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Mapping Your Yard

Here's how to create a base map of your yard, the foundation of all landscape planning.

If you begin with a simple drawing of your existing landscape, known as a base map, you lay the groundwork for an organized approach to more doable and affordable landscape improvements.

Take your time with this important step. Subsequent drawings -- the site analysis and the conceptual, preliminary, and final designs -- all use the base map as a starting point. The accuracy of the base map makes it a dependable tool, which in turn helps ensure the success of any project, large or small.

Preparing a Base Map

First, obtain a map that shows the exact size and shape of your property. This may be the plat, a deed map, the architect's or builder's plans, or a topographical plan with contour lines showing the site's elevation or gradations. The map should include the fixed structures and hardscape -- the house, driveway, sidewalks, fences, walls -- and their measurements.

Plats are useful for locating easements on a property, but not every state plats lots. Depending on where you live, a plat may have been included in the papers you acquired when purchasing your home. If not, you may be able to obtain it from the city or county assessor's office. There may be a fee for this service. While you are asking for a plat of your property, also ask for a copy of all local ordinances regarding easements, height restrictions, and any other regulations that may have an effect on your landscaping project.

Make several copies of the plat; label and store the original in a safe place. Then get ready to create your base map by gathering a few materials that will make the task easier: a 100-foot tape measure, plenty of sharp pencils, graph paper, and tracing paper. As you measure your property, follow the tips on the next page.

Make sure the measurements on your map are accurate; mark any changes on a copy of the plat map. Measure the outside dimensions of the lot, house, garage, and any other major structures or hardscape areas. Record the measurements.

Get more of your gardening questions answered.

Measuring Techniques

Use the techniques listed below to develop an accurate base map of your yard. This map will be the basis of all of your landscape planning.

To locate a structure or plant, measure from two know locations, then mark on your map where the two distances intersect.
  • To accurately locate the house on the map, measure the property lines, then measure from each corner of the house perpendicular to the nearest property lines.
  • Similarly, locate other structures by recording the distances between them and other objects. For example, to plot the location of a tree, choose two fixed points, such as two corners of the house, and run the tape measure from each of these two points to the tree. The illustration (right) shows how to take one of the two measurements.
To measure a slope, fix one endof a long, straight board, thenhold the board level andmeasure the drop at thedownslope end.
  • If you're working alone and need to measure a straight line, use a large nail that can fit through the clip at the tape's end. This will secure the tape while you pull it taut and take a measurement.
  • To measure a curved bed, you need a straight line to measure from. If the bed has no wall or fence backing it, create a line with string and stakes, a hose, or another measuring tape. Starting at one end of the bed, measure from the line to the outside edge of the bed. Repeat this process every 3 feet until you have measured the entire area. This will result in a series of dots on your base map that reflects the curving edge of the bed. Connect the dots to determine the general shape of the bed.
  • Measure a slope or simple grade change in increments. To do this, extend a board out from the top of the slope. Make sure it is level, then measure the distance between the board and the ground (right). Mark the location of the slope and note its grade on the base map.
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