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Best Landscaping Software
Why Use Landscaping Software?
Our team of expert reviewers spent more than 100 hours researching, testing, rating and ranking the best landscaping software available. At the end of our evaluation, Realtime Landscaping Plus was the top pick. It has a comprehensive design toolset, is easy understand and use, and includes advanced virtual preview options. Realtime also scored the highest in every test we put it through. If the best of the best is what you want, this is the program you’re looking for.
Of the 10 landscaping programs we reviewed, Realtime Landscaping Plus was our favorite. It performed better than every other program in all our tests, and it’s easy understand and navigate – this makes it a prime choice for beginning designers. In addition, Realtime has a complete design toolkit, which means it’s also a good option for experienced designers.
You can use Realtime Landscaping Plus to alter your yard’s topography and to fill it with your choice of more than 5,300 objects, including lawn furniture, lamps and decorations, which make your design look more real. You can also place more than 5,100 types of trees, shrubs, flowers and other plants wherever you want. This program includes a plant encyclopedia that has information about different types of vegetation, which can help you decide what types of plants are best for your yard.
This landscaping program also has a tool that estimates the cost of your project as you make changes to your design. It also has great preview options; in addition to the usual 2D and 3D previews, you can take a virtual stroll through your yard.
Virtual Architect Home & Landscape is a good option if you don’t need every advanced feature or simply want to save some money. This isn’t the cheapest program we reviewed, but it is the best value for your money. It doesn’t have a virtual reality preview, and you can’t add people to your design; otherwise, Virtual Architect Home & Landscape has every tool and feature found in Realtime Landscaping Plus, our top pick. It’s not as easy to use, but it comes close – and you’ll save about $30.
One of this program’s most useful features is its building wizard, which walks you through the design process step by step. It also explains each tool and provides directions for using it. This makes it easier to learn how to use the program – with the help of the building wizard, you can be proficient in design after using this program just a few times.
Virtual Architect Home & Landscape’s combined object and plant library contains more than 7,500 items you can place in your yard. It also shows how the plants change as they grow so you can anticipate how your yard will look in the future and make informed decisions about foliage.
Largest Object Library
Using the Home Designer Suite program, you can furnish your yard with outdoor lighting, playground items, patio furniture, grills and more to develop a comprehensive plan for your yard. With more than 6,500 objects to choose from, this software has the largest library of any program we reviewed. Additionally, there are 3,600 plants to put in your design – not the most we saw but more than enough to get the job done.
Unfortunately, this program scored the lowest in our ease of use, learning curve and navigation evaluations. So, if you’re not an experienced designer, you should look elsewhere. And despite its diverse toolset, it’s missing a few features we look for in the best software. For example, it doesn’t have seasonal change and virtual reality previews. It’s also missing house, topography and deck builders, which allow you to create a complete property design. However, you can design patios, pools and fences. Overall, this program is a mixed bag.
How We Tested
Every product we reviewed was subjected to a battery of tests conducted by our team of expert reviewers. We used each product to create a test landscape, gathering data and taking notes about our impressions of the software as we did so. We focused on how easy each program is to use and learn, as well as its navigational features. We also took note of the programs’ overall functionality and content, looking for tools like topography builders, advanced preview options and virtual walkthroughs. We then assigned each application a grade, factoring in its overall ease of use, learning curve, ease of navigation and overall functionality.
In addition, we created a list of the most important features and tools, then combed through each program looking for them. Our list included basic features, such as undo/redo buttons, library searches and keyboard shortcuts, and we found them in all the programs. Additionally, we looked for advanced features such as topography designers, cost estimators and photo importers, all of which are useful but not found in every product. We used all these features to create and customize our landscape designs. Our reviewers’ opinions about how well these tools work and how easy they are to use played an important role in our ratings and rankings.
Reviewers also evaluated each software’s object and plant libraries. Big, diverse libraries are important because the more objects and plants you can choose from, the more realistic and complete your design will look.
Ease of Use
We put each program through its paces and noted how easy its tools are to use. During our evaluations, we also looked for basic features such as undo and redo buttons, which allow you to quickly backtrack your work in case you make a mistake or don’t like the changes you made.
Another tool that makes landscaping software easy to use is a search function – you can enter keywords for objects and features to pull them up quickly. Additionally, we looked for programs that let you use keyboard shortcuts to make changes to your design and checked to see which applications compile shopping lists as you create your plan so you know exactly what you need to bring your vision to life.
During testing, we created a list of the most important features found in the best landscaping software and looked for them in each application we tested. This list included topography designers, which help you recreate your yard’s unique landscape. We also looked for 3D object editing, which lets you fine-tune the objects you place in your design and preview them as they would appear in real life. In addition, a photo importer is a great tool for replicating real-life yards and landscapes, and a cost estimator feature can give you an idea of how much it will cost to make your dream design a reality.
We examined each program’s object and plant libraries to see what types of lighting, grills, outdoor furniture and foliage they contain. In general, the larger the library, the more complete you can make your landscape design.
As you place vegetation, it’s helpful if the program you’re using has a plant guide with information about which types of plants thrive in your part of the country, as well as info about how the trees and shrubs grow and their upkeep.
Words of Caution
As useful as landscaping software is, you may want to opt for professional help instead of trying to design your yard yourself. We spoke with several landscape designers and contractors, and they cautioned that creating a useable outdoor space is difficult without professional knowledge.
If you create a design yourself, nearly any landscaping software can give you a good idea of how you want to set up the zones in your yard. However, these professionals stressed that it’s much harder to get a good-quality planting design that suits the area you live in – in fact, they claimed it is next to impossible to do without the help from a local professional. They also advised checking with local contractors to see if they work with plans made with these applications because many will not accept homemade designs.
Additionally, you should check with your municipality to learn about local ordinances. Many cities and counties list certain types of plants that are either required or forbidden, and if you violate your local ordinances, you risk being cited and having to pay fines. All cities have a code services office you check with before you start planting or construction.
Contributing Reviewer: Danny Chadwick