What is Soft Landscaping?

Debra Durkee

Soft landscaping is the process of designing the elements of a landscape that do not involve construction. These elements include trees, shrubs, and flowers, as well as container gardens, potted plants, and hanging baskets. Changing the soft elements of the landscape can be an easy way to change the entire look of the outside of the home, especially when using methods such as selecting different annual and perennial flowers for the gardens and flower beds.

Water features can be added to a garden with soft landscaping.
Water features can be added to a garden with soft landscaping.

Planning some elements of soft landscaping means undertaking a long-term endeavor. Shade trees and conifers can take years if not decades to reach their mature heights, just as it can take years for shrubs to mature into natural privacy hedges. Elements like these require some thinking ahead, as they will form the backdrop of the landscape for years to come.

Flower containers can be easily moved.
Flower containers can be easily moved.

Other parts of the landscape can be easily changed on a yearly basis. Annual flowers are replaced each season, so replacing purple and yellow dahlias with a bed of red, white, and blue garden verbenas can change the atmosphere and feel of the landscape without the hassle of construction. The only limit is what the soils will support; homeowners can replace low-lying forget-me-nots with tall, slender sunflowers or creeping zinnias with snapdragons for a completely new look.

Red verbena makes a bold color statement.
Red verbena makes a bold color statement.

Container gardens are also a part of soft landscaping. Flowers like geraniums are commonly used in hanging baskets, and as they are only typically good for a single season they are easy to change from year to year. Some small ornamental trees can be grown in containers, and rearranging these to frame entryways or patios can also give the landscape a different feel.

For those looking for some more advanced soft landscaping techniques, there are a number of vines that can be trained to grow up and around garden elements such as gazebos or a trellis. The trumpet creeper vine can be trained to climb walls and even trees, and is a fast-growing, brightly flowering plant that can add a new element to the garden. Gardeners can combine container gardens and climbing vines with some creativity, and can even create their own topiaries simply by training plants over wire frames. Adding English or Boston ivy can create an Old World feel if these fast-growing ivy vines are allowed to climb up and over buildings.

Once the main structure of the garden is in place, soft landscaping presents the creative gardener with a playground of endless possibilities. From changing colors to adding ornamental grasses, terracotta accent pieces and even container water features, soft landscaping is much easier to change than the concrete, structural elements that are created in hard landscaping. Soft landscaping allows gardeners to experiment with color and an almost endless variety of plants and flowers to create a colorful new look to the garden.

Ivy climbing a wall can create an Old World feel.
Ivy climbing a wall can create an Old World feel.

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Discussion Comments


I agree with you Heavanet. I think that most people can accomplish their garden and backyard landscaping goals without using hard landscaping techniques. However, I do think that rocks, stone paths, and garden statues add nice touches to yard and garden landscaping plans.


I didn't realize that different types of landscaping ideas had different terms until I found this article. I think most people use soft landscaping around their homes because it is easy to do and more affordable than using expensive decorative pieces. It's also fun to pick out a variety of plants to create your own unique landscape design.

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