Gather as much information as possible about your site and the area where you live. Make a preliminary map of your property, drawn to scale, that includes the locations of your house, buildings, sidewalks, and driveway. Indicate on the map, or on a separate sheet of paper, the following information:
- Regional climate: In Idaho, cold hardiness is a critical factor for determining plant survival. Idaho covers five USDA hardiness zones, 3 to 6, (-50 to -10º F), with temperatures being affected by elevation and latitude. See a map of USDA hardiness zones. Heat and wind can also be considerations in the southern valleys of Idaho.
- Microclimates: These zones of sunlight, temperature, humidity, and wind that are unique to your landscape and are different (more or less severe) from the regional climate. When conducting a site analysis, look for potential problem areas such as hot spots, frost pockets, wet spots, or windy places, or shaded areas. Also look for protected places where tender plants can thrive. Mark these microclimates on your preliminary map for future reference.
- Soils: Proper soil conditions are critical to plant growth and survival. Consider the drainage, soil pH, texture, and organic matter when assessing soil-related characteristics of the landscape. Remember, most urban or residential soils are disturbed soils and probably do not have the good characteristics of native topsoil. It is possible in a small area to improve soil using various soil amendments.
- Topography: Lay of the land can affect microclimate and drainage, and make some areas difficult to plant and maintain.
- Existing plant materials and structures: Show existing plants, sidewalks, driveways, patios, and other structures on your preliminary plan.
- Access: Besides driveways and sidewalks, plot “traffic” areas around the landscape. Consider ways to improve access to your home or other parts of the landscape.
- Easements: Draw these on your map to prevent planting any permanent plant materials in these areas.
- Overhead utility lines, sewer lines, underground cables, and transformers: Note these on your preliminary site plan and plan accordingly. A simple rule for planning around utilities is to use plant materials that when mature will not touch or interfere with utility equipment. Note: For more information, read UI Extension CIS 991, Landscaping and Utilities: Problems, Prevention, and Plant Selection.
- Views: Assess views looking from and toward your house. Determine what you want to see or don’t want to see.
- Available water: Show the location of your water sources. If your property has areas that are difficult to water, you may want to modify your plan to meet the needs of these areas by using drought tolerant plants or hardscape (nonliving) materials.
- Local ordinances: Consult state and local authorities for specific regulations about planting trees and shrubs along streets, sidewalks, and rights of way.
A site maintained by Mississippi State University provides more information on conducting a site survey.