Curb appeal and beautiful backyards can add significant value to a home. And if you have an interest in horticulture and a talent for conceiving stunning natural designs, then you may want to consider becoming a landscape designer and helping businesses and homeowners take their outdoor spaces to the next level.

Landscape design is an in-demand job with loads of potential for creative growth and fulfillment. It’s also a great way to do your part for the environment, working with individuals to create spaces that aren’t just pretty to look at but that support the ecosystem around them.

Well then, what does a landscape designer do, and how can you become one? Plant the seed with this quick guide on how to be a landscape designer, where we’ll be covering basics like educational requirements and the average landscape designer salary for skilled professionals.

What Is a Landscape Designer?

A landscape designer is someone who sketches, plans, and optimizes outdoor spaces. Unlike landscape architects, an individual practicing landscape design does not need any special licenses or certifications. They do, however, need to have a deep understanding of horticulture and how to conceive of and execute beautiful natural exteriors.

Notably, a landscape designer’s skills go beyond basic gardening, though it’s essential that they know their way around a hoe and trowel. Much of a landscape designer’s utility comes from their ability to look at a plain, dated, or overgrown landscape and come up with creative, actionable solutions that make the most of the accessible environment. In this way, they do overlap quite a bit with landscape architects, though their work is often more limited in scope.

shrub garden
Landscape designers are responsible for planning out entire outdoor spaces, including gardens and functional-use areas.

Landscape Designer vs. Landscape Architect

Just in case you’re getting confused about the differences between a landscape designer and a landscape architect, here’s some clarification.

Both a landscape architect and a landscape designer engage in landscape design. Where they differ is in licensing requirements and the scope of their practice. Landscape designers tend to work on smaller-scale projects like exterior plans for homes and businesses, while landscape architects are involved with urban planning, city park design, and other large endeavors.

Either of these careers will offer you a varied workload with loads of creative potential. And for those who think that they might be interested in landscape architecture but aren’t quite ready to invest in a degree, starting with landscape design provides a perfect opportunity to gauge whether it’s worth taking the extra step.  

Landscape Designer Job Description

landscape sketch
Preliminary landscape plans are often sketched out by hand, after which a landscape designer will use specialized software to create a cleaner and more detailed blueprint.

If this is a career path that intrigues you, it’s helpful to know exactly what sorts of day-to-day tasks and considerations are involved with landscape designer jobs. Some of what you can expect includes:

  • Creating landscape blueprints based on extensive aesthetic and environmental research
  • Performing on-site analyses to assess soil type and quality, lighting, and other specific qualities of the space
  • Presenting plans to clients for approval and modifying plans as needed based on client feedback
  • Collaborating with civil engineers, land surveyors, contractors, architects, and other related professionals
  • Overseeing project execution and completion

A successful landscape designer must have expert-level knowledge of the climate conditions in the area they work in, particularly in terms of what types of plant life it can sustain. They also must be able to bring together their creative vision with technical expertise to design outdoor spaces that are functional, realistic, and of course, absolutely gorgeous.

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How to Become a Landscape Designer

When it comes to how to be a landscape designer, there are various paths that you can choose to take. This includes pursuing a traditional education and a horticulture degree or opting to learn through on-the-job experience—or both.

There is no right or wrong way to start your career as a landscape designer. A strong work ethic, an eye for natural design, and a green thumb will take you far, even if you postpone or skip formal schooling. With that in mind, here are some of your options for breaking into the field and getting started as a landscape designer.

What Qualifications Do I Need to be a Landscape Designer?

You do not need a horticulture, design, or art degree in order to become a landscape designer, but getting one is likely to open up more doors for you, especially if you don’t have any connections in the industry.

Many aspiring landscape designers choose to get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in horticulture, often with a concentration in design. Others pursue studies in a range of related disciplines, including plant biology and landscape management and contracting. Educational avenues like these will provide you with a wealth of information that you can then apply to your work. They can also lead to opportunities such as mentorships or apprenticeships.

Online courses (such as this one on how to propagate plants) can be a useful supplement to a degree. In addition, you may find that seeking out free and paid web-based materials helps you narrow in on what your major interests are and start to develop your style as a landscape designer.

How to Get Landscape Design Experience

Designing your own garden is one way to start getting experience, but even better is to get a job or internship where you can learn alongside seasoned professionals. With or without a horticulture degree, you can reach out to local landscaping companies and ask if they are hiring or taking on interns. You may not get to start with full-on landscape design right away, but any general landscaping experience will be valuable toward building your career.

While you’re at it, talk to friends and family members and find out if any of them are interested in letting you design their outdoor spaces. Any projects that you complete can then go into a portfolio that you can then use as you seek out additional clients and opportunities.

Landscape Designer Certification

Similar to a landscape, art, or design degree, you aren’t required to be certified as a landscape designer to work in the field, but you may find that it helps you progress in your career.

Certification through an organization like the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) will set you apart from others and make you a more competitive hire. To be eligible, you’ll need an associate’s degree or higher in landscape design, horticulture, or a related field. You will also need three or more years of professional experience and a portfolio of at least three completed projects.

Gaining the necessary prerequisites for APLD certification will take years. In the meantime, consider joining the organization as an emerging professional, which requires no documentation or experience and will give you access to job boards, networking events, webinars, and more.

How Much Does a Landscape Designer Make?

The average landscape designer salary is $51,272 per year, according to Payscale. Factors that impact this rate include a designer’s location, experience level, skill set, and employer, among others.

One thing that you can do to make sure that you earn as much money as possible as a landscape designer is to become proficient in design software. The ability to use Rhino 3D Modeling Software, Vectorworks, and Computer Aided Drafting & Design (CADD) software are all associated with higher pay grades.

Types of Landscape Designer Jobs

Now that you know the answer to what does a landscape designer do?, let’s talk about where a landscape designer works.

As with many creative career paths, a landscape designer may choose to work for an established company or go out on their own as a freelancer. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and which way you choose depends largely on your individual preferences.

Work for a Landscape Architecture or Design Company

Landscaping firms, including those with specialties in landscape design or architecture, hire landscape designers to assist in the planning and overseeing of their projects. Working with an established company gives you a chance to pick up wisdom and best practices from more experienced designers—and it means that you won’t have to worry about finding your own clients.

Do keep in mind that as an employee, you may not have full creative freedom. You also probably won’t have a say in which projects you take on, at least until you work your way up in the ranks.

Become a Freelance Landscape Designer

Going solo as a freelance landscape designer means that you have total autonomy over how you work, who you work with, and the landscapes that you create. You can also work as much or as little as you want.

Freelancing as a landscape designer is somewhat different from other freelance jobs in that it’s a highly collaborative profession that often requires working alongside other related specialists. It’s helpful to make these connections yourself so that you can offer a full package deal to clients and ensure that you collaborate with people who you work well with.

If you go the freelance route, having a website and social media presence will be essential for booking clients. Be prepared to invest quite a bit of time in your local inbound marketing strategy, and make it easy for new prospects to find you and get in touch.

Alternative Careers for Those Interested in Landscape Design

You can parlay a love of horticulture and garden design into all sorts of different careers. Here are some other paths that you might be interested in either in addition to or as an alternative to landscape design.

  • Landscape architects tackle site planning and execution for large-scale commercial and municipal projects.
  • Landscape assessors research site-specific qualities such as soil and drainage conditions for landscaping projects.
  • Nursery growers cultivate plants for use in landscapes and garden centers and may also be involved in transportation and replanting.
  • Landscape scientists use science and ecological considerations to solve landscape issues. They deal with both the structure and dynamics of existing landscapes, as well as the potential impacts of landscape changes.
  • Florists source and sell plants to businesses and consumers. They sometimes also offer floral arrangement and design services.
  • Environmental designers help create environmentally friendly spaces and structures and are often the go-to source for ecological considerations on construction projects.

Working as a landscape designer or in one of these alternative fields is a wonderful way to celebrate and help protect our natural environment. Pursue a career in landscape design today, and put your skills to use creating beautiful spaces that people, plants, and animals can all enjoy. You’ll get to challenge yourself every day and, better yet, engage with projects that truly make a difference for the planet. 

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Written by:

Laura Mueller