Choosing a Landscaping Software

Many types of landscaping software come with a multitude of features that make landscaping design seem as easy as watering flowers. While they may not induce greenhorns to grow green thumbs overnight, landscaping software brings design ideas to virtual life by giving realistic visual representations of landscapes to the do-it-yourselfer’s mind. But before you grab the first piece landscaping software you see, test drive several brands to determine which one best suits your working style and addresses your needs. You might want to download a demonstration version of a popular landscaping software from the Internet or help yourself to a free trial. Some even come bundled with your favorite gardening or landscaping magazine.

Not all software is created equal. Some are equipped with features you might not even need, while others have a confusing interface that could leave you pulling your hair out instead of the weeds in your garden. When choosing a landscaping software, consider its ease of use, performance, reliability, documentation, graphics, tools & features, and quality of technical support.

Landscaping Software Must Have an Easy-To-Use Interface

Does the visual layout of the interface seem easy to follow? Can you intuitively figure out which buttons to press or menus to click without having to consult the manual? If using the software is a piece of cake compared to programming your old VCR, then you’ve got yourself a keeper. An intuitive interface allows you to concentrate on the task of designing a landscape by taking the guesswork out of using it. Look for software with an interface that resembles the ones you are familiar with, such as a Windows-like interface. The workspace should sport an uncluttered look and be big enough to accommodate pictorial prototypes of the landscape of your dreams.

Landscaping Software Should Perform

Does it take ages for the software to generate an image of the landscape you’re trying to create? When you click and drag images to the work area, does it remind you of the other meaning of “drag”? Don’t waste your time on landscaping software that takes longer to process commands than it does for a garden worm to complete a half-meter crawl across your flower bed. Nothing zaps your enthusiasm more than being saddled with a slow program that leaves you waiting in breathless anticipation instead of gasping with awe. While you’re at it, make sure that your system meets the hardware requirements of the software. Never assume your Pentium II-powered 64MB RAM-equipped clunker would pass for a machine with the required “Pentium 4 processor, 128MB of RAM, and 16MB video graphics accelerator.”

Exterminate Landscaping Software If It’s Full Of Bugs

Did the landscaping software “freeze” after you’d clicked and dragged one shrub too many into your virtual backyard gazebo? Wouldn’t you give anything to be able to decipher the cryptic error messages that the software flings at you every time you attempt a walk-through view of your property? The only bugs that you should be worried about are the kind that destroys your vegetable garden in the summer, not the ones that require a $39.95 upgrade or an 80-cents-a-minute call to a technical support hotline to fix. To be on the safe side, purchase software from companies that offer a reasonable money-back guarantee.

Avoid Landscaping Software With Limited Graphics Capabilities

When you needed an eastern white cedar gazebo, were you forced to settle for something that looked like a shrunken carnival carousel? Do the drag-and-drop images blend seamlessly with other parts of the landscape? The premise of using landscaping software is to give you an accurate visual representation of your landscaping project while allowing you to balance unbridled creativity and design pragmatics. This is generally accomplished by providing the user with a wide selection of smoothly-integrating images of real-world hardscapes and softscapes. Some programs even allow your fantasies to run wild by including images of peculiar or hard-to-find landscaping materials. Latest versions of landscaping software now carry as much as 2,000 sample plants, terrain, and building materials for custom landscaping.

Landscaping Software With All The Bells and Whistles May Confuse and Befuddle

So, you think the 3D walk-through and plant finder database are cool but do you really need to fiddle with plumbing and electric outlets? Don’t be tempted to pay more than $100 for a landscaping software package that does just about everything except air your compost. Chances are this kind of software would be useful only to professional landscape designers or those who know their CAD from sod. Choose landscaping software that generates cost estimates every time you add a feature, such as a deck or a patio, to give you a budget reality check from time to time. You may also want to try landscaping software that includes a growth-over-time or plant-aging feature, a nifty capability that lets you see whether that black oak you want to plant now will go from “stately and elegant” to “hazardous and obstructive” in 15 years. Features such as 3D walk-through and plant encyclopedia are standard in most landscaping software packages, so you are unlikely to end up with a badly angled pool cabana or make the mistake of planting azaleas and cherry trees side by side.