How Landscaping Software Works

complex landscaping pattern
Landscaping software can help landscapers with site plans.
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­So you've got some ideas for your backyard. You want to do some landscapi­ng around a new patio, plant some native shrubs or maybe install a new sprinkler system. As you look around the yard, you can't imagine how it's going to look come late summer -- not to mention what will have sprouted five years in the future. You start to wish you could actually see it. Lo and behold, you can -- on you­r computer, with applications created for exactly this purpose. Landscaping design software lets you visualize every aspect of your project in detail, before you ever turn a spade.

The basic features of landscaping software programs are similar. Most systems will allow you to:


  • Map out the area you're working with
  • Input a set of dimensions to generate a visual model
  • Upload digital photos of the site to build off of

Once you've created the base model, you can add new elements, such as specific plants or design features, manipulate them around, explore the possibilities from different ­angles and even view computer projections of plant growth at a variety of intervals.­

Most applications come with large databases of plants to choose from. Once you learn to use landscaping software, you can quickly create highly realistic and attractive designs. With some programs you can make a video "walk through" of the landscape you magnificently created.

If you've grown weary of yard projects that end up looking iffy, this article will help you to learn about designing irrigation and terrain using landscape software systems.



Designing Irrigation with Landscaping Software

Adding water features to a landscape can help you to create a tranquil, relaxing atmosphere. When someone mentions a water feature in the backyard, many people will immediately think of a swimming pool or hot tub. But there's so much more you can add to increase your property value and your self-esteem.

Integrating water flow into landscaping plans requires sophisticated tools. Lower-priced software can help you incorporate:


  • Home sprinkler systems
  • Waterfalls
  • Moats
  • Ponds
  • Swimming pools/hot tubs
  • Installed or disappearing fountains
  • Light irrigation projects

These items can be placed into existing landscape designs by inputting either photos or 3-D models (which are easily imported from sites like Google's 3-D Warehouse). Like computer-illustrating programs, landscaping applications can let you build your design one element at a time using layering. So adding a koi pond under the deck extension can be a little bit like looking at transparencies that have been placed on top of each other.

­Professionals can use more expensive software from start to finish on complex irrigation projects, such as golf courses, municipal parks and corporate campuses. The pr­ograms make it simple to lay out a base plan and organize the site-planning. The software will take into account the drainage patterns, including hills and slopes. This data can be used to create 3-D surface models, from which the computer will render topographical maps. The program saves the designer time by automatically calculating crucial details like friction loss, pipe velocity and even evaporation rates, and by drawing in and calculating the pipe length needed between sprinklers [source: Software Republic].

Professional-level software can also contain features to count materials and equipment to provide accurate cost estimates (what's called "quantity takeoffs" in the business); databases of irrigation components and parts from major manufacturers; and templates for cranking out materials reports, budgets, proposals and bids.

Even though they're lovely, water features aren't for everyone. Read on to learn about terrain landscaping with software. You just might be able to show up the neighbors once and for all.



Designing Terrain with Landscaping Software

­­Most users of landscaping software are thinking and dreaming about their own property. You can start making those dreams come true by uploading a photo of the area you're working with. This then becomes your virtual model, upon which you can experiment with different flowers, shade trees, shrubs, garden plots, fences and a multitude of other design elements and accessories. As you refine your ideas of what you want to include in your design and where to locate the different features, your doctored photo will reveal the look and feel of your desired result.

The applications usually include a catalog of plants, with detailed information about the requirements and botanical features of each. Many include a tool to research plant hardiness, so you'll know what types of flora will thrive in your climate zone. Once you've selected and placed the elements of your landscape design, you can view it in 3-D, rotated at numerous angles and in a variety of ways: by day or night (study the play of sun and shadow), in all seasons and projected into the future [source: Lawn-and-Gardening Tips].


­­The plant growth projections can be especially helpful to novice landscapers, if only as a graphic reminder to think carefully about sitting structures, such as patios or other fixed elements. In general, it makes sense to plan the structured areas first and landscape around them, making sure to leave plants ample room to grow. The software layout of your new lawn will look way better than your chicken scratch handwriting on a sheet of spiral-bound paper -- plus, it will actually be accurate.

­For complicated structures, some landscaping applications can be used in combination with construction ­software, allowing plans for electrical wiring or plumbing to be incorporated into the design. These packages usually include a library of building materials, such as pavement, gravel, doors, windows, furniture and other accessories.

Now, you're ready to choose the software product that's right for you and start planning your masterpiece. Have fun!


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Backyard Garden & Patio. "Tips for Using Landscape Design Software." (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Dale, Don. "Irrigation Design Software." Turf. 11/2008. (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Dobbins, Lee. "How Landscape Design Software Can Improve the Look of Your Home." Buzzle. 04/23/2008. (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Google 3D Warehouse. (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Lawn-and-Gardening-Tips. "Landscaping Software Lets The 'Designer' In You Shine Through." (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Marley, Jessica. "Landscaping Software--Is Landscape Design Software Really Helpful?" Gardening Know How. (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • PlantCare. "Landscape Software Review." (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Pondibilities. "FAQs." (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Street Directory. "How Can Landscaping Software Help You?"­/ ­how_can_landscape_software_can_help_you.html (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Software Republic. "DesignCAD Edition Irrigation Design Features." (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • TopTenREVIEWS. "3D Landscape Design for Everyone." (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • TopTenREVIEWS. "Landscaping Software Review." (Accessed 11/18/08)