Before You Design

Creating a landscape that efficiently uses water and other resources, meets your goals and budget, and is functional and beautiful can be achieved through careful planning. In addition to completing the Questionnaire, it is important to assess your existing landscape. This will help you gain important information to take into consideration when Creating the Design.

Prepare to document: If you have an existing plot plan or can obtain one from the County Assessor's Office, this will give you a document on which you can write notes. If not, make a quick sketch of your property or the area to be landscaped. You can even take photos and make notes directly on them.

Assess Your Site - Take some time to walk around your yard, observe the following, and make notes about the following:

Climate: What is the climate zone where you live. The Sacramento Region has zones 7, 8, 9, and 14. References such as the Sunset Western Garden Book can help you determine your climate zone. Select plants that will thrive in your zone; avoid those that are not appropriate for your zone.

Microclimate: While there are a number of definitions of microclimate, in this situation it means the localized climate conditions within an urban area or neighborhood. One yard can have a number of microclimates. For example, the climate around a tree or shrub or a stand of trees can vary greatly from the area of your yard near the street and other hard surfaces where the heat is absorbed or can be reflected. The climate near a body of water can be different from the climate at the top of a hill.

Topography: Do you have a slope in your yard? The degree of slope affects run-off, method of irrigation, erosion. Is the slope gentle or steep? Water drains away from root zones and surfaces faster on steep slopes. More run-off results in less water infiltration into the soil. Consider maintenance since pruning, mulching, and mowing can be more difficult on slopes.

Coprosma x kirkii, Creeping Mirror Plant, works well on slopes and requires minimal maintenance.

Wind: Wind can have a number of effects on your landscape. It can dry the soil more quickly; plants can become bent or lopsided and have increased water loss.

Wind can cause trees and plants to become bent or lopsided. Refer to resources such as the Sunset Western Garden Book for plants that work well in windy areas.
Wind affects trees

Soil: Refer to the Soil topic, this will help you determine what type of soil you have in your landscape and how to improve it. For example, new housing developments can have compacted soil from construction equipment; fill soil may be imported from another site or area, quality may be low; drainage may vary from one area to another within the same yard. During your landscape project, takes steps to protect your soil and reduce compaction. One way to do this is to put down several inches of organic compost in a high traffic area during construction.

Courtesy of the City of Folsom Utilities Department
Know your soil

Sun Exposure: As you walk around your yard, observe where you have direct or reflected sun; length of time (number of hours) the sun is in each area; which areas are in full shade, partial shade, full sun; and what direction does the area to be landscaped face, meaning its orientation. Does it face the north? North-facing gardens receive the least sunlight; South-facing gardens receive the most sun); East gardens receive afternoon shade; and West receive morning shade.

In a hot, sunny area, create shade with an arbor and vining plant. (Regional Water Authority, Ultimate Water-Smart Garden Makeover Contest winner 2008.)
Ultimate Water-Smart Garden Makeover Contest winner 2008

One More Tip: Two of the most important considerations when creating your landscape design are to group plants with similar water and sun requirements together. This will avoid having a mixture of plants in one area with different needs. Plants will be healthier by receiving the amount of water and sun exposure they require. Refer to Plant Design section.

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