Start the New Year with a new landscape plan.

Whether you are considering big or small changes to your landscape, donít stick a shovel in the ground without a plan.† Start by making a landscape map on graph paper.† Show prominent features of your yard, including buildings, trees, and boundaries.† Measure the actual landscape features; then write dimensions and notes on your map.

Lay sheets of tracing paper over your base map and use a soft pencil to make additional overlay maps with different themes, such as sun and shade patterns, drainage, views, plants, and traffic patterns.

Decide what you and your family want from your yard.† Your children might like a play area with a swing set or playhouse.† Or maybe itís space to play football or badminton.†† Other family members might want a greenhouse, a gazebo, a potting shed, or that tranquil oasis where they can relax and escape the necessities of life.

Knowing when, where, and for how long the sun shines on different parts of your property will help you make many landscaping decisions.† Do a sun track of your yard or area.† Keep yourself a chart of where the sun hits the areas you are going to be planting.† Anytime you get a chance notice where the sun hits (or doesnít hit) and write it down.† It is important to know how many hours of sun an area gets during the day; and if it gets sun, be sure to note the times.† Try to look at an area over the next few weeks enough to know whatís going on every 2 hours of daylight.† If you are doing your sun track in the late winter or early spring, youíll need to think about where the sun will be in the middle of summer, which will cause it to hit the garden differently.† Some elements on your sun and shade map might include:† the length and location of shadows in early morning, noon, and late afternoon in summer and winter, shadows of buildings and tree canopies in different seasons, and sunny areas near buildings or walls.††

Drainage maps will show slope, ground surface details, places where water tends to collect after heavy rains, and soil characteristics.† Steep slopes and smooth surfaces --- such as roofs and pavement ó increase water runoff speed and erosion potential.† Vegetation slows water down, giving it time to soak thoroughly into the soil.† Sandy soil allows water to drain quickly, while clay soil slows drainage.† Part of your landscape plan may include diverting roof runoff with gutters and downspouts, adding flat stones under downspouts to present erosion, or improving† the slope or drainage in overly wet areas.† Better still, consider a rainwater harvesting system.† You can start with something very simple such as a barrel to collect the rainwater.† Capturing rainwater becomes additive and soon you will want to include more rain barrels or the larger storage tanks.† Rain gardens also capture the storm water and prevent erosion.† Information on capturing rainwater is available from the master gardeners.

Sketch different design plans on tracing paper laid over the base map, too, to get an idea for what will work best and be most pleasing.

Have your soil tested. †Healthy soil supplies nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other elements needed for plant growth.† A plantís ability to absorb and use these nutrients depends on the soilís pH (its acidity or alkalinity).† The amount of organic matter, sand, silt, or clay that a soil contains affects the fertility.† These facts can change over time, but regular testing will tell you how fertile your soil is and how accessible soil nutrients are to your plants.† The findings can help you amend the soil properly. ††Soil sample information forms are available from the Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service, Ellis County at 972-825-5175, or by email to ellis-tx@tamu.edu††