McArdle's Landscape Tips and Site Analysis

Planning your landscape can provide substantial savings of time and money in maintenance and expenditures on plant materials. A valuable document for you to secure is a plot plan of your property. This document is a survey of your property. Most townships and municipalities have these documents on file in the local town or municipal hall. The document is essentially a map of your property. It locates (sites) the house on the property and is invaluable in that it will give you dimensions. Usually on the bottom right you will find a title block. In the title block you may find useful information regarding your land subdivision. Also of value is a scale. It will read something like 1/8"=1'-0", ¼"=1'-0". Using this scale you will be able to see, for example, that it is 16'-8" from the southwest corner of the house to the property line with your neighbor. This is the point beyond which you should not landscape. Planting beyond this point could mean removal of plant material by your neighbor. Even an agreement with the current owner can be risky, in that, if the property is sold, the new owner may not be amenable to having your landscape border on their property. If the planting should have to be removed you would loose valuable screening.

Sometimes a map will help with planning Sometimes a map will help with planning

The plot plan may give information on both your lot size and the square footage of the dwelling (house). If the document does not provide the actual square footage of the dwelling, you can calculate the square footage using the title block scale. Measure length x width with a scale (usually an engineers), this will give you the square footage of the house. The tax office of your town or municipality may also have this information available. The square footage of the dwelling is absolutely critical for the concept of 'lot coverage'. Many townships and municipalities will permit only a certain percentage of hard scape coverage on a lot.  There is usually a ratio between the total 'hard scape', that is the house plus all other paved impermeable surfaces (driveways, patios, and walkways) and the 'soft scape', that is, the unpaved surfaces. Municipalities have been known to force homeowners to remove new paved surface additions if they exceed allowable lot coverage.

Also important, from the plot plan, you will know how much space is available for planting. Obviously you will need more plants in an area measuring 14' x 22' than an area measuring 10' x 12'. By familiarizing yourself will the ultimate habit (shape) and size of the plants you are purchasing you will assure a final result that is aesthetically appealing for years to come. There is nothing more disheartening than having to remove a fine landscape specimen plant because it has begun to block a walkway, window, or doorway. Always remember, it takes many years for your original plantings to reach their ultimate potential in the landscape. Failure to take mature size and shape of the material you are installing into consideration not only wastes money but valuable time and space as well. McArdle's has several books detailing various landscape trees and shrubs available for sale in our Garden Shop. Investing in the purchase of any of these will enable you to look up, for example, White Pine (Pinus strobus) and ascertain the ultimate size it could be expected to mature at on your property. Keep in mind, however that you may need to find the “happy-medium” between a plant’s “ultimate-size” and it’s “realistic-landscape-size”, that you want the plant to reach in a comfortable amount of time. As an example, a White Pine can reach mammoth proportions of 100’ tall and 80’ wide in 80-100 years, but it’s probably best to site the plant at it’s “realistic-landscape-size” which is roughly 1/2 to 2/3 rd’s it’s “ultimate-size”. This will help to ensure that the plant grows to it’s targeted size in a realistic period of time, while at the same time, not crowding the plants too closely together, or too close to structures and buildings.

This tree is growing into the foundation of this home. This tree is growing into the foundation of this home.

Another valuable thing to ascertain from the plot plan is the dwelling (building) footprint. For instance, a large 'U' shape in the exterior building wall creates a wonderful opportunity for a semi-enclosed garden. These semi-enclosed spaces create a wonderful sense of a garden room. Garden rooms are the perfect spaces for 'detailing'. It is in these small, intimate spaces that garden sculpture is quite often displayed to its best advantage. The center or edge of that space might be a perfect spot from which to view a birdbath or sundial from the window of the house on a cold winter day. Also, keep in mind that a sheltered, protected space near the structure of the house provides effective winter protection for all of those desirable, but marginally cold-hardy plants you just have to have in your garden! Remember a good landscape design will bring the outdoors indoors, and vice versa. Think in terms of small flowering trees framing the vista outside of a living room or dining room bay window. And also consider outdoor living “rooms”, or small places where you can sit quietly and enjoy your natural surroundings.

Once you have thought out the above issues, it is a good time for a 'walking site analysis'. Walk the property and study topography, Monitor light exposure throughout the period of a full day and take notes as to how much sun each area gets. Take tests for soil fertility and moisture, or send samples in to the Agricultural Experiment Station for analysis. Be sure to take notes of all this data. It's a good idea to actually makes final notes on a copy of the site plan. A hot, dry slope with all-day sun exposure may not be the best spot for turf but is perfect for a mass planting of groundcover junipers. It's important to remember that site conditions can change throughout the year. A site shaded by deciduous oaks in the growing season may be very sunny in the winter months, so perhaps it’s best to rethink those Cherry Laurel that prefer winter shade. An eastern exposure is said to be perfect by rosarians (rose-specialists) for rose cultivation, as well as Hydrangea, which prefer “Sun-Till-1” in the ideal situation!

Using the above thoughts should help you create a beautiful, useful, and environmentally sound landscape for your property, and provide many years of enjoyment for you and you family. McArdle's warmly wishes you, HAPPY GARDENING!!!

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