Blog/Landscaping/How to Plan Your Front Yard Landscaping Project

How to Plan Your Front Yard Landscaping Project

May 20, 2022
10 min read
  • A gorgeous house with a lush and well maintained front yard landscaping and bright green grass

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You’ve got the inside of your place sorted (nice job on the spring cleaning), which means it’s time to focus on something that probably doesn’t get as much attention as it should: front of house landscaping. From front garden ideas – hello daffodils! – to budgeting and outdoor lighting, here’s pretty much everything you’ll need to plan a front yard landscaping project that brims with beauty.

Things to do before starting your front yard landscaping

It may sound simple, but the best place to start is with visuals. Are you drawn to lush and romantic English gardens? Is minimal contemporary more your style?

Pull together images of front garden ideas that speak to you. Pinterest is a great place to start (bonus: it allows you to easily save your ideas) or pore over garden and design magazines.

After you’ve gathered your inspiration – you should notice something of a common theme forming – you can start to dig (no pun intended) a little deeper.

You may swoon at the thought of fragrant gardenias lining the garden path, but they might be more suited to Maui than Montreal. Confirm that your favourite plants, shrubs and flowers are in sync with where you live. Canada’s Plant Hardiness Zone can be a great resource – it’s a little technical but very thorough.

Determine your long-term commitment to your garden

Once you know what thrives in your area, figure out how you want the front of house landscaping to serve you.

Will it be a verdant oasis that requires hours of loving attention or is it a one-time makeover that takes care of itself? Front gardens and well-planned front yards are ongoing projects so they should be compatible with your level of commitment.

Survey of your property

Whatever kind of landscaping renovation you’re considering, everyone should have a survey done of their property. And they’re especially useful in city settings where front yard landscaping is often bordered by neighbours’ yards.

A survey is basically the dimensions of your property – it clearly defines property lines and identifies fixed structures like fences and retaining walls. If you don’t already have a survey, there are a couple of options. You could check online first, searching by which province and city you’re in. Keep in mind, online surveys may be out of date – any number of things, from additions to severances, can change a property’s makeup so do not trust an old property survey; be sure it is recent. You could also hire a surveyor to get the most up-to-the-minute document, just make sure they are provincially licensed.

It might sound extreme, but you don’t want to waste valuable time and then discover you’ve been planting or building on your neighbour’s lot. They typically take a week or so to get, but spring and summer are especially busy times so plan ahead.

Assess the drainage around your house

Drainage is vital in both back and front yard landscaping. Before you begin to implement any front garden ideas, make sure you know where your water sources are and that all water drains away from the house.

Popular drainage options include:

  • A French drain: This is a trench or reservoir, but without a pipe. It’s dug deep beneath the garden, or around the perimeters, and filled with gravel. Water collects here and travels through the gravel. These need to be quite deep to work well, so are better suited to large spaces and by extension, they can be on the expensive side.
  • Simple downspout extensions: These extend the downspout so water moves even farther away from the house. They are one of  the easiest and most budget-friendly ways to move water in the right direction. They can also be hidden among plantings.
  • Rain barrel: A good, old-fashioned barrel lets you adjust a downspout to just above the barrel’s height and collect water from it that can then be reused for the garden. It’s not necessarily the most efficient option, but it can help you access water that would otherwise go to waste.

Decide on a landscaping budget

With your front yard landscaping ideas ready to be realized, it’s time to draw up a budget.

If you plan on hardscaping construction, get a few itemized landscaping quotes from professionals for comparative purposes. If you’re adding plantings only, visit a few local nurseries to compare costs before you buy.

Learn your soil type

Before you splash out at the nursery, make sure you know the texture of your soil (is it clay, silt or sand?) and what types of plants will grow in it.

You can google away to find out how to determine your soil type, but can be a pretty good source for basic information. A more knowledgeable landscape contractor, however, can test the soil to confirm its type, along with its pH balance. Both play crucial roles in how well plants grow and have far-reaching effects in maintaining a garden, influencing everything from the choice of fertilizer to how often, and for how long, you should water the garden.

Full-sun vs. partial shade vs. shade

You know the phrase, “lighting is everything?” Well, it definitely applies to making front garden ideas a reality.

Time how the sun falls directly on your front of house landscaping, then choose plants accordingly. A general rule of (green) thumb:

  • Full sun is 6-8 hrs
  • Partial sun is 4-6 hrs
  • Partial shade is 4-6 hrs (mostly before noon)
  • Shade is less than 4 hrs

Designing your front yard landscaping

This may be the most exciting, and nerve-wracking, part of making your vision – everything from front yard landscaping ideas and front garden ideas to outdoor lighting – come to life.

That’s probably why so many garden-dreamers consider hiring a landscape contractor. 

Yes, it’s an investment, but these experts excel at creating accurate plans suited to the location and size of your yard (another perk: they can offer plant suggestions you may not have considered).

Plus, plants can be pricey so hiring a designer helps avoid costly mistakes, like putting those sun-loving dahlias in a shady corner where they’ll wilt in days.

Hiring a landscape contractor isn’t decadent and it isn’t a cop out.

These are experts who work within a range of budgets, have connections to experienced trades and nurseries and can manage timelines to get your front yard landscaping done in a timely fashion.

Outdoor lighting

Get ready for your close up!

Outdoor lighting is to your garden what candlelight is to your home – a game changer!

Landscape lighting is also a savvy investment as it greatly boosts curb appeal and, good news, easy options bound.

Inground lights are spots embedded in the ground. Use them to enliven the edges of pathways or even in floor decking.

Wall-mounted fence lights should be pretty – think of them as sconces for outside that will cast a soft, warm glow

Uplighting is an outdoor lighting superstar. It’s a multi-tasker that can bring anything to life, from trees and garden ornaments to the front of the house.

Floodlights are more like indoor overhead lights – they’re bright with wide coverage. Consider them for illuminating larger spots, like driveways or patios, from above.

Step lights jazz up stairs and are usually positioned either on the walls beside the stairs or directly on the stairs’ risers.

Spotlights point in one direction and are a great way to pinpoint and highlight some of the front yard landscaping ideas you’ve put in place.


Whether it’s a walkway, a decorative centrepiece or a retaining wall, hardscaping strikes a note that’s both finished and functional. For the uninitiated, the term “hardscaping” refers to any of the “non-living” elements in landscaping, such as a wooden arbour or a brick patio, as opposed to vegetation. Hardscaping material options abound, too.

Natural stone, for example, imparts a rich tone to hardscaping. It feels at once upscale and organic, and is ideal for making a wow-factor walkway, patio, outdoor fireplace or simple garden retaining walls. It’s beautiful but can run on the expensive side.

Pavers are low-maintenance wonders for paths and patios. They lend looks that range from contemporary to traditional. They’re durable and long-lasting, but can be prone to weed and moss growth in between stones.

Porcelain tile is a hardscaping stunner. It needs preparation for proper installation and it’s on the pricier side, averaging about $10 per square foot, plus the labour to install it which can be as high as $25 per square foot. That said, it comes in an extensive array of colours and styles, is low maintenance and moss-resistant.

Asphalt is the common hardscaping choice for driveways, thanks in part to its budget-friendly price tag, which averages about $2-$4 per square foot. It stands up to the elements well, but can crack over time and does need to be sealed every 3 to 5 years.

Concrete can be significantly more expensive than asphalt (about $4-$6 per square foot) but it lasts almost twice as long and doesn’t require sealing. It can also be tinted for a hint of nuanced colour so it’s not flat grey.

Read also: Front porch ideas that don’t use wood

Is an irrigation system right for you?

There’s nothing wrong with an old-school sprinkler, but if you’re already planning front yard landscaping and hardscaping, an irrigation system is definitely worth considering.

Just think: it protects all the front yard garden ideas you turned into a reality and it frees you from watering the garden. It is also calibrated to only use as much water as is required (read: no soggy, overwatered plants and thus lower water bills).

And if you really want peace of mind, opt for a smart system that automatically adjusts to weather conditions just the way a home’s smart thermostat responds to indoor temps.

Trees and shrubs

You know that sweet little puppy that grows into a 100lb dog? Keep him in mind when shopping for trees and shrubs. That sweet little waist-high serviceberry tree can grow to be up to 25-feet tall. 

Confirm final full-grown sizes in advance to save from having to rip out too-large additions down the road.

Some fun things to consider: what colours do you want to see in the fall? Would you like some evergreen visual interest in the winter? Do you have front yard garden ideas that centre around a tree as a focal point?

Flowers for your front yard

Choosing blooms for front of house landscaping is like choosing furniture for the house.

Think about the overall feel and function of plantings and the different types of gardens out there.

Some faves include:

Cutting garden: Like your own little flower shop, a cutting garden features pretty blooms meant to be cut for indoor arrangements and bouquets.

Moon garden: this nocturnal beauty is meant to be enjoyed by moonlight – think white or pale-coloured flowers, such as petunias and night-blooming jasmine.

Butterfly garden: the name says it all! This one is chock-a-block with flowers butterflies love and will flock to, like asters, chrysanthemums and calendula.

Water garden: a garden pond is a sensory delight and a beautiful spot for aquatic plants like water lilies (if you’re feeling adventurous, add some goldfish or koi).

Container garden: plants and flowers kept in containers are a savvy solution when there’s limited garden space. They can also augment a planted garden.

Grasses garden: Ornamental grasses offer varying heights, colours and textures and look so cool blowing in the wind. They require little maintenance and look fab in winter too.

Vegetable garden: Once considered solely backyard, the vegetable garden is popping up in front of house landscaping, whether planted as a patch or in raised beds. It’s a kind of the city’s front-yard-to-table approach.

Rock garden: These low-maintenance charmers are an easy way to add layers of interest to a flat yard. Mixing scale, colour and shape ensures a lively sightline that can be peppered with pops of low-maintenance ferns or hostas.

Read also: 4 climate-friendly lawn alternatives

Before you start your front yard landscaping

As with indoor renos, things often take longer than you might think.

Be realistic with timelines

Front yard landscaping and landscape lighting take time and front of house landscaping can be a lot of work. Give yourself realistic deadlines so you don’t become frustrated with the process. 

Call before you dig

Safety first! Always submit a request to the city for any front yard landscaping that requires digging. It’s imperative to know where vital services like gas, water and hydro are located. 

Give neighbours a head’s up

Good fences aren’t the only things that make good neighbours. When planning any front of house landscaping or outdoor lighting, give the neighbours a friendly heads-up.

They might not be able to do anything about construction trucks, noise and dust, but they will appreciate your consideration. 

And who knows? They may even ask you for some expert gardening advice.

Smart Reno helps you find trusted contractors

With so much to think about when it comes to landscaping and hardscaping, it’s important to find a contractor you can trust. Get 3 free landscape renovation quotes for your home or business, and learn more about landscape renovations and talk to an expert about renovation financing.

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgement of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.


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