How to Draw Landscape Plans: Help for Beginning DIYers
A Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide
Would you like to learn how to draw landscape plans, but are intimidated by the scope of the project? There's one question you need to ask yourself first: Does the project that you’re considering demand detailed, professional-quality landscape plans? If you are merely establishing a new planting bed—say a mixed border planting that will act as a privacy screen—then you probably don’t need a detailed landscape plan. A simple drawing will suit your needs. The drawing can be upgraded with the addition of accurate measurements, so you’ll be able to get your plant spacing requirements right.
A landscape plan is not born; it evolves. You put measurements, rough sketches, and notes on paper, then tinker with that data until you arrive at the final plan. Just how obsessed you become and how methodically you take measurements will determine the degree of detail in your landscape design plan.
When Draw Landscape Plans?
So when do you truly need complete, detailed landscape plans? Those moving into new homes, where the landscaping is virtually non-existent, need to have such landscape plans with which to work. Likewise, homeowners engaging in makeovers of existing landscapes that they consider obsolete will profit from the guidance offered by detailed landscape plans. In these cases, even if you have to pay a pro to come in and draw the landscape plan for you, it will be worth it. Such undertakings are just too complex to be left to guesswork. Detailed landscape plans provide a bird’s-eye view of your property and allow you to determine whether one projected component will mesh with another.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- 100-foot steel tape measure
- Colored pencils
- Lead pencils with erasers
- Ground stakes
- String or twine
- Graph paper
- Carbon paper
- Blank paper
- Tracing paper
Locate Your Deed Map
When you bought your property, you should have received a deed map (there are regional variations on the name of this document). If not, obtain a copy at your county’s records office.
A deed map indicates the measurements of your property, where your house rests in relation to the property's borders and, if you're lucky, the location of underground utilities. If the location of underground utilities is not supplied by the deed map, you can contact your local utility companies. You can also call 8-1-1 in the United States and follow the information given to get markings of your underground utilities.
A deed map or similar aid will help you in this project by providing you with the proper orientation. For instance, you’ll see which (if any) corners of your land form a right angle; this is useful knowledge for your calculations but you’ll still have to do some measuring for the drawing.
Consider the Scale
This involves determining how you will lay out your design on graph paper. You can decide that one of the squares on the graph paper will represent one square foot of space on your property. This creates a scale drawing. Do the physical measuring on your property first then scale those dimensions down so that they’ll fit on the graph paper.
The size of the squares available to you on graph paper varies, so you can choose the size that suits you best. A scale of 1/8 inch = 1 foot is commonly used to draw landscape design plans; for this scale, use the kind of graph paper with the grids laid out in 1/8 inch scale. At this scale, you can represent a property as large as 60 feet by 80 feet on an 8 ½ x 11 sheet. For large properties, you may have to tape sheets of graph paper together.
Measure Your Property
Using the tape measure, determine the length of each of your four property boundaries, then measure the length and width of your house. It’s important to establish precisely where your house sits in relation to your property’s boundaries. This is where those boundary corners that form right angles come in handy.
Let’s say there’s such a corner at the southwestern extreme of your land. Go to the corner of your house nearest to this corner boundary. Run the tape measure from the corner of the house to the western boundary line and record the measurement. Now run the tape measure from the same house corner to the southern boundary line, recording that measurement. If you’ve been careful to keep the tape measure straight, you’ve just defined a perfectly rectangular area. Repeat the process for the other three corners, even where no right angle exists.
Determine the Location of Fixed Objects
Once you’ve established the boundary lines and where the house sits in relation to them, you’re ready to determine the exact locations of other elements on your land (e.g., patios, driveways, gardens, and plants that you’ll be keeping, as well as, utilities), and indicate their positions, in scale, on the graph paper. Their positions are measured in relation to the points that you’ve already established (i.e., boundaries and house). Get at least two points of reference for each element that you’re measuring. The further you proceed in this project, the easier it gets because you acquire more and more fixed points to use as points of reference.
Measure Unique Areas
Perhaps you have a curved garden around one part of your home. To measure a curved area, you need a straight line as a point of reference. Again, build on the calculations you’ve already made in this project. For instance, use the side of the house facing the curved planting bed as a point of reference. If the planting bed is located at a great distance—say, about 100 feet—from the house, you can make your task easier as follows:
- Measure out 99 feet from one corner of the house on that side, and drive a stake into the ground at that point; then do the same from the other corner. Run a string between the two stakes. Now you have a straight line to use as a point of reference, and it’s located just off the near edge of the curved planting bed.
- Beginning at one end of the bed, on the side nearest the string, run the tape measure from the string to the outer edge of the bed. Move down 3 feet and measure again. Repeat every 3 feet, until you reach the other end of the bed, jotting down all your measurements.
- Repeat the process to measure the far side of the bed. When you’re done, you record all the points you just measured on the graph paper, maintaining the same scale. It will look like a series of dots. You then simply connect the dots. The result is an accurate measurement, in scale, of the curved planting bed.
At this point, you have a good map of things on your property that will not change. The design elements from this point forward might change, however, so it's important to make several copies of your design before you add anything else to it. That way, you can go back and start from scratch if necessary, using the accurate scale drawing of your property as a place to start over.
Copy the Design Onto Tracing Paper
Place a sheet of tracing paper over the completed scale diagram. Because the tracing paper allows you to see through down to the scale diagram, you can simply copy its contents, without the grid lines of the graph paper, onto the tracing paper.
Create a Bubble Diagram
Define the boundaries of design spaces on the tracing paper by drawing a circular or oblong shape (the straight edges of squares and rectangles are generally avoided in landscape design unless your goal is a formal landscape design). Label the shape you just drew as whatever you wish it to be (lawn area, ground cover, patio, water feature, planting bed, etc.), according to its function in your landscape design plan (work area, play area, garden, etc.). Then move on to another free space and do the same. Label the areas in between the “bubbles” as driveways, paths, or small lawn areas essentially serving as paths—your means of navigation between the bubbles.
Employ the Stakes and String
Before settling on a final bubble diagram, concretize the project in any way you can, to see what will work and what won’t. Here’s where stakes and string may come in handy. Pound stakes into the ground around one of the spaces you’ve tentatively defined in the bubble diagram. Tie string to these stakes. Repeat the process for the other “bubble” spaces.
Now walk in between these spaces, noting the flow of traffic patterns. Does your layout of the spaces still make sense? Have you used the spaces as effectively as possible? Do you find one of the paths meandering too much, when it should instead be making a beeline from point A to point B?
When you change your mind on any of the spaces, adjust the stakes and string accordingly. When you’ve finished, take the final measurements for these spaces. You’re now ready to go back to the scale diagram and incorporate these final measurements, thus transforming the scale diagram into the final landscape design plan.
Track the Conditions
You should also keep a separate notebook to jot down notes specifically having to do with your planting plan. Take note of shady areas, dry areas, wet areas, soil types, etc. All of these factors will be given precedence over merely aesthetic factors when it comes time to go out and buy the plants themselves. You’ll be fitting the plants to the plan, not the other way around.
Determine Plant Placement
Now it’s time for fitting plants into your scale diagram. You don’t have to name each type of tree, each type of flower, etc. Much more important is a continued adherence to scale, so that, for instance, the shape you draw to indicate a large tree will be bigger than that for a small shrub. Indicate the size that a plant will reach at maturity, not its baby size. This will allow for adequate plant spacing.
Transfer the Final Diagram
Once you’ve got everything right, take a blank sheet of paper, place carbon paper over it, and place the updated scale diagram on top of that. Now trace over everything on the updated scale diagram, allowing the carbon paper to transfer your sketch onto the once blank sheet of paper—which is now being transformed into your final home landscape plan. In creating your final plan in this manner, you’ve simply rid yourself of the grid lines of the graph paper.
Color the Diagram
With your colored pencils, you can now fill in your spaces with the appropriate colors. For instance, grass can be a light green, trees and shrubs a dark green, water blue, etc. The application of color to the final home landscape plan will render it much easier on the eyes. But don’t toss the updated scale diagram into the rubbish! You’ll still want to consult it for precise measurements. Those grid lines may be ugly, but they’re the only thing standing between you and utter chaos.
Drawing a Landscape Plan, The Base Map. University of Georgia Extension Service.