A beautiful backyard and front yard are extensions of your home and, by association, your personal style. You probably wouldn't think twice about hiring a professional to help you get the look you want inside your house, but you might not feel the same way about your outdoor space. Many of us see the yard as something we can DIY. After all, the landscaping on most home renovation shows seems to take a few hours max. But landscape designers exist for a reason—and there are plenty of good reasons to hire a landscape designer.
For additional advice and expert guidance, we've tapped professional landscape designer John Gidding. "As a landscape designer," Gidding says. "My goal is not only to help homeowners elevate their yard but ensure they are creating environmentally conscious spaces by including native plants that support water conservation and benefit native biodiversity."
The outdoor version of an interior designer, landscape designers have the right expertise and experience to plan a yard that has all the features you want and is reasonable to maintain. They can transform your backyard into the oasis you've dreamed of, but they also have practical benefits. A garden designer can tell you exactly which walkway designs will make snow shoveling easier, which native plants will grow best in your yard, and what to do with that gazebo the previous owners put in. Whether you want to revamp a few flower beds or do a full backyard overhaul, a landscape designer can help you get it right on the first try—and even increase your home's value.
But do you really need one? Ahead, we highlight what you need to know about landscape designers, what they do, and whether they're worth the expense.
What Is a Landscape Designer?
According to the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), a landscape designer "works closely with each client to create a personal and customized design that is best suited to their home, lifestyle, and unique set of wants and needs. He or she provides guidance, an artistic touch, and a comprehensive plan of action while keeping your best interests at heart."
Landscape designers consider the color, texture, smell, and growing seasons of various plants in order to curate and design a functional and beautiful outdoor space for their clients. They might consider a project as small as refreshing the flower beds around your mailbox or as big as a full backyard excavation and renovation.
Is There a Difference Between a Landscape Architect and a Landscape Designer?
Yes, they are different. The key difference is that landscape architects must be licensed by the state. Similar to the relationship between an architect and an interior designer, landscape architects typically have a higher level of technical knowledge and experience in structural design, while a designer focuses on aesthetics and plants.
Gidding explains, "while both share the goal of enhancing outdoor areas, the methods and scope differ. A landscape architect's projects frequently involve complex site planning, grading, drainage, and infrastructure considerations. On the other hand, my expertise lies in curating plant palettes, understanding the interactions of colors and textures over time, and creating atmospheres by bringing them all together."
Both can design hardscaping, such as a patio, terrace, or swimming pool, though that tends to be more of a landscape architect's domain. In either case, a landscaping contractor is the one who'll do the actual digging.
Where Can I Find and Hire One?
The best ways to hire a landscape designer are similar to the ones you'd use to find any other solid tradesperson—although aesthetics matter in this case, of course.
Word of Mouth
Neighbors tend to use the same lawn maintenance companies. You know their work—after all, you see it every day! When you run into a neighbor whose yard you admire, ask them if they'd recommend their landscape designer. You can also keep an eye out for professional landscaping advertisements. When you see a garden that's getting refreshed, look for a sign and snap a picture! You can mine local family and friends for ideas too. Be sure to ask if they've ever used anyone (or know anyone who has) to find a landscape designer who's been vetted by people you trust.
Like architects, landscape designers must have a certain level of professional experience and education in order to be certified even though they're not required to be licensed by the state. Both the APLD and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) have search tools that can help you find experts in your area.
Google and Instagram are great places to start when you're looking to connect with professionals and vet their work, but it's important to go one step further before you set up a meeting. Websites like Home Advisor and Angi have cost predictors and reviews of local design firms; they can also connect you directly to the designers.
How to Have a Productive Consultation
If you're hiring a landscape designer, you probably have a project in mind. When you meet with a potential landscape designer for an initial consultation, bring photos or videos of your actual outdoor space and inspiration photos. It can also be helpful to come up with questions about the designer's style, communication preferences, rates, revision process, and maintenance planning. It's also smart to ask whether they or someone from their firm work on-site to direct landscapers or other tradespeople and ensure their plan gets executed correctly. Should you decide to move forward, you'll want to know specifics about the project timeline.
Gidding advises that all clients should bring a comprehensive Site Survey or Site Plan, ideally measured and including the location, type, and health of all trees onsite. "This can be a tall order but eventually will be needed," he says. "For most suburban homes, all you need is some graph paper and a large tape measure. Photos also help, along with a list of existing plants and features."
Be prepared to have answers to their questions as well. The landscape designer may ask you about your desired outcome, budget, and any nonstarters (such as plants you're allergic to or ones you must have).
How Much Do Landscape Designers Cost?
The national average cost of a professional landscaping project is $3,496 with a wider range of $1,271 for tree removal or light border work while a full backyard remodel can cost more than $6,006, according to Angi. Depending on the extent of the work, landscaping costs generally range between $4.50 and $12 per square foot. However, if you're tackling a tear out and major remodel, plan to budget up to $40 per square foot.
Are Landscape Designers Worth it?
Ultimately, yes, landscaping designers are worth it. While you can handle minor renovations like installing a vegetable patch or replanting annuals by yourself, landscape designers have the know-how and vision to create a cohesive outdoor space that is practical and beautiful. They know which plants grow well next to each other, and how to scatter bloom times to have a stunning garden from April to December. They can plan a garden that will fill out beautifully over time without becoming crowded. Plus, your local nurseries may not have the best quality plants; landscape designers can pull from their network and get you the best quality blooms for the best price.
Gidding says, "I recommend finding someone with experience working on water-conscious lawns. Those who don't prioritize drought-resistant and native plants might not align with your eco-friendly goals for a sustainable outdoor space. Tomorrow's most valued properties will be the ones who took steps to wean away from intensive irrigation today."
And, perhaps most important, a landscape designer can help you plan a yard that's sustainable for you to maintain so you don't waste your money.
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