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You have a vision, and you have the budget. Now you’re ready to create the landscape of your dreams. But where do you start?

You need to get that vision down on paper. Depending on the changes you plan to make, this may be a requirement for your HOA or your local building department. But even if you don’t need to get approval from an authority, getting it all on paper can save you money, time, and headaches down the road.

Step One: Find the site plan for your property.

The first thing you need is a drawing of what your home, back yard, and front yard look like.

If this is a major project, you’ll want to be sure the measurements are accurate, or you could end up buying materials that simply don’t fit the space.

You may be able to find your property’s site plan with the deed you received when purchasing your home. If you cannot locate your site plan, move to step two. If you found it, skip step two.

Step Two: Have a site plan created.

So, you couldn’t find your property’s site plan. Now what? If you are planning a smaller project, such as adding a few flower beds, you may be able to get away with less accurate measurements. You can head out to your backyard with a measuring tape and draw up a quick sketch.

Otherwise, you need to have one created. If you must submit your plan to your local building department, find out if they require it to be stamped, certified, signed, or sealed by a surveyor, engineer, or architect. In this case, you’ll need to hire one of these professionals to create the site plan, which may set you back around $775 or more.

Fortunately, in many situations, this isn’t necessary. Instead, you can use an online service, like My Site Plan, that will use up-to-date satellite imagery, GIS information, county parcel maps, and other publicly available data to create an accurate site plan. And it will only cost you between $90-160, depending on the level of detail you require.

Step Three: Start adding your vision to the site plan.

In the case of hiring an online service, like My Site Plan, to create your site plan, you can actually just give them details about your plan, and they’ll already add it to your site plan as part of their fee.

If you are working with a surveyor, engineer, or architect, you may have to pay extra to have the landscape plans added to the site plan, but it may be necessary if that’s the requirement of your local building department for the project you are planning.

If you are using your own hand drawn estimates, you can simply start sketching out your vision. However, before you start the project, it will be worth the time and effort to revisit the areas where you will add new elements to double- and triple-check your measurements.

Step Four: Assess your landscape plan.

Just because there is room for something doesn’t necessarily mean you should include it. You want to ensure there is space between the new elements in your yard, so it doesn’t feel so crowded.

Additionally, you want to make sure this plan aligns with your budget. If you are working with a contractor, they can use the plan to give you a more accurate estimate for their services. If the project is DIY, then you’ll want to make a list of the exact materials you’ll need and price them at your local home improvement store.

Based on this, you’ll need to make the necessary adjustments to the landscape plan.  

Step Five: Finalize your landscape – and start working!

Finalizing may be as simple as getting a “thumbs up” from your spouse or receiving final approval from your local building department. Whatever is required for your project, you’re now ready for the fun part: making that vision a reality!