Start with a Professional

One of the best things you can do is contact a seasoned landscape design professional to develop a masterplan for your property. This way, the various softscape and hardscape elements can be tied together to give you the outdoor living area of your dreams.

An experienced landscape designer knows how to turn the client vision + needs into a visual reality. Various elements of the landscape design could include:

  • Custom gardens
  • Rain gardens
  • Retaining walls
  • Custom patios
  • Built in fire pits or water features

An experienced landscape designer will understand how to blend these elements together and incorporate the best trees, shrubs, plants, and grasses for the region within your landscape master plan to give you the outdoor living area that you’ve been looking for.

The Importance of a Landscape Master Plan

A landscape designer will go through detailed site analysis and the conceptual plan process to develop the optimal outdoor living area for your home. While that plan will include hardscape features such as a deck, pools, water features, or retaining walls, it will also include detailed planning on softscape features.

A master plan is a finalized version of the landscape design for your property. This will include plant materials, sizes, quantities, and specifications. There may even be computerized renderings of your property as part of the planning.

Your landscape master plan should include plants, trees, shrubs, and grasses that can thrive in Chicagoland’s volatile weather patterns. A custom landscape master plan will likely take more than 20 hours to compile and serves as the blueprint for later implementation.

The Role of Softscape Elements in the Landscape Design

We all want to enjoy a beautiful living space. That desire is just as important for the exterior of our home as it is for the interior. Softscaping is an important part of your home’s outdoor appearance and contributes significantly to curb appeal.

The softscape elements that you choose also play a part in universal issues such as maintaining ecological balance and the integrity of the natural environment. It’s important to pick softscape elements that fit well into the design, are hardy enough to survive our climate, and fit into the larger ecological picture.

Trees, Shrubs, Grasses, and Plants Ideal for Chicagoland’s Ever-Changing Weather

The softscape elements that you choose for your yard need to be hardy enough to withstand drastic temperature swings. While you might like the look of a certain plant from outside the area, the likelihood of survival will significantly dwindle.

Native plantings to Illinois present a distinct advantage because they are naturally able to survive, and they won’t require as much work from the homeowner. They have watering and sunlight needs that are manageable in the prairie-style Midwest climate.

Below are some trees, shrubs, grasses, and plants that are ideally suited to the area.


Trees of all types play a vital role in landscape design. Aside from the magical greenery and the sound of the wind rustling through leaves, they add some practical advantages as well. Strategically placed trees can help reduce flooding by decreasing the amount of storm water runoff.

They also increase the amount of shade within the home, potentially saving you money on your energy bills. While selecting trees for a Chicagoland landscape design, it’s important to go with hardy varieties that are proven to be able to survive large temperature swings.

Some popular local varieties include:

  • Oaks
  • Maples
  • Serviceberry
  • Red Bud
  • Magnolias
  • Evergreen
  • Arborvitaes
  • Spruce
  • Pine
  • Fir
  • Ginko


Native shrubs are more drought resistant, and more easily adjust to Illinois temperature swings. They generally require less fertilizer because they’ve adopted to the climate. All of this makes them easier to maintain for homeowners.

In addition to their natural ability to thrive, shrubs can provide some practical benefits as well. Native shrub roots can help to prevent soil erosion on your property. This can be helpful if your property is on a slope. They can also help maintain habitat for native insects, birds, and other wildlife.

Shrubs in Illinois can be broken into two main varieties: deciduous and evergreen. Deciduous lose their leaves in the fall and regrow them in the spring. Evergreens keep them year-round.

Deciduous Shrubs

  • Hydrangea
  • Barberry
  • Dogwood
  • Joe Pye Weed
  • Lilacs

Evergreen Shrubs

  • Boxwood
  • Pines
  • Junipers
  • False Cypress
  • Brandon Cedars


Grasses can be a useful element in a landscape design for screening out less than desirable views, because of their height. They’re also useful for establishing privacy. They can be used to soften the look of a pool, patio, or other hardscape element, when they are planted in close proximity. Ornamental grasses can also be used to add an accent to an existing garden, or to attract wildlife.

These are some common grasses that thrive in the Chicagoland weather:

  • Autumn moor grass
  • Prairie dropseed
  • Feather reed grass
  • Japanese forest grass
  • Switch grass


Plants and flowers play a significant role in your landscape design. The right combination can increase your home’s curb appeal and even increase home value. Potted flowers around the entrance of your home in a symmetric design create a significant boost in appeal.

Plants can soften the look of an otherwise barren porch. They can be a welcome addition around the mailbox as well. Flowers can enhance your mood and provide added pleasure during your time outdoors. Plants such as echinacea listed below, also have various medicinal and health benefits.

  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Echinacea
  • Geraniums
  • Blazing star
  • Butterfly weed

Bringing Your Landscape Design Into Focus

When it comes to your landscape design, you certainly have choices. A seasoned landscape design professional can help you create and implement a landscape master plan that best fits your property. Homeowners can offer a significant amount of input in this process, and confidently select the right trees, shrubs, grasses, and plants that will help their outdoor living areas thrive.

A landscape design without softscape features can feel a little cold and unwelcoming. These plants provide comfort and eye-popping appeal, while also offering some tremendous practical advantages for your home. Selecting plants, trees, shrubs, and grasses ideal for Chicagoland’s ever-changing weather doesn’t have to be complicated if you stick to species that have thrived locally for a long time.

If you need help getting started or would like to talk with an experienced landscape design company about a master plan for your property, contact us today!