If you want to go to the next step up from hand drawing and sketching a landscape plan, you need not buy fancy or specialized landscaping software to do so.

If you have MS Office for Windows or Mac on your computer, you have landscape design software!   After frustration exploring various landscape software, none of which did all that I wanted and involved a new learning curve to use it effectively,  I discovered that everything the homeowner and average gardener needs is contained in your basic MS Office package (Excel, PowerPoint, and Word).   OK, you can’t create professional 3D designs, but in the planning process, you can do 2D layouts with Excel,  pictures of proposed plantings as a PowerPoint collage, and description of a landscape in Word.

First, you need to do some actual measuring of your garden area and sketch the dimensions on a pad,  then using Excel, set column width equal to row height and you have graph paper.  The size will depend on the area you are designing.  A front or back yard might have a general master layout with sub pages for defined area in order to allow for more detail – a Workbook containing several worksheets.   So, if each box equals 1 square foot (or other designation), that provides the measurement aspect.  In Excel, you can draw area borders, insert and edit shapes and lines, insert text boxes, using different line and area fills or even pictures inserted into a shape as a fill.  The tools are there to support your creativity.  Who says Excel is only good for spreadsheets!


 In PowerPoint, I like to supplement an Excel layout with pictures of the various plants proposed.  The same tools that are in Excel are available in PowerPoint, including direct importing of pictures onto a page to create a collage of plant materials.  You can use the various shapes, edit them for color or fill to create landscape symbols that can be copied from a PowerPoint page onto the Excel layout grid, then resizing according to the plants ultimate spread and the grid.  I even go as far as to put a colored border on plant shapes to reflect the color of the flower that plant will produce, or a fill that reflects the plants foliage color.  Centers can be left blank for deciduous, filled to reflect evergreen  or gradient to reflect semi-evergreen.   Hardscape items such as fountains, containers, stepping stones, benches, vines, bordering bricks, etc can also be developed in this manner using the drawing tools in this software.  So you can develop your own landscape symbols using this common software.


Finally,  I use Word to provide description, materials needed, work phasing, cost estimates or any other narrative that helps define or describe the landscape plan. Then I create a folder and insert the layout plan in Excel, plant and hardscape pictures in PowerPoint, and Word documents describing and supporting the plan.

If you are a professional landscape designer, you can purchase landscaping 3D software costing up to $400 to make an impressive presentation for clients.  But if you are a homeowner and gardener, you can use your existing MS Office software to do the same thing (less the height and depth dimensions that 3D provides) for no additional expenditure.   Another problem with professional software is that it will contain images of plants not appropriate for central Texas, so you’re paying for features that are not applicable.

In this post, I have provided a few examples.  Give it a try and put your everyday software to use in a new way to design your landscape.



We were honored to have the CENTRAL TEXAS GARDENER (CTG) show on KLRU-TV in Austin (PBS) do a feature segment on our total yard, water wise, environmentally friendly, xeriscape transition from a traditional lawn. Appearing as the “On Tour” segment Sept. 15, 2012,  this allowed us to show and encourage others to consider this wise approach to landscaping and gardening in light of an ongoing drought and water supply shortage in Central Texas.  We thank CTG producer Linda Lehmusvirta and her crew for their expertise and talent in producing this segment.  

Please take time to view this 10 minute video on YouTube.  It’s as easy as clinking on the link, set full screen viewing and HD quality setting.