How to Differentiate Between Hardscaping and Landscaping

How to Differentiate Between Hardscaping and Landscaping

By Dikran Seferian December 17, 2021

When designing an outdoor living space, two categories of elements come into play — hardscaping and landscaping. While the term landscaping is commonly thought to encompass hardscaping as well, there is a clear distinction between the two. This difference is in the form, function, as well as maintenance needs of each category. Hardscaping is composed of the solid features of a yard such as stones and pedestals while landscaping is typically made up of flora. Incorporating a balanced mix of both categories, however, is key to achieving a cohesive yard design. The combination doesn’t even have to be equal as long as there’s enough of each to contrast the other. Having a better understanding of the distinction between hardscaping and landscaping will allow you to come up with a blend that suits your outdoor design plans.

What is Hardscaping?

Definition of Hardscaping

Hardscaping involves the non-living elements of a front lawn or a backyard. These inanimate objects contrast the organic features of the yard while providing a livable space. Landscapers often begin with the hardscaping in order to lay out the boundaries, aesthetics, as well as the general shape of the garden. Besides its value as an element of design, hardscaping also helps in controlling the natural features of the yard. Gravel, for instance, can be helpful in controlling the flow of water while a stone wall can limit the movement of soil and prevent erosion. Porous elements such as volcanic stones, on the other hand, allow the water to seep into the soil.

Getting Familiar With the Elements of Hardscaping

Getting Familiar With the Elements of Hardscaping

Hardscaping Features

As the name suggests, hardscaping refers to elements that are “hard” as in solid and unchanging. They can be either man-made or natural and are sometimes movable. Among hardscaping items are:

  • Gravel and stones
  • Paveways and stairways
  • Water features such as fountains
  • Lighting fixtures such as floor lamps and sconces
  • Retainer walls 
  • Fences
  • Decks and patios
  • Gazebos and pergolas
  • Fire pits 
  • Outdoor furniture such as sofas, lounge chairs, benches, and tables
Common Features of Backyard Hardscaping

Common Features of Backyard Hardscaping

Hardscaping Maintenance Needs

Besides its functional role as well as aesthetic value, hardscaping also offers a worthy return on investment. Providing the hardscape with the care it requires is important in preserving the value it adds to the yard. You may, however, find that hardscaping is fairly easy to maintain and can do with less attention than landscaping. In most cases, the seasonal clean-up can go a long way in keeping its features in good condition.

Applying sealer once a year in addition to the occasional sweeping, for instance, is enough to keep a deck looking good as new. Clearing dead leaves off pave ways and patios will keep them from decomposing on the surface — this will in turn prevent mold or stains resulting from the decaying matter. Another seasonal hardscape maintenance task involves pressure-washing stone pavers to get rid of stains and dirt. Besides the maintenance, you may also want to carry out a few inspections here and there. For instance, checking for — and if necessary, repairing — cracks along surfaces is a preventative measure that ensures the longevity of the hardscaping.

What is Landscaping?

Definition of Landscaping

Also known as softscaping, landscaping refers to the ‘soft’ features of the yard design. These consist of the living elements that you can add, remove or switch out to complement each season. The softscape adds a splash of greenery to your yard while contrasting the solid hardscaping. Essentially, it is what brings your outdoor space to life while adorning it with natural beauty that evolves with the passing of time.

Key Features That Form a Yard’s Landscaping

Key Features That Form a Yard’s Landscaping

Elements of Landscaping 

As commonly assumed, landscaping has to do with the layout and application of plant life. The living elements of your yard add an array of colors and textures to the outdoor vista. Landscaping components mainly include:

  • Trees such as evergreens and fruit-bearing types
  • Flowers
  • Shrubbery
  • Grass
  • Herbs and vegetables
  • Vines
  • Potted plants
Basic Facts About Landscaping and How to Maintain It

Basic Facts About Landscaping and How to Maintain It

Landscaping Care and Maintenance

A good deal of maintenance goes behind preserving the organic beauty of the softscape. Unlike hardscaping, the natural features of a yard require more frequent attention. Bear in mind that these features are living elements and need to be treated as such in order to ensure their well-being.

Mowing the lawn on a weekly basis is one of the most common landscaping maintenance procedures. Keeping up with this task maintains the health as well as the visual appeal of your turf. Another important task that essentially keeps your greenery alive is irrigation. While certain plants can go without it for a week or two, others need to be watered more frequently — especially during the warmer months. You may also need to fertilize your greenery on a seasonal basis to promote its growth and keep it healthy. If you have perennials, pruning them once or twice a year will strengthen their roots and allow for lusher foliage. Other landscaping maintenance tasks include aerating the soil, raking leaves, removing weeds, and pest control.

Combining Hardscape With Landscape

Without landscaping, a yard may look rather dry. And a garden without hardscaping may seem a bit like a jungle. In other words, greenery can give life to a paved exterior, whereas a hardscape can make a verdant backyard look more welcoming. There is no rule of thumb that generally dictates which there should be more of. However, maintaining a form of balance between hardscaping and landscaping — whatever the proportions — can create an aesthetically appealing contrast that accentuates your outdoor living spaces. Many homeowners, for instance, prefer to have a large patio with outdoor furniture and a slight injection of greenery. Others choose a more natural scenery with lush foliage and minimal use of hardscaping such as stepping stones and maybe a bench or two.

The Art of Combining The Elements of Hardscaping and Softscaping

The Art of Combining The Elements of Hardscaping and Softscaping

A common way of going about designing the layout of a yard is by starting with the hardscape element; then you would introduce the plant life to enrich the color palette. More softscaping options will emerge as you’re branching out from the core layout of the hardscape. In many cases, the atmosphere of a yard will not manifest itself until the entire hardscaping is chosen. A modicum of creativity can go a long way when it comes to pulling off the desired atmosphere. Whether you’re going for an island oasis, a woodland escape, or a mountain pathway, the right combination of hardscaping and landscaping can create the scenery you have in mind.

Smart Hardscape and Softscape Options for Certain Cases

While there isn’t a specific rule for pairing the two main elements of a yardscape, certain situations may call for particular design considerations. In any case, there’s almost always a strategic solution that can account for both the hardscaping as well as the landscaping.

A vertical garden, for instance, is an ideal design option for backyards with limited space. In this case, the hardscape may consist of a raised planter and perhaps a pedestal; whereas softscape in the form of a container garden can save up on space by drawing the attention upward. In addition, slightly curved pavers around the corner can make the yard appear bigger than it is. Low retainer walls could meanwhile serve as extra sitting space while holding a planter of flowers or herbs.

Design Solutions for a Small Backyard

Design Solutions for a Small Backyard

Another case that might call for certain design considerations is a drought. This would basically limit the availability of water needed to keep the landscape thriving. Leaning towards hardscape can be a clever way to compensate for these restrictions. Fewer plants mean less need for water. As a result, you would end up with additional living space in the form of a patio or even a gazebo. The remaining softscape can consist of drought-tolerant plants such as lavender, salvia, and Russian sage.


Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian