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Tips to Get the Yard You Need

Take a site inventory and design the yard of your dreams.

Courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens®

Evaluate Your Lifestyle

One of the first steps in landscaping is to focus on what you like and dislike about your present yard; assess what works and what doesn’t. Then ask yourself what are your family’s needs and what you expect from the finished project. Think about how you plan to use your yard and how its design might enhance its use. Tips to Get the Yard You Need


A landscape assessment helps
you identify your needs --
both today and tomorrow. For
example, this play structure
will easily convert to an arbor
and shed when the kids have





As you discover your yard's assets and shortcomings, as well as your needs and desires, list them in a notebook or on a computer. Start a wish list and let the ideas flow without worrying about costs or labor. If an idea isn’t clear, jot it down anyway; the details likely will become apparent over time. Keep an open mind and wait to make specific decisions. Your landscape's problems and your household's needs may change. Both people and trees mature; lifestyles and tastes change, so consider the pros and cons of all the ideas.

Landscape planning can be 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 create a complete assessment of your current landscape, leading you to discover the best landscaping solutions for your home. Tips to Get the Yard You Need


In many cases, you will spend
more time looking at your
landscape from inside your home
that outside. It makes sense to
plan for interior views.




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.


Planning Questionnaire

Use the questions below and landscaping 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.

Landscape Features Checklist

Use the checklists below to assess your yard's current features, and to select amenities you think you 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


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


Decorative features

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



  • 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 a pet?
  • 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?



  • 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?


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.


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?



  • 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?
  • What’s your budget? Would hiring a professional landscaper to do the landscaping make sense?
  • What’s the timeline for the project? Keep the seasons in mind, especially if it gets extremely cold or warm where you live.

Your Opinion

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