How do landscapers analyze sites?

Analyzing a Landscape's Existing Plant Life

Obviously, you wouldn't be landscaping if you didn't want to make a few changes to what's currently growing on you p­roperty. Any good landscape analysis looks at what's there, what you want or should keep and what you might have to get rid of. The landscaper should also consider the existing vegetation in terms of your short- and long-term goals for the property.

Some questions the landscaper should consider:

  • Where are the large trees? Removing these can often be more trouble than it's worth.
  • Which plants draw attention? These "focal plants" may be worth keeping, or moving to a different location on the property.
  • Which plants have aggressive roots and branches? Are any of these plants in problem spots -- too close to utility lines or foundations?
  • Does the property contain any invasive species? In some places (such as New Zealand) landscapers are legally required to remove invasive species. Even if it isn't a question of law, the landscaper should know about these aggressors.
  • What are the shade and water preferences of the existing plants? Are the plants arranged in such a way as to maximize sun exposure and water use? Will these plants' needs conflict with your environmental goals?
  • What are the colors, textures, sizes and shapes of the existing plants? How do they work together?
  • Which plants do you like? There may be some features you don't want to get rid of. Make sure the landscaper knows about them.

Finally, the analysis should include a budgetary component. Unless you're very wealthy, full landscaping is a project for years, not weeks. So the landscape analysis should consider ways to work with the existing plants as you make the gradual transition to your dream landscape. The landscaper should think about :

  • The age and likely lifespan of any major trees
  • Ways to maximize transitional light and shade patterns
  • How current plant life affects water flow and erosion
  • Which existing plants will impede projects such as terracing
  • Which existing plants pose a threat to the property and should be a priority for removal (for example, if a tree with aggressive roots is too close to the house's foundation or sewer system)

It's not enough to think about how you want the new landscape to look. You also need to think about how you want to use it. On the next page, we'll discuss the functional areas of landscapes.