BY LAUREN OLBETER

You are the best landscape designer – for your own yard, that is. Nobody knows your likes and dislikes better than you do, and nobody knows more about your outdoor habits. That makes you the best suited for the task of designing a landscape you will love.

Who doesn’t want a well-balanced and thriving landscape surrounding their home? You could hire a professional to walk you through the process, but you may enjoy the outcome even more if you do the work yourself and you are sure to save a lot of money.

According to home.costhelper.com, homeowners spend and average of $11 a square foot and closer to $20 if you throw in a water feature, a more formal design, or a wall or two, but since this is the information age, you already have all the help you need.

As long as you don’t mind taking the initiative and taking a little time to pull together design inspiration and information, you can have a beautiful design for free. And you can install it in stages as time and budget allow.

The key is a plan! To get the most out of your outdoor space you will need to organize your ideas into a plan. For help generating sketches you can find a free online service called Plan A Garden at the Better Homes and Gardens website, BHG.com. You can also shop for software that ranges from $20 – $400, if you want a little extra help getting everything organized and onto paper.

With or without a landscape design program, doing a little homework will get you ready to put together the perfect landscape design for you and your outdoor space. Go to extension.missouri.edu and select the Lawn and Garden tab to read about steps to successful landscaping. The steps include: making a list of existing and desired outdoor features, drawing a base plan over which you can outline the major landscape areas (i.e. public areas, private areas, and service areas), designating locations for the desired features, and lastly, putting it all together in the final landscape plan. You can read about another take on the process at Williamson.agrilife.org, under the “Landscape” section. This article goes into even greater detail about these steps, breaking them into 12 separate steps.

Take some time to consider the unique conditions you have to work with – soil types, sun and wind exposure, slopes and drainage, orientation of property and structures, and view points from windows and walkways. This will help you to select plants and hardscapes that are right for each area of your yard.

To read more about the visual aspects of landscape design, check out Basic Principles of Landscape Design from the University of Florida website at edis.ifas.ufl.edu. And Remember: a couple days before breaking ground, call 811 to have all utility lines marked.

After doing a little reading and drawing out a plan for yourself, you can have a custom landscape design, tailored to your preferences and needs. The work will be well worth it when you are able to enjoy your outdoor space, designed perfectly for you, by YOU!