By Steve Graham, Networx
A proper landscape redesign requires thorough and detailed planning. That once meant pencils, rulers and crude sketches on graph paper. Today, it means a few keystrokes for making three-dimensional images and even professional architectural blueprints. Landscaping software allows homeowners to upload measurements and images of their property. The program helps them add plants, patios, walkways, water features and more. They can start to envision their redesign before ever visiting a nursery or calling a landscaper.
The programs may have a steep learning curve, but a few minutes spent with a video tutorial will pay off in easy, fun designing. Of course, as with all software, you get what you pay for. Here are the three basic levels of landscape software programs.
Showoff Home Design is a free program that lets you envision a new garden by adding plants, furniture and other features to your digital photos. The program includes images of hundreds of plants divided by hardiness zone and type. It even shows how the landscape will mature over the next five years. Users complain that the plant options are limited, and the system requires some advance knowledge. It doesn't hold your hand through the process of choosing plants.
Other free programs include the very basic Garden Planner Online. It is a simple and user-friendly way to create a really rough sketch of a landscape design, but it doesn't let you save your designs without downloading the program.
For $70, homeowners can upgrade their landscape designs into three dimensions, and add GPS terrain data. Chief Architect Landscaping and Deck Designer is one of the best-selling landscape software programs. It lets you simultaneously design in two-dimensions and three dimensions, offering an overhead view of the full yard while adding slopes and elevations. It also allows you to view the design as you would from the street.
You can choose from more than 3,600 plants, with detailed information about each species, and the "Grow Plants Slider Tool" shows how plants will look across a span of 20 years. The program also automatically generates a running cost estimate and materials list. This package is notable for the array of customizable deck options and water features.
For about the same price, The Punch Home and Landscape Design Suite offers fewer landscaping options, but adds interior design options if you are upgrading your home's inside and outside at the same time.
If you consult professional landscapers or architects for your landscape redesign, they may use pricier landscape design software. At $250, Realtime Landscaping Architect is well beyond the needs and budget of most homeowners, but it is worth understanding the tools that your landscaper is using. The professional software is similar to the less expensive packages, but it helps users quickly generate professional landscape plans, blueprints and CAD drawings to share with zoning officials, contractors and others.
Before starting a basic landscape redesign, play around with some free landscaping software. If you have a more serious project, buy the more advanced software and make detailed plans to help ensure success.