Be a Landscape Designer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a landscape designer. Learn about the job description, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in landscape design.

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Should I Become a Landscape Designer?

Landscape designers often work in small-scale or residential environments to produce a pleasing landscape that meets a client's aesthetic and functional needs. Landscape designers typically choose specific plants and water features for a project, which requires an understanding of soil, plant science, pest control and drainage. They might oversee or be directly involved with the installation and maintenance of their projects. This job might appeal to those who can work well both outdoors and with individual clients.

In contrast to landscape architecture (which emphasizes construction practices and requires state licensure), landscape design emphasizes horticultural knowledge, and there are no state-specified requirements for entering the profession. However, most landscape designers need some formal training in drawing, design principles and horticulture.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's degree
Degree Field Landscape design, landscape horticulture, landscape architecture
Experience 0-3 years of experience typically required for entry to mid-level jobs
Certification Voluntary certifications available
Key Skills Creativity, attention to detail, technical, visualization, and communication skills, physical stamina, ability to lead a team, knowledge of architectural drawing and specifications
Salary $42,343 per year (2015 median salary for all landscape designers)

Sources: TheLandLovers.org, Michigan Civil Service Commission (Michigan.gov), Online Job Postings (July 2015), Payscale.com (July 2015)

Step 1: Earn an Associate's or Bachelor's Degree

Undergraduate programs in landscape design, horticulture or related field prepare students through classes in drawing, horticulture, planting design, construction principles and landscape maintenance. Students are required to complete multiple hands-on projects, and some programs have opportunities for full-time internships. Students may also take courses in business management, bidding, estimation and contracts.

Success Tip:

  • Boost technical skills. Students who gain skills in using design software, such as AutoCAD, may increase their chances of finding jobs and advancing their careers. Other computer skills, such as using Microsoft Excel, Adobe Photoshop or other business management and design programs may also prove useful.

Step 2: Gain Practical Experience While in School

Some schools offering bachelor's programs partner with private companies and government agencies to give students the opportunity to develop practical skills in horticulture. Students can also take advantage of part time work in grounds maintenance to expedite gaining a landscape design job. The U.S. Bureau of Labors Statistics states that short on-the-job training is offered for grounds maintenance workers, making it more possible for students to complete training while working towards a landscape design degree. As a grounds maintenance worker, students can gain skills in lawn care, planting, watering and fertilizing.

Step 3: Network to Get a Landscape Designer Job

Prospective landscape designers should capitalize on internships or grounds keeper work done while in school to secure full time employment. In addition, becoming a student member of organizations, such as the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) and the Ecological Landscaping Association (ELA) offers the opportunity to network with design professionals by attending events and conferences. These organizations also offer professional memberships that provide resources, such as continuing education opportunities, information on drafting contracts and proposals, and discounts on marketing materials and industry publications. Each organization's online resource also gives designers the chance to view the portfolios and access blogs of other designers.

Success Tip:

  • Look for leadership opportunities. As one's career advances, there may be job possibilities that require the ability to supervise teams of other designers. Looking for opportunities to work on a team project and taking leadership roles when available may help a designer qualify for jobs with more responsibility.

Step 4: Obtain and Maintain Certification

Certification from the APLD can lend additional credibility to a landscape design professional. Requirements include providing evidence of adequate education totaling at least one year of full-time study and presenting a portfolio of three designs that have been installed for at least two growing seasons, and meet minimum size and scope requirements. References from clients are also required. To maintain certification with the APLD, professionals need to submit evidence of completing 30 credits of approved continuing education coursework every three years.

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