Though you can visualize how you want your garden or patio space to look in your mind, it always helps to create a more formal design using online tools. This allows you to see how the elements of your desired landscape fit together. It can also serve as a basic blueprint for when you start the physical work.
There are several online tools available to help you design your landscape. In this article, we explore some of the best free landscaping tools available and provide the key steps you need to follow when designing your landscape online.
The Best Free Landscape Design Tools
Landscape design tools are usually downloadable apps or software you can use to create a simple blueprint of your garden or patio space. They help you organize your ideas into a cohesive whole and ensure you maximize the space available.
Before you can start designing your landscape, you need to select a tool that provides the functionality needed for your space. Several free tools are available, each with its own pros and cons. Let’s look at five that collectively help you design your landscape online.
Tool No. 1 – SketchUp Free
Though SketchUp is typically paid software used by professional architects and landscapers, it has a free version available to any hobbyist. It lets you create 2D and 3D landscape models, meaning you can see your landscape in all dimensions. It’s also user-friendly, meaning even those without 3D modeling experience can come to grips with it fairly quickly.
SketchUp Free is compatible with most web browsers. You can save designs and download them as images or renders that you can share with landscaping professionals.
The professional nature of the software is also its biggest drawback for free users. SketchUp Free requires a powerful PC to run correctly, with the following specifications being the bare minimum.
- 2.4 GHz Intel processor
- 700MB of available hard disk space
- 4GB RAM
- An Intel HD integrated graphics card with at least 512MB of memory
Even with these specifications, some aspects of the software will run slowly. 3D rendering is a particular issue. However, those looking to create a simple 2D design should find everything they need in SketchUp Free.
Tool No. 2 – Gardena myGarden Planner
Gardena’s tool is ideal for creating simple landscape templates. It also lets you add basic garden elements, such as fences, trees, pools, ponds, and furniture. Its biggest advantage comes into play if you wish to add sprinklers to your garden. The tool has a Sprinkler Plan function that automatically generates a sprinkler pipeline for your landscape based on its size and shape.
The myGarden tool also offers a selection of templates you can adjust to fit your space. You can create a space from scratch, giving you complete control over the design.
Its only real disadvantage is that the tool is 100% focused on landscaping. As a result, it offers very little information about different types of plants and vegetation. If you’re looking for a tool that helps you figure out which plants go best together, Gardena myGarden is not the best choice.
Tool No. 3 – ISCAPE
A mobile app available for Android and iOS, ISCAPE offers professional plans as well as a free plan available to general homeowners. It lets you create 2D designs and offers limited use of 3D with some augmented reality features. The free version also gives you limited access to the app’s database, in addition to some access to plant and product information.
ISCAPE is easy to use, allowing you to create rough landscape designs that give a professional team something to work from. It also has extensive sharing capabilities so you can easily send designs to friends, family, and contractors. The app even points you toward retailers that sell the plants and products you intend to use.
While its simplicity is a huge plus, the access limitations placed on the free version of ISCAPE are its biggest drawback. It only gives you access to a small number of plants and products, making the app less than ideal for comprehensive landscape designs. You can upgrade to the paid version to gain full access, though this costs $29.99 per month. As such, ISCAPE is ideal for generating rough designs that a professional landscaper can fill out later.
Tool No. 4 – Marshalls Paving Planner
Available on the Marshalls website, this is a UK-based tool focused solely on paving. It requires you to create an account via the website, though this is a simple case of entering a name, password, and email address. As such, the app is accessible to people outside the UK.
The planner provides clean blueprints that let you play around with several paving ideas. When you start a new project, it asks you to enter the length and width of your paving space. The planner automatically generates a preliminary plan, with measurements, for you to work from. You can then edit the plan’s shape, add borders, and check different paving types to see which you like best.
Much like ISCAPE, Marshalls Paving Planner is best used for rough blueprints. Its biggest drawback is that you need to source the paving yourself unless you buy directly from Marshalls. That option isn’t open to people outside the UK. So, use this to get a rough idea of how you want your paving to look before working with a contractor to source appropriate paving.
Tool No. 5 – Plan-a-Garden
Offered by Better Homes & Gardens (BH&G), Plan-A-Garden is a free tool that you can access by creating an account with BH&G. It’s designed specifically for DIY enthusiasts and it offers a superb tutorial that walks you through all of its features before you get started.
The tool provides templates and uses a simple drag-and-drop functionality so you can experiment with different landscape designs. Simply choose the background that most closely resembles your space and select from the wide range of coverings and products the tool offers.
Plan-A-Garden is also one of the best tools for plant-lovers because it contains a detailed database telling you everything you need to know about the plants you select. The tool also has a climate control feature, which you can set to your region’s temperature zone. It then suggests plants and products that fit the conditions, as well as the landscape space. You can also switch between the default 3D view and a bird’s-eye 2D view at the click of a button.
Unfortunately, the 3D models are not as explorable as you may like. The tool offers a single viewing angle in 3D mode, meaning you can’t get a full idea of how your chosen features and plants look from all angles.
Tips for Designing a Landscape Online
Designing a landscape online can feel overwhelming. In addition to the large variety of tools at your disposal, you also have tons of options in terms of the products you use and the ways you manipulate your space. These tips will help you simplify the design process so you create a solid blueprint for your contractors to work from.
Tip No. 1 – Determine Your Landscape’s Needs
Ask yourself what you want out of the landscape. If you’re a gardener, you likely want to prioritize plants and vegetation. If you’re designing a yard for your children, you’ll need soft play areas and products. Figure out what you want and create some basic hand sketches that cover the basics.
Tip No. 2 – Choose Your Online Landscape Design Tool
Your wants and needs help you figure out which landscaping tool works best. For example, gardeners will likely find that Plan-A-Garden is best for them because it provides access to loads of information about plants and climate. Those working with contractors may prefer ISCAPE or the myGarden Planner because both offer sharing functionality and allow the quick creation of basic designs.
In many cases, you may find that combining tools can help you design the ideal landscape. For example, you may use Plan-A-Garden to construct a general layout before using Marshalls Paving Planner to create the landscape’s paved areas.
Tip No. 3 – Limit Your Hardscape Texture and Color Choices
Your hardscapes are the non-living elements of your landscape. They’re also available in a huge range of colors and textures, which can be overwhelming. Rather than sifting through every available choice, consider the landscape’s surroundings, such as its plant life and nearby buildings. Use these surroundings to focus on textures and colors that complement what’s already in the landscape and the natural features you’re going to add.
You can get more creative with featured hardscape pieces, such as paths and pool areas. However, your main hardscapes should match the rest of the landscape.
Tip No. 4 – Think About Your Location
Though some free landscape design tools offer climate options, most do not let you adjust lighting and wind patterns. Both affect your landscape, with lighting being especially important. For example, you may place a patio on the east side of the landscape so you can enjoy outdoor meals in the summer. The patio looks great on your landscaping tool. Unfortunately, the east side of your house doesn’t get much sun due to overhanging trees. You’ve just discovered a limitation of free online landscaping tools.
Paid tools tend to offer features that account for the practical elements of your landscape. But if you’re using a free tool, you must consider the practical elements in play and how they’ll affect your online landscape design.
Tip No. 5 – Start Big, Then Go Small
It’s tempting to try to use online tools to design every element of your landscape immediately. This approach may leave you feeling bogged down in the work, creating an overwhelmed feeling that can lead to you abandoning the project.
To prevent that from happening, start big and focus on the little details later. Use your online landscaping tool to create a general layout with basic elements used for the space’s focal points and features. Once you have a general design and confirm that it’s practical for your space, start focusing on the smaller stuff.
For example, your layout may incorporate a set of planters running alongside the landscape’s east side. Once you’re happy with the layout, go smaller and select the plants you’ll place in the planters. Then, go another step smaller by using your online landscape design tool to determine if your chosen plants mesh well together and are suitable for the specific space you intend to place them.
Tip No. 6 – Be Willing to Change
One of the best features of online landscape design tools is they allow you to edit your designs if you make changes. You’re not committed to a design once you’ve created it. Use this to sift through your ideas so you can figure out what works and what doesn’t. Experiment with your chosen tool, and be patient. Something that works in your head may not work when you’ve placed it into a landscape design. A good online tool gives you a chance to test alternatives until you find something that works.
Find Your Tool And Start Experimenting
Experimentation is crucial to designing an attractive landscape. When you use manual tools, you commit to a lot of reworking every time you want to try a new idea. Online landscape design tools speed up the process, allowing you to try new ideas and edit existing ones without spending huge amounts of time on the design.
The tools presented in this article are all free and collectively provide what you need to design a stunning landscape. Combine those with the tips shared and you can create a landscape blueprint that helps your contractor envision the design you have in your head.
Now, we want to hear from you. Have you used any of the landscape design tools in this article? Have you tried any other tools that can help budding designers? Do you have any useful tips based on your own landscaping experience? Let us know in the comments section below.