Those who have tried their hand at landscaping in the past will understand just how much work it can be, and how that work can come to nothing if you do not enter into the project with a relatively specific plan in mind.
Unfortunately, visualizing your ultimate garden, and how it would best fit with your property can be nearly impossible to do with any level of accuracy without laying down a carefully considered plan, complete with measurements and expectations.
On the upside, these days there seems to be a fully functional software suite for just about any task that you can think of, and landscaping or garden design is no different.
This makes it easier for DIY projects to be completed by allowing home-landscapers to carefully plan and visualize each and every aspect of their design, and even to set up a task schedule that will streamline the physical process, take into account the costs of materials, and provide a creative sandbox-like platform for you to creatively work with to visualize your ideal garden or landscaping projects before you get started on it.
There are many varieties of software suits in this regard, which differ in functionality, user-friendliness and of course price; all of which will affect the way in which you use it to plan out your landscaping project.
There are very few of these pieces of software on the market that are free, and that is fair enough; the incredible functionality that they provide makes that understandable.
So let’s take a moment to explore some of these landscape design programs to find out which ones would best suit your project.
Paid vs. Free Landscape Software
Not all of the landscaping software out there needs to be paid for, or though there are very few packages that are completely free. Many of them are used to draw your attention to products sold by gardening centers, while others allow limited functionality when using the free edition.
Still, you are generally going to get a better deal with the ones that you pay for.
The choice you make with this regard will have a lot to do with your own situation, needs, and budget. If you are embarking on a once-off landscaping project, then purchasing a software package for once-off use might not be high on your priority list.
If, however, you are looking to use the software extensively over the course of a few projects, you will get more satisfaction from paid-for packages.
Though not all of the paid-for services will actually give you the best results; often these packages are less than user-friendly since they are designed for professional use; while the more affordable ones (or those that are free), tend to cater for amateur users who don’t want to have to take the time learning how to use design software.
Some applications might even be free, to begin with, though they will not render or export your design without first registering and paying for the product.
These are often a good choice for those who want to experiment with the functionality of a piece of design software before dolling out money on it; making it better than those paid-for services that might not suit your design approach anyway.
The Advantages of Using Landscaping Software
While there are many approaches to garden planning and landscaping, being able to take the one offered by utilizing design software can hold a number of advantages:
The use of software makes for a more efficient and cost-effective approach to planning out your landscaping tasks since the software can be used to easily put design elements in place, shift them where need be, and to make alterations where necessary.
Design software allows for more freedom of expression and design since mistakes can easily be pointed out and rectified by the design software.
Most design software allows you to visualize the finished project by providing you with high resolution, accurate renderings of what your design will look like.
Some landscaping software allows you to take better control of the cost of your project by supplying you with estimates on prices of materials and equipment that will be used in your project.
The use of software allows you to draw up functional plans in the comfort of your own home or office, which can then be shared with prospective design professionals to ensure that your vision is realized.
The availability of free-to-use software makes the design process accessible to everyone, even if they often have limited functionality.
What to look out for with landscape design software
Not all software packages are created equal, which means that some of them will be better suited to your situation than others. To this end, hobbyists or amateur landscapers should make use of software that is:
- User-friendly and easy to learn to ensure that you get the most out of the software.
- Affordable or free to use, unless you are looking to conduct continual landscaping projects over a long period of time.
- Functional enough to provide all of the design tools you’ll need to create and visualize your ideal landscape.
- Compatible with the hardware you are expected to make the most use out of; whether that be a PC, laptop or mobile device. There are software packages that are well suited to each of these platforms, so get the one that is most familiar to you.
- Built by reliable sources, is perfectly functional and free from viruses or malware; making it essential to find a trusted software developer or company.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to some examples of the best landscape design software available for download or purchase.
Free Landscape Design Software Options
Free options for software generally cater better for amateur designers and enthusiasts. They are limited in their functionality, though still provide enough tools and accessories to get a solid idea of your own plan while putting it together with fewer complications and effort of hand-drawing the design.
Sometimes, free software does end up having to be paid for at some point; which is still sometimes better than paid-for software since it gives you an opportunity to see if the program is useful for your needs before you pay to use it.
As a design tool developed for Android and IOS, this piece of software makes it possible to create professional landscaping designs on your mobile phone.
This free app is remarkably user-friendly and is filled with plenty of tools and features that will guide you toward designing the perfect landscape in your garden, from the comfort of your phone.
The app includes many features which are well developed to encourage professional designs, quick sketches and on the spot changes that can be shared with clients and designers with relative ease over your phone. These features include:
- Simple tap and drag functionality to make design easy for users.
- Over 700 elements to add to a design layout.
- Configurable 90-degree object snapping to ensure perfect element placement.
- Integration with Google maps to create accurate measurements of your property.
- Customizable backgrounds and animation features to bring life to the visualization of your design.
- Designs can easily be shared over messaging, social media and email.
- The Incorporation of a step-by-step introduction and tutorial to the various tools offered by the app, making it fairly simple to learn how to use.
While this app is a little limited in certain respects, it is also completely free which makes these limitations excusable.
The point is that it is a highly functional app for amateur designers that allows for the quick placement and visualization of landscaping design, from a mobile device.
The software is also known to have one or two bugs, which could otherwise be forgiven of free services.
Unfortunately, these bugs often lead to losses in work, which can be immensely frustrating for those who have spent hours on a design only to find it has slipped into the ether once the app is closed.
To this end, however, the team at Julie Moiur Messervy Design Studio (the company responsible for developing the app) has a strong and engaged support program and is more than happy to help their users work through these bugs and to recover their work if it is lost.
Gardena’s My Garden – Online Design Tool
While many free-use apps or design tools have hidden costs somewhere down the line, others are used by companies like Gardena as a functional tool to promote their own products or services.
My Garden is one such tool, available on their website, that comes with no extra strings attached. The best part is that it is geared for home-users, which means that it was designed just for you.
As an online garden planner associated with an international company, it refers you to actual gardening products which means it can give you a better estimate of the price and approach that you will take when designing your garden.
It also has a comprehensive sprinkler, plumbing and shopping planner which essentially provides a turn-key design solution that is easy to use.
Full use of the design tool can be made by registering on their website, which also puts you into direct contact with Gardena, essentially making it easier to source the materials you will need for your project from suppliers that can keep your design in mind.
The tool includes various aspects of design elements, including a drawing tab, the sprinkler plan, the shopping list and the garden page which allows you to manage and share your finished designs.
Other tools such as object placing, size and rotation manipulation, object snapping and accurate measurement systems are also put into place to ensure that your design is conducted to the finest details.
For those that make extensive use of the tools, hotkeys and shortcuts make the tools easy to navigate and use, essentially allowing you to produce designs more efficiently.
It is one of the more functional pieces of free software out there, and because it is used as a marketing tool for Gardena, it will likely remain free while continuing to develop in functionality over time; making it an excellent long-term solution for free designs.
Marshall’s Garden Visualiser
Garden Visualizer is another free-to-use piece of software that allows you to make stunning 3D representations of the finished work of your landscape design. The program is available to download from Marshall’s website for PCs and laptops.
It is an incredibly powerful tool that is loaded with features and tools; some of which are actually quite complicated to use; so much so that it is strange to think that the software is actually free.
This also makes it a little inaccessible to those who are not already design-savvy, but for those with the patience to figure out how to navigate the software, it can be incredibly useful.
The software uses Unity Web Player to operate directly from a browser (which oddly enough is not available for use on Google Chrome, though it is easy enough to install another web browser such as Mozilla Firefox to get the design tool to work.
While the tool is powerful, it is also quite performance heavy, taking up a fair chunk of internet bandwidth to operate. This might make it unsuitable to those with weaker internet connections or computers that cannot handle the demands of the software.
An account also needs to be created before the tool can be used, which means that you won’t be able to get it without first dishing out your email address, which will likely be used at a later point to target marketing directly to you; which is a little annoying, but what more can you expect from free software.
Premium Landscape Design Software Options
Paid-for software is generally far more functional than free packages, and to this end, they are usually best suited to professionals in the industry who already have a background understanding of the principles of landscaping and design.
Because of this, they are often a little difficult to learn how to use, but being a paid product usually, comes with comprehensive customer support and tutorials on how to use them.
Still, just because it is paid for doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a better program, which makes it necessary to source one that is worth your while before paying. To help you with that, here are some of the most popular and functional pieces of paid-for landscaping software.
SmartDraw is not specifically intended to design landscape plans but is suited just as well to flowcharts and diagrams.
It can be used on PCs, laptops and mobile devices and uses over 4500 templates to construct over 70 different diagram types. These can be used to map out causality charts, engineering plans, landscape designs, floor plans and a range of other designs.
Similarly, to programs like AutoCAD, SmartDraw automatically formats and scales elements in the design when they are added, removed or altered; essentially leaving less chance of design weaknesses that result from human error.
Final designs can also be exported with relative ease and is supported by a range of third-party suites since it can be exported as a VSD or VSDX file, the backward compatibility of which ensures that it can be used on systems of all ages.
One of the key features behind SmartDraw is that it can be easily integrated with Microsoft Office products such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, and designs can also be shared within a community to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of collaboration between design and construction partners.
This product also offers excellent customer support from various locations around the globe, which is available also to trial users of the software. It is also relatively easy to use in comparison to other design suites, which makes it an attractive choice for those who aren’t too computer savvy.
Beyond that, this software is also available in over 100 world languages; making it suitable for projects anywhere in the world.
The software can either be downloaded directly to a computer or can be used online. A free-trial also makes it better for users who wish to test the software out before committing any money to it.
Structure Studios: VisTerra
Structure Studios is well known for its outdoor landscaping and pool design software. Their software, VisTerra, makes planning, visualizing and constructing landscapes and gardens a relatively simple, engaging and exciting task.
The design elements of the software make it relatively easy to use while providing incredibly powerful tools for laying out every aspect of your plan.
Changes to designs can be made easily with drag-and-drop functionality. When these changes are made, the software figures out the calculations itself, taking away much of the tedium behind design work.
Movement, rotation, scaling and various drawing tools also make the program easy to use and wonderfully functional.
They help to streamline the design process so that you can present clients, designers or builders with more comprehensive designs with greater ease.
Yet the design tools are not what makes this software stand out, but rather its ability to present these designs in an interesting and interactive way.
It allows you to see the fruits of your design work in intricate detail through a fully interactive and exportable 3D rendering.
This presentation can either be walked through, flown over or simply enjoyed for its lush renderings of scenery, interactive sounds and configurable times of day to make you feel like you are immersed in the landscape of your dreams.
As you could imagine, this is a powerful feature for landscapers to present designs to their customers, but also provides a great way for hobbyists to live out their own designs. Photo-mode also allows renderings to be made with photo-realism, giving you an excellent example of the finished project from any angle.
These renders can then be easily shared over emails or social media and can be done so at a resolution of up to 8k.
Aside from this, VisTerra also allows you to render designs in video-mode that can be assembled to highlight details and design elements in your landscaping project.
While Sketchup is an incredibly powerful piece of software, its developers also pride themselves on making it easy to use, or at least easy to learn how to use.
It is also not limited to landscaping, which can make it a tad complicated for some users to wrap their heads around, although they offer comprehensive tutorial videos that users can use in the beginning stages.
It also boasts one of the biggest libraries of exportable 3D models but is particularly well suited to letting you create your own when the need arises.
Their online library called ‘3D Warehouse’ is a community fed collection of models created by users, which means that you should always be able to find what you are looking for to include it into your design.
There are also numerous extensions for Sketchup that can be downloaded from the community, either for free or paid for, that can extend the functionality of your software while customizing it to the way that you prefer to use it; which means that there are virtually no limitations to the way that this program can be used.
While all of these programs are wonderfully functional, some are better suited to the task of landscape design than others, and the right program for you will depend entirely on your approach and preferences.
It goes without saying that the paid-for software is generally more functional and comes with better support; with VisTerra taking a narrow lead.
However, if cost-effectiveness is a key factor for you, the best free-software would have to be Marshall’s Garden Visualiser which has much of the functionality provided by paid-for versions.
In some situations, using mixtures of the above-mentioned suites can work quite nicely, since sketches and models can be exported and imported between them to take advantage of their varying functionality.
The best approach is to experiment with each program to see which one best fits your usage. Even the paid-for ones come with free-editions or trial runs to allow for this experimentation; so get busy testing them as soon as possible.