A land plan of the property, as shown in Figure 19-27, is an excellent starting point. Sometimes a parcel plan is provided when the property is purchased. If this is not the case, consult the local county assessor's office or the GIS County Tax and Deed website. The parcel plan must include the property lines, indicate the location of the house on the property and indicate the alleys, easements and any other limitations. Be sure to check for any setbacks or flows on the property that may have their own set of legal settings. The location of exact property boundaries is important when a fence is part of the final design.
It is also recommended to perform a soil test before adding fertilizers or amendments. To learn how to test the pH in your soil, read soil pH and home landscape or garden (available online at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ss480). It is much easier to grow plants adapted to existing soil conditions than to change the soil. If improvements are needed, keep the flower beds small and modify the entire planting bed, not just the hole for the plant. For more information on soil amendment, see Soils and fertilizers for gardeners: soil organic matter and organic soil improvers (available online at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu / mg454).
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Use trees to shade the walls rather than the roof of the house. The branches of trees on the roof spill a bed that clogs the gutters. If heavy limbs fall during a storm, they can damage the house. Create a windbreak by identifying the prevailing winter wind and installing evergreen trees in the wind of the house. A row of trees is effective, but a five-row windbreak with several different species is more effective. The windbreak also serves as a privacy screen. A biodiversity-rich (or screened) windbreak composed of native plants also provides sources of food and shelter for beneficial insects and wildlife, including birds.
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