Q: I need to do some landscape work around my house. I want to DIY it, but don’t know where to start. Help!

A: An attractive landscape is a great way to add aesthetic, functional, environmental and economic value to your home. Whether a homeowner chooses to go it alone, as you plan to do, or hires a professional, understanding the process behind the science of the artistic practice of landscape design will be beneficial.

There are four basic steps to the design process, which are discussed in depth in the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s publication on Residential Landscape Design, ANR-813:

•Analyze your site and develop a base plan.

•Determine your landscape needs and sketch out ideas to meet those needs.

•Choose the plants and construction materials that will use to achieve your ideas.

•Create your design on paper.

Since you asked “where to start,” we will discuss only step one of the design process in this article. Pick up the publication at your local Extension office or download it online to read all about the other steps.

You can think of the site analysis as a courtship with your landscape. This dating phase should not be overlooked. While you might think of plants as easily moved or changed, your goal is to develop a thoughtful, lasting landscape that will endure for years.

Begin the site analysis by developing a base map. This involves sketching your house and property, including existing plants, to scale (i.e., 1 inch = 8 feet) on grid paper. Locate the boundaries of your property and indicate the north direction to help you plot the direction of the sun and wind. Locate the positions of both aboveground power lines and underground gas, water and sewer pipes, and power and cable lines.

If you need help finding the underground utilities, don’t just make your best guess; call 811 and they will do it for you, for free. Nothing kills your DIY-project motivation quicker than digging up your sewer line!

On your base map you’ll also want to note functional areas of your yard. Everything from outdoor kitchens to play areas and even tool storage, whatever you plan to do in your yard, mark it on the map.

Don’t forget the paths that people normally/naturally walk in your yard. Ever seen a new building with new sod and new sidewalks, but a walking trail cutting diagonally across the lawn? Yeah, you want to avoid that at your house, so be honest about where people walk, not necessarily where you’d like for them to walk. Hint: It’s usually the path of least resistance — the straightest, most direct path.

A site assessment of your landscape doesn’t only involve walking around outside. You’ll need to assess your landscape from indoors as well. Sound weird? Well, it’s not when you consider you’re assessing the views out of the windows in your house.

Is there a particularly breathtaking through your bedroom window? Then make note of that on your map and don’t plant a gigantic holly bush (that will become a tree) in front of that window. On the other hand, if your kitchen window looks at your neighbor’s trash bin area, perhaps some strategically placed evergreens would be more pleasing to see when washing dishes.

For more resources to help you, check out Residential Landscape Design at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0813/ANR-0813.pdf and Alabama Smart Yards at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1359/ANR-1359.pdf.

You are invited to these free
upcoming gardening events:

What: Lunch and Learn
When: Mon., Jan. 23, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Ionix Detox & Herbs for Health, presented by Carol Wattier and A.D. Hale

What: Mobile Master Gardeners Monthly Meeting
When: Thursday, Feb. 2, 10-11:30 a.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: The Chelsea Flower Show, presented by Brenda Bolton