Ask yourself the following
If possible, visit your favorite spots at different seasons, to observe plant progression. Try to identify the primary plant species along with those that aren't so dominant in the landscape. Note the ground layer species. As you observe the natural community around you, or if you chose to explore other natural areas, ask yourself what attracts you. Try to determine how the animal species use the vegetation.
To help you prepare
your map, you may want to use:
Measurement of the property can be done several ways - using one of the aforementioned maps, tape measure, or a measured stride used as ruler. Transfer the measurements onto a piece of graph paper to produce the scale base map.
Take time for a thorough site analysis of your property. This will save you time and money in the long run. Note existing vegetation, natural factors and features, views, noise levels (street, etc.), utility placement, easements/setback lines and primary architectural features of the house. Also, when creating habitat think about the needs of wildlife (food, water, cover or shelter and space) to be included in the landscape if not already present.
Overlay maps can be created on tracing paper that can be placed over the base map. These maps are for the climate, topography, soils (pH, compaction, drainage) and even other existing vegetation. On each property there exist microclimates - climatic variations such as moist areas caused by surface depressions or shade, wind tunnels, sunny and shady areas, etc. These microclimates should be marked on the overlay maps.
When mapping, remember to consistently use the same symbols throughout the drawing.
A final thought for Step two take photographs of the natural areas that inspire you to change your traditional landscape into one that is more environmental friendly. These photos can help you in the design phase of your project. Also, photographs of the proposed planting sites on the property can be taken. These photos can be marked as to what will be proposed for that particular area of the landscape.
Now is also a good time to take a soil sample of the areas to be planted. A soil test kit can be purchased from your local county extension office (check the blue pages of your telephone directory). Knowing the soil for the planting areas of your property is key in creating a successful environmental landscape.
The following are a few key discussion questions. Additional questions can be found on the worksheet page.
Is there a particular
color scheme to use?
As part of the discussion you may want to walk through the landscape several times, looking at the possibilities and pointing out each possibility that maybe implemented and installed.
When you have reached a starting point, write down the need to meet the desired results you listed above. For example, if you wish to have a play area for the children, you will need a flat well-drained portion of the property along with a clear view of the area from some identified observation point like the kitchen window.
Modify your plans and ideas as needed, otherwise, a hobby will become a chore. The evaluation process is never complete and don't feel alone if you change it with time. Nature may assist you in these changes, such as the death of a large shade tree.
Plan to plant vegetation where it will grow and thrive (the right plant in the right place). A plant that requires moist soils and shade won't thrive in a dry, sunny location. This requires you to know your property conditions and research the plants you wish to use.
Imitate nature's design for best results, such as patterns, colors, textures and arrangement. Cluster plants that spread by runners or suckers, scatter plants that spread by seed. Use dominant plants as the backbone of your design, complementing these plants with subdominant and accent plants.
Consider emphasizing certain natural features in your yard, such as a pond, rock garden or tree. Plan your garden with the seasonal changing quality of plants in mind. For example, if your garden has primarily spring-blooming plants, the garden will have little color for the remainder of the year.
Consider your wildlife needs, those ingredients necessary in the landscape to support and to attract the wildlife. The four basic elements that are necessary for a successful wildlife garden are food, water, shelter or cover, and space. A wide variety of plants in the landscape will attract the most species by providing the necessary elements of food, cover and nesting areas year-round. Check back to the website for future information on steps on how to create a wildlife habitat garden.
The spatial arrangement of food, water and cover is as critical as the elements themselves. The arrangement of these elements - along with the space requirements of the species you wish to attract - is critical. Arrange your wildlife garden to decrease competition among species. Remember that edges are the most used area. Consider wildlife corridors when planning your habitat garden. These corridors provide areas in which wildlife can safely travel to meet their needs.
A variety of plants will attract the most species by providing food, cover and nesting areas year-round. Use low, medium and tall plant species to produce the edges and stories most beneficial to wildlife. These varied layers provide choices in temperature, sunlight, insects and food. Layers also provide areas for nesting, feeding, and hiding. Plant diversity, shape and height of flora and leaf density can create layers.
One way of thinking about the layering is to divide the landscape into areas based on vertical diversity of the vegetation. If the entire property is covered with grasses, flowers and herbs only, then the area has a groundcover layer. If there is an area with trees, shrubs, and grasses or flowers, then the area has an overstory, shrub and groundcover area. Some questions to answer - Are there abrupt changes from areas covered only by a groundcover to those areas with tree and shrub layers as well? Or, is there a gradual transition from grasses/wildflowers to shrubs to trees with grasses/wildflowers and shrubs.
Keeping the principles of design in mind, begin the arrangement of the landscape by finalizing the plan for your property. A number of medias can be used for drawing - tracing paper and pencil or grease pencil and clear plastic. These medias are placed over the base map. Begin by defining the area available for wildlife by designating the human elements chosen from the feedback/input meeting, such as a vegetable garden, recreation areas or future site for a pool, etc. Next, determine what natural elements you wish to enhance, such as the creation of a windbreak or shrub border.
Depending on the site and what is to be planted, it is best to clear the area of turf and debris that would either inhibit the growth of the plant or make it difficult to work around. Some sources recommended amending the soil with composted leaves or manure and others believe what is planted should survive in the current condition of the soil. This determination should be made based on the soil test results and the workability of the soil. Once planted the area should be dressed with a layer of composted mulch (hardwood or mushroom soil), the maximum of 3" in depth.
Plants should be placed in the landscape with consideration to their mature size. Plant areas or groups are generally spaced to cover an area in 3 - 5 years. Plants should be spaced far enough from the house or building so there is adequate air circulation near the house. Generally, space plants from the building by at least the distance of the plant radius at maturity. Spacing plants too close to the house is a common mistake.
plants should be placed in the landscape based on their water needs. For
example, those plants that thirst for water should be either planted in
a low, moist area of the property and/or located near the foundation of
the house. The more drought tolerant species can be installed further
from the water source. An innovative method is to plant something in front
of the a downspout from the roof that can take a combination of wet/dry
soil moisture. This will effectively slow the water draining off the property
and provide essential moisture for the plant.
for the Long Haul
Many variables exist that may influence your work plan, including time, season, preparation work needed and budget, to name a few. You should develop a regular maintenance schedule*, or use a calendar and mark key maintenance activities on it for each month.
A key to lower maintenance is simplified design with plants in-groups of like species to create a mass effect. These beds can eliminate trimming and reduce lawn mower damage to tree trucks. Edging of beds creates a sharp clean line and reduces maintenance requirements. Make sure these lines encompassing lawn area meet at angles greater than 90 degrees. Avoid improper plant selection, spacing and installation that can cause maintenance habits.
A well-designed landscape incorporates each of the principles of design while meeting the functional needs of the household. It includes native plantings and low-maintenance areas wherever possible, minimizing the need for supplemental water and chemicals with the potential to pollute surface and ground water supplies. It provides cover and food for wildlife. Such landscapes represent a significant, tangible way for you to contribute to the health of local waterways and the regional watersheds in Pennsylvania.
So go out and enjoy the environmental landscape on your property. One filled with a sights and sounds of a wide variety of wildlife attracted to the native plants and lacking in the droning noise of a gas-powered lawnmower.