Virtual Garden Design – How To Use Garden Planning Software

By: Laura Miller

Imagine having the ability to design a garden virtually using a few simple keystrokes. No more backbreaking work or plant-shaped holes in your wallet only to discover the garden didn’t turn out quite like you hoped. Garden planning software can make the job of garden design easier and help you avoid costly mistakes!

Garden Planning Software Features

Whether you’re planning a total garden makeover or you want a quick method for laying out your veggie patch, you can find garden design software to meet your needs. Some garden planning software can be used for free, while others charge a nominal fee. In addition to cost, these programs vary in the virtual garden design tools they offer.

Here are the more common features available and how to use them to design a garden virtually:

  • User-Friendly: To start designing quickly, look for an intuitive virtual garden design app or program which is easy to understand and use. A drag-and-drop interface allows gardeners to quickly add plants and landscape elements to their layout.
  • Photo Importing: Use this feature to upload a photo of your home and take all the guesswork out of computer garden planning. The view on the screen will be a realistic rendition of how plants will look next to your house.
  • Landscape Elements: Want to see how a fence, deck, or water feature will look in your garden? Select a program with a database of images for these and other garden elements, then incorporate them into your virtual garden design.
  • Multiple view: Seeing the virtual garden from different angles gives gardeners greater latitude in the planning process. Or try a program with 3D capability to give more depth and realism to your layout.
  • 24 hour view: Are you interested in knowing where afternoon shadows appear or how your moon garden flowers look at night? Choose a program with 24-hour view and you can see the garden at different times during the day, at night, or throughout the year.
  • Future view: Get a glimpse into the future to see how quickly your selected plants will grow. Use this app to avoid overcrowding and understand changes in lighting as trees reach mature heights.
  • Plant database: The larger the app’s plant library, the more plant species and varieties gardeners can insert into their garden design. Select a program which includes a plant identification app and plant care information to get the most help.
  • Storage options: Before investing time in a program, check to see if the computer garden planning software allows you to download, save, print, or email your design. If not, you may have to complete the design in one session or risk losing your progress.
  • Printout details: Use the available print features on the design app to create a detailed image of the virtual garden complete with a shopping list and cost estimate for the project. Some garden design software includes planting directions and spacing guidelines.
  • Reminders: When available, use this feature to receive text or email reminders for planting, pruning, and watering your new garden. These reminders can come weekly, monthly, or seasonally depending upon the program.

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Read more about Gardening Tips & Information

10 of the Best Free Garden Planners Available Online

When you’re about to plan a garden, anything is possible. With so many types of gardens, plants, and layout options to choose from, a garden planner will help you stay on track. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned gardener, we’ll show you how a free online journal will make this year your best garden yet.

The winter months offer perfect prep time, and the right garden planner for you will come with many added benefits beyond simply staying organized. Before you venture outside with your gloves and shovel in tow, try planning with a virtual garden for fast and reliable results.

What is the best Garden Design Software, what do we recommend ?

Until we review some garden design software we really like, unless you are a professional landscaper or architect, stick with the free Google Software. For professionals try the free download of LANDWorksCAD or SmartDraw.

Or just keep a record of different plants on a word processing program or database such as Excell, you can download lots of free drawing programs in fact most word processing packages come with one.

You will not be able to ‘drop and drag’ plants from a library of images, but at least you will have a record of what is where, when you planted it and when to prune, fertilize etc.

Step 3: Putting in some details

Next I colour in any details I want in the plan. For example for the patio pattern, I made a series of rectangles, sized them, filled them in with texture then placed them to look like patio stones. You only have to do the first few, cut and paste after that.

  1. Hint:
    To move things you can use your mouse or for finer movements use your arrow keys.
  2. If you create a scene that involves a lot of shapes (like the patio, or a table and chairs set) it is convenient to group them together so you can move them as one item. To do this select two or more shapes, right click and go to GROUP. The items now move together. You can ungroup, regroup, or group with other shapes/groups as needed.


Basic Types of Plants:

  • Annual: Plants that grow, flower, set seed, and die all in one growing season
  • Perennial: Plants that come back year after year some are evergreen, some are deciduous
  • Shrub: Woody plants that have several main stems some are evergreen, some are deciduous

Evergreen: Plants that do not go dormant and keep their leaves through winter

Deciduous: Plants that go dormant and drop their leaves in winter

Zone: There are 11 different growing zones in the U.S. and Canada based on the lowest average temperature each area receives during winter. Knowing what zone you are gardening in allows you to pick plants that will withstand the coldest expected temperature for your area. Read more: Zoning in on Hardiness.

Exposure: The amount of sun or shade a plant needs

  • Full sun: 6 or more hours of direct sunlight each day
  • Partial sun/shade: 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight each day
  • Full shade: Less than 4 hours of direct sunlight each day
  • Dappled shade: A mixture of sun and shade, usually under an open tree similar to partial shade

Habit: Refers to the general structure or shape of the mature plant

  • Climbing: Plants that climb fences, trellises, or structures (i.e., vines)
  • Clump forming: Plants that form clumps of foliage, often spreading to form more clumps
  • Mounded: Plants with a rounded shape, usually wider than tall
  • Spreading: Plants that are low-growing and spread along the ground, rooting at nodes along the stem
  • Trailing: Plants that trail along the ground or cascade out of containers, but do not root from the stem
  • Upright: Plants that are taller than wide, with generally straight sides

Height & spread: The estimated size of a mature plant

First or last frost date: The average date for your area for the first frost in fall or the last frost in spring

Native: A plant that has grown naturally over hundreds or thousands of years in a particular area. These plants are well adapted to their native growing conditions (soil, climate, water, etc.) and are beneficial to their local pollinators and wildlife.

Invasive: A non-native plant that becomes established in an area outside it's native region and spreads rapidly, to the point of disrupting the native environment and ecosystem.

For more common gardening terms, see this Dictionary of Gardening Terms from Proven Winners.

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