The first step in working out a good working landscape design is preparing a Plot Plan. Once the Plot Plan has been created, the next step is doing a Site Analysis.
A Site Analysis is just taking a little time to study your landscape site or property and analyze the basic features found there. Think of it as a brief description of your property, listing it's assets and liabilities by area, as well as environmental factors that may effect a final design (i.e. sun angle, wind direction, pleasant views, unpleasant views)
A Site Analysis helps understand unique problems associated with the property and how they can be best used to create a functional and enjoyable outdoor living space.
Place some tracing paper over the plot plan that was created in the previous step. You can then use this tracing sheet for your Site Analysis and incorporate your assets and liabilities list to visually identify the areas being described.
The Site Analysis is like a road map of your property as it relates to the seasons. When done, the Site Analysis will show the direction and angle of the sun throughout the year, interesting views of the house's exterior, as well as views from inside the house. It also considers views you have of your neighbors as well as what your neighbors can or can't see of you.
The Site Analysis includes prevailing wind directions across the property, and notes if those winds are sufficiently strong enough that they may need to be diverted in some way to add comfort to your outdoor living areas.
In other words, a Site Analysis should include important items that should be addressed in creating an overall landscape design. For example, if you don't want nosey neighbors looking at you when you sunbathe in the backyard, then maybe privacy plantings may be in order. If there's an unpleasant view of a parking lot to one side, then ways of hiding that should be considered. Likewise, if you have a view of the lake but can only see it in the winter when the leaves have dropped off, you probably wouldn't want to include tall evergreens that would block the view permanently in a few years.
The Site Analysis looks at these issues and makes note of them, it doesn't address how to deal with them at this point.
The way the sun affects your house and site throughout the seasons will greatly influence the overall design. By knowing the direction of the sun at different times of the year, you can determine where trees will be needed to provide shade in the summer and where you will need open areas to allow the winter sun's rays to heat the house and outdoor living areas. Knowing that the afternoon sun is much hotter than the morning sun is also a factor to consider.
Prevailing winter winds can help you determine where to locate a windbreak (which can be important if you live in the mountains). You'll also probably not want to block summer breezes from reaching your primary outdoor living spaces in warm climates.
Do a property walk, noting what you see in various directions. Standing on the front step, do you have a pleasant view? What do you see from the backyard deck? Note recurring objectionable noises. Also note the good and bad views and the sources of noise on the Site Analysis. Think about views looking in at your property from outside the property— what your neighbors will be seeing as they look in your direction.
Urban soils may include building leftovers such as mortar, bricks, sheet rock, plywood, and pieces of plastic. Many new housing developments had most of the existing top soil removing or buried by excavation materials during construction and leveling. Sod was then laid on top of the compacted sterile soil and makes for a poor growing structure.
Soil content may be clay, which needs both physical and chemical amendments before trees and shrubs can be planted and expected to thrive. Other parts of the country are extremely sandy and will need organic matter added to retain moisture.
Have soil tests made and note the soil type and topsoil depth on your Site Analysis. (County Extension Centers can provide information on soil testing.) It may be necessary to add top soil for new garden beds, both to improve the existing soil and raise the beds.
Note poorly drained areas that may need underground drainage. Does water stand in low areas after a rain? Do these areas remain wet for several days? Is the soil compacted there? Does grass have trouble growing?
If you live in an area that requires frequent supplemental watering, you might want to consider a sprinkler installation. Include on the Site Analysis areas that might cause problems with such an installation such as large tree roots.
These are the primary questions that should be answered in the Site Analysis. This will give you the base from which to create an overall landscape plan for your property and also help you develop a time-line for installation of the landscape plan.
The next step is to consider Special Family Needs.
A Plot Plan includes the structure of your property and is the basis for all other plans.
How to analyze the environmental features of your landscape.
Checklist for assessing wants and needs in the landscape.
Creating landscape areas according to specific tasks.
Good design rarely results from following rigid rules. Read about design concepts to selectively meet individual landscape needs.
Options for building the hardscape of your landscape project.