus course, you’ll have the freedom to work at your own pace with lifetime access to materials making your education affordable and enjoyable. 

AutoCAD for Landscape Design is the #1 landscape design course for beginner to intermediate landscape designers who want to start designing residential gardens and landscapes.

In AutoCAD for Landscape Design, you’ll learn how to use pre-built symbols such as plants, buildings, and trees to design a landscape from scratch or to create a beautiful garden. You’ll also learn the principles used by professionals in the field. Learning the fundamentals of garden design will give you the knowledge and confidence to make decisions that are right for each individual project. And since each step builds on the previous one, no topic is left unturned.

If you’re a beginner in landscape design, free landscape design software and free trials will help you visualize a garden or patio before starting work. However, they will never help you build a portfolio, a book of clients or a business so it’s recommended to decide on a software after your free trial is up. AutoCAD LT is the most comprehensive 2D software on the market for landscape design professionals. It also offers a free trial for anyone switching from another software.

AutoCAD for Landscape Design is a course that is approved by Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD). That means, you can gain a professional landscape design certification and receive 5 Continuing Education Unit’s towards your certification with our course. The lessons are delivered entirely online, so you don’t have to spend time on travel or find a studio.

Click here to learn more about AutoCAD for Landscape Design.

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