Conduct a site analysis


Analyzing the site’s environmental conditions and taking inventory of other conditions of the site, including soil, is an important step. Accurate analysis of the site will help you understand existing conditions. You can then modify areas that need improvements and make the most of natural areas. Note wind, sun, and shade patterns, as well as water move­ment and terrain levels that impact where you locate play, cooking, garden, entertaining, pool, and other activity areas of the landscape.

Observing Over Time

For the most accurate site analysis, record observations of the site for a year before you start to change any of it. For example, if you purchased your home and property during the winter months, it would be a good idea to go through one growing season to determine the best areas for spring bulbs, perennials, or other plants.

A year of observing your landscape may sound excessive, but taking your time has an advantage. If you move too fast, you could destroy one of your landscape’s assets before you are even aware of it. Observing how the sun moves across your property during the year, where shade occurs, where water collects, which views are concealed or revealed by deciduous vegetation, and where privacy or lighting is needed is essential to creating an effective landscape.

Take time to determine where the favored pathways run. Where is the best spot to store gardening tools or equipment? It takes time to see the best views to enhance or the less attrac­tive views to conceal. Remember to conduct part of your site analysis from inside your house, observing the views from windows and doors through the season. The view of your landscape as seen from inside your house is very important. Unattractive features should be hidden from view and attrac­tive features emphasized.

Getting Started

Start the site analysis by taping your base map onto a rigid piece of cardboard or other material for stability. Take a clean sheet of tracing paper and place it over the base plan. Trace all existing features from the base plan—property lines, outline of the house, existing structures, paving, and plants. This dupli­cate will become your site analysis.

Recording the Landscape

Refer to Figure 11 and the Step 2 Checklist to guide you through the site analysis items. The following paragraphs will help you accurately record features and patterns of sun, shade, wind, noise, soils, land form, surface drainage, and views. Put labels on the approximate location of each item or condition. Use arrows to indicate patterns of access, views, and slopes, labeling each one. Now take a look at what you have created. You should have an emerging picture of what your property looks like.

Look at the relationship between spaces. Is your parking space near the door you use most often? You may realize that you have incompatible zones of use side by side. Can you see and smell the dog pen while sitting on your patio? You may need to move or screen the pet area. What is the view from your family room picture window? Hopefully, it isn’t the neighbor’s woodpile or messy tool shed. Add notes, circles, and arrows as needed to show how existing zones of the house and yard work together or clash. The more detailed you make your site analysis, the better tool you will have when you go through the other steps in the design process.

Understanding Environmental Features or Patterns

Sun and Shade

The angle of the sun as it moves across the property in dif­ferent seasons of the year is very important in determining how to plan for shaded and open areas. In Mississippi, the summer sun rises slightly to the northeast, is straight over­head at 12 noon, and sets slightly to the northwest. Look at your property and make notes on the summer sun’s effects on your house. Indicate shady and open areas. See Figures 11 and 12.

Also consider the winter sun’s effects. The winter sun rises in the southeast, remains low in the southern sky, and sets in the southwest. Use arrows to indicate how the winter sun affects your house. By knowing the sun’s movements in sum­mer and winter, you can decide where to locate summer shade and where to provide open areas to allow the winter sun to warm your home and outdoor living area.


Wind can be harsh and cruel during the winter but bring a cool breath of relief during the summer. In most areas of Mississippi, the winter winds are from the north and north­west. Summer winds are from the south and southwest. The three coastal counties of Mississippi enjoy a southerly Gulf breeze during most of the year. Look at your property and determine the orientation of the prevailing winds. This infor­mation will help you determine the natural placement of screens to protect you from harsh winds.


Everyone will not be fortunate enough to enjoy the quiet of country living. Homes in cities and suburbs can be constantly bombarded with noise from motor vehicles, activities of neighbors, and industry. Many noises can be buffered by planting densely foliated trees and shrubs. Look at the proper­ty and determine if you and your family will have objection­able noises. Make these notes on your analysis sheet.

Soils and Land Form

Soils greatly affect the choices of trees, shrubs, and lawn grass. It is especially important to look at the soil around the house’s foundation. Modern construction techniques usually turn up subsoil that is spread near the foundation. These sub­soils are often tight clays lacking in structure or texture neces­sary for good plant growth. If you propose to use foundation plants, you must consider these soils.

You should take a soil test every 20 feet along the sides of the house and 2 feet out from the walls. Take the soil samples carefully and do not allow mortar mix or concrete chips to be included. These materials could ruin the test results and your plants. Make sure to remove those undesirable materials before soil preparation. For information on how to take and submit a soil sample, contact your local Extension office. The county Extension office can supply you with soil sample boxes and the instruction sheet. You can also view the Mississippi State University Extension Service online video "Taking a Soil Sample" here: http://msucares. com/gardenvideos/.

Surface Drainage

Next, you should determine the direction of surface water drainage. Use arrows to indicate how water runs off the prop­erty. Also indicate any areas where water runs onto your prop­erty from neighbors and vice versa. Take special note of any areas that are eroding, or washing away. In addition, indicate areas where water stands for long periods of time. It is best to perform these observations during multiple rain events of varying duration or intensity.


Your site analysis should determine the desirability of views seen from all sides of your property as well as from inside the house. Indicate these on your analysis notes.

Review the checklist below before proceeding to Step 3.

Step 2 Checklist

1. Sun patterns and movements by season across the property

2. Hot areas, shady areas, and cool areas

3. Areas that need shade

4. Windy areas

5. Noise screens

6. Existing soil conditions, especially around home foundation

7. Soil test results

8. Poorly drained, wet, soggy, or low areas

9. Surface water drainage routes, including downspouts, drainage swales, and areas water drains

10. Areas where erosion is occurring

11. Slope of property, including banks, gullies, ditches, hills, knolls, etc.

Figure 12. Solar angles in Mississippi. Drawing by Richard Martin III.

12. Condition of all trees and shrubs

13. Good views and poor views (both on and off property) 14.Items that need to be replaced or repaired, including fences,

driveways, walls, walkways, patios, etc.

15. Health and condition of lawn

16. Valuable wildlife plants and areas

17. Invasive, exotic plants to be removed

18. Any other features that need to be improved

Updated: September 30, 2015 — 11:06 pm