What Is The Difference Between Hardscaping & Softscaping?

There is a big difference between hardscaping and softscaping. One brings softness to your landscape, while the other adds structure. Implementing both is key.

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There is a big difference between hardscaping and softscaping. One brings softness to your landscape, while the other adds structure. Implementing both is key.

Hardscaping is the metal, bricks, wood, concrete, stone and other non-living elements in the landscape. Softscaping is the plants, flowers, soil, grass, trees, shrubs and other living elements in the outdoor space. Combine both to create a balanced look and feel within your landscape design.

In this article, we discuss hardscaping vs softscaping. We also cover the reasons why your yard needs hardscaping, as well as some interesting hardscaping ideas. Then, we wrap it all up with a step-by-step guide to planning your hardscaping project.

Planning such a big project can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be when you have experts to advise you on it. The information contained in this document was gathered from various reputable sources, including HGTV.

Table of Contents

The Difference Between Hardscaping & Softscaping

Although they work together to create enjoyable outdoor living spaces, hardscaping and softscaping are two different things. Their differences matter when designing a landscape. Let’s discuss five differences between the two that you should consider before planning your landscape design:

1. Softscape Is Flexible

Your landscape’s softscape is changeable. Changing plants as they mature and start to flower, also known as going to seed is a prime example. Groundcovers, grass, flowers and shrubs are also replaceable.

Softscaping allows you to experiment with various crops and looks from season to season, with the exception of trees. Although they can also be replaced, they require long-term commitments to really thrive. With softscaping, you can try new, improved or just different designs on a whim.

2. Hardscape Is Long-Term

Hardscape features are generally costly to install. They also require quite a bit of labor. Therefore, be prepared to make long-term commitments when adding things like sidewalks, concrete or stone walkways, patios and other non-living elements to your landscape. The key is to plan your landscape design thoroughly before starting any type of construction.

3. Softscape Needs Maintenance

Because softscapes are the living things within your garden, they require a lot of time, care and sometimes, nurturing. They need regular weeding, watering, trimming and fertilizing to thrive. Most gardeners enjoy caring for their greenery, while others don’t. If the latter is you, make sure you only plant varieties that require low maintenance, like succulents.

4. Hardscapes Are Entertaining

Many hardscape elements are installed specifically for people to enjoy them. These include things like pathways, patios, decks, gazebos and arbors. They provide focal points, spaces for people to walk or come together to enjoy the outdoor area. So, make sure your hardscape design is welcoming.

5. Softscape Sets the Tone

Softscapes help soften the feel of the landscape by bringing beautiful aromas, textures, colors and style to the yard. Hardscapes without softscapes create an environment that’s bland and without spunk. Just picture a gazebo without flowers around it or an arbor that’s not covered in greenery.

Does My Yard Need Hardscaping?

Knowing the difference between hardscaping and softscaping is key to creating a gorgeous, yet functioning yard. Flowers, plants, shrubbery, trees and other living elements add beauty to your home’s landscape. But you need hardscapes to provide functionality to the space.

Here are seven benefits of adding hardscaping to your landscape plans:

1. Privacy

Walls and fences allow you to create a private outdoor space. But if those aren’t good options for you, adding a pergola or gazebo between your yard and your neighbor’s yard can provide you with a secluded feel while enjoying your garden.

2. Traffic

You can lay pavers that lead from your driveway to your porch. This visually instructs visitors to use that as a walkway to get to your front door instead of walking on your lawn. Line the pathway with outdoor lighting to ensure they get the message even at night.

3. Living Space

It’s easy to expand your outdoor living space by adding outdoor seating, a patio, a deck, an outdoor kitchen, a fire pit or a gazebo to your landscape. These elements help you get more enjoyment from your yard on sunny days instead of being cooped up inside the house.

4. Diversity

Hardscaping provides diversity to the landscape by adding contrast to your softscape. It also helps you create unique, gorgeous-looking focal points that enhance the look of your landscape.

5. Usability

Hardscapes extend your yard’s usability by providing things that bring value to the area. Adding a fire pit and outdoor lighting allows you to enjoy the yard when it gets cold at night. Installing a deck or patio gives you a place to enjoy the view while drinking your morning cup of coffee.

6. Less Maintenance

Unlike your softscape elements, hardscaping requires very little to no maintenance. The more hardscapes you add to the scene, the less grass, trees and shrubs you’ll have to water and care for on a daily basis.

7. Leveling Issues

When your lawn is uneven, this can lead to many problems, such as inaccessibility and soil erosion. The latter can be prevented by putting up a retaining wall. You can also install a pathway that leads down the uneven area so you can plant there and maintain the plants with ease.

Hardscaping Ideas

Think of your landscape as your own personal canvas. You want to create an outdoor space that’s not only pleasing to the eyes but actually serves a purpose. One main purpose of hardscaping is to define how space is used within your landscape.

Here some ideas to help improve the look of your property by adding hardscape elements to it:

  • Brick Patios
  • Concrete Patios
  • Flagstone Patios
  • Tile Patios
  • Brick Fences
  • Metal Fences
  • Wooden Fences
  • Wooden Decks
  • Iron Arbors
  • Wooden Arbors
  • Wood Gazebos
  • Pergolas
  • Stone Retaining Walls
  • Stone Walkways
  • Ceramic Fountains
  • Clay Pot Fountains
  • DIY Fountains
  • Stone Fountains
  • Ceramic Birdbaths
  • Concrete Birdbaths
  • Copper Birdbaths
  • Metal Birdbaths
  • Plastic Birdbaths

Step-By-Step Guide to Planning Your Hardscaping Project

Remember that hardscapes are long-term commitments. Sometimes, they’re actually permanent structures. So, you need a plan before you get started. Here are four tips to help you create a hardscaping plan for your yard:

1. Take Notes

Take a walk around your neighborhood and take notes of the hardscapes you admire. Jot down what you like about them and why. Snap pictures and videos of homes you pass with hardscape elements that capture your attention. You can also get ideas from the homes of family and friends, magazines, even the internet.

2. Create a Plan

Use a pencil and paper to make a rough drawing of your yard. Mark off spaces for that barbecue pit, deck, shed, walkway and water features you’re interested in installing. Include the materials you would like to use for each hardscape element. Be sure to make note of the spaces where you plan to plant your greenery.

3. Come Up with a Theme

You don’t have to use the same “theme” throughout the entire yard. But it does help to have a general style in mind before you get started. Here are some ideas based on common hardscaping themes:

  • Formal – Marble and granite tiles add a formal look to your yard
  • Shabby-Chic – Partial fencing and fishponds give your yard a shabby-chic feel
  • Relaxing – Gazebos make your yard feel inviting and relaxing

4. Get to Work

Make an itemized list of the things you’ll need for your hardscaping project. Then, visit hardware store websites to determine the costs. Do a little research to determine how much time and labor will be involved. Then, start ordering the supplies you need and prepare to get to work.

There’s a lot of it ahead of you if you’re planning a DIY hardscaping project. But it will be well worth it when you’re sitting in your yard enjoying the gorgeous scenery with the people you love.

Now that you understand the difference between hardscaping and softscaping, be sure to implement both into your landscape design. Remember, your yard is a blank canvas and you are the artist. Create an outdoor living space that brings beauty as well as value to your life.

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