Garden Planning Checklist

1. Sunlight 

What is the sun exposure for each part of the garden – morning, afternoon or full-day sun? How does the exposure change at different times of year?

2. Soil

Does water drain quickly or slowly? Do a drainage test to find out: Dig a one-cubic-foot hole; fill it with water; time how long it takes to drain. If it takes more than an hour, plant clay-adapted species or those whose soil preference is adaptable.

3. Size 

What are the measurements of the site? Draw a map on graph paper, one grid space per square foot. Include existing or planned hardscape and shade areas of trees.

4. Determine the function of each area of your sitE 

Where are pathways, seating areas, shade and privacy screens needed? 

5. Determine your garden style and follow basic landscaping principles 

Use repetition, variation of color, texture and form, staggered bloom periods, evergreen anchor and foundation plants, and sightlines.

6. Coupled with style and function, choose plants based on the sunlight, soil and size of the area

Match the plant to the area. For example, if the area has clay soil and full sun, plant a native that is adapted to those conditions. For greatest success, choose species from your area – work with the nature of where you live. 

7. Design the garden based on each plant’s width at maturity

For example: Black Sage (Salvia mellifera) is 5’H x 5’W at maturity; in a 25-foot-long by 5-foot-wide space, 5 Black Sages are sufficient because 5 x 5 = 25.

8. On the graph-paper map, draw a circle for each plant based on its width at maturity

This will help avoid overplanting, one of the most common mistakes. Overplanting leads to root competition and added work for trimming. Let the plants assume their natural size and shape.


See RESOURCES for plant list recommendations.

Image courtesy of the Theodore Payne Foundation.

Image courtesy of the Theodore Payne Foundation.