Assessing Your Landscape Needs

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An important step in landscaping your yard is knowing what you expect from the finished project. Think about how you plan to use your yard and how its design might enhance its use. Then assess your current landscape to learn what works and what doesn’t. At first, focus on what you like and don’t like about the existing landscape; then start identifying your family’s wants and needs.

Make landscape planning an enjoyable process that includes everyone’s ideas. Hold a family meeting to discuss the questions on the next page and brainstorm the possibilities. These questions will help you in creating a complete assessment of your current landscape, leading you to discover the best landscaping solutions for your home.

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As you discover your yard’s assets and shortcomings, list them in a notebook or on a computer. Take notes as you identify your needs and desires. Start a wish list and let the ideas flow — don’t worry about costs or labor at this stage. If an idea seems muddled at first, jot it down anyway; the details will likely become clear in time.

Keep an open mind and wait until later to make specific decisions. Your landscape problems and household needs will change with time. Both people and trees mature; lifestyles and tastes change, so consider the pros and cons of all the ideas.

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The View From Within

Think about where you spend the most time in the house. Consider the view from your bedroom window, your favorite chair, the kitchen sink, or your seat at the dining room table. When you look out windows and doors, think about what you see, as well as what you would like to see. As you make landscaping plans, take advantage of existing views and consider how your proposed changes will alter the view.

Use the questions below and the checklists on the next page to assess your existing landscape and dream about future possibilities. Be sure to involve all family members in this process.


  • Who is the family? List all current and prospective household members, from children to older relatives.
  • How do you live? Ask each family member: Where and how do you spend most of your time indoors and outdoors? How does this change seasonally?
  • Are pets part of the picture? What are the current or foreseeable needs of your pet(s)?
  • How do you see the future? How long do you plan to live in this home? Do you plan to make any structural additions or major changes?

Learn more about gardening with your pets.


  • How do you use the yard? List your favorite activities as well as any desired forms of recreation. Do you have places to exercise as well as relax? Is there room to store furniture and outdoor gear?
  • How much time do you spend outside? How many hours, on average, do you spend monthly on yard maintenance, gardening, and outdoor fun?
  • Is company coming? How often do you entertain outdoors? How many people are involved? What activities are included?
  • How do you play? Is there ample room for the activities that typically occur in your yard?
  • Do you grow your own food? Is there adequate space for enough fruits, vegetables, and herbs to supply your household? Are these spaces located conveniently near the kitchen?

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Traffic Zones

  • Is there enough parking? How many vehicles must be accommodated daily? (Include guest parking.)
  • Where do you enter? Which entryways are most commonly used by family members and guests?
  • Where are the pathways? How do you circulate in and out of the house, onto and off the property? Think in terms of all kinds of traffic: foot, bike, and vehicle.

Get ideas for creating a pathway.

Privacy & Security

  • Do you feel safe? Are there areas of the property where you don’t feel secure? If the yard is not entirely fenced, is fencing feasible? Is there adequate lighting? Is it safe to pull out of the driveway and use the sidewalks? Would thorny shrubs bolster security?
  • Do you have privacy? Is privacy adequate, especially in areas where you want it most? What might your neighbors or the city do that would change that?

Get tips to making your yard more private.


  • Is your landscape easily maintained? Is there enough room to use and store maintenance equipment?
  • Does the landscape suit your region’s climate? Do the plants and structures work together to create a beautiful landscape that withstands the weather?

Use the checklists below to assess your yard’s current features, and to select amenities you may want in your new home landscape. Don’t be hesitant to select features you aren’t sure about; you will have many opportunities to refine your list during the landscape design phase.

Basic Features

__ lot lines
__ house
__ driveway, street
__ garage
__ parking area
__ sidewalk, boulevard
__ deck
__ patio, terrace
__ sewer/water lines
__ power/phone lines
__ well, cistern
__ septic tank
__ terrain, slope
__ soil, drainage
__ existing trees/shrubs
__ good views
__ poor views
__ sun exposure
__ summer winds
__ winter winds
__ easements, ordinances
__ deed restrictions

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Structural Features

__ garden beds
__ fence, wall
__ paths
__ gazebo, pergola
__ greenhouse
__ play structure
__ pool, spa
__ toolshed, storage area
__ other buildings
__ pet runs
__ air conditioning unit
__ fuel storage tank
__ garbage cans, recycling area
__ compost pile
__ barbecue grill
__ lighting

Add a playhouse for the kids.

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Decorative Features

__ lawn, groundcover
__ flowers
__ herbs
__ vegetables
__ fruits
__ bulbs
__ vines
__ container plantings
__ arbor
__ trellis
__ garden art, statuary
__ pond, waterfall, fountain

Get ideas for creating gorgeous containers.

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