How to Measure Your Yard

An important step in making your landscape design come to life is measuring your outdoor space. HGTV takes you through the basic steps.
From: DK Books - Design Your Garden
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New Land Design Measurements

New Land Design Measurements

Photo by: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover © 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Simple Steps to Success: Lawns and Groundcover , 2012 Dorling Kindersley Limited

You need to measure your yard to create a scale plan, but the method you choose depends on the shape of your lot. Use a simple technique for regular square or rectangular yards, or more advanced methods if your yard is an irregular shape or you need a more accurate plan. 

Before you measure up, draw a rough sketch of your garden. It can be helpful to do this from an upstairs window where you can get a clear view, but if this is not possible, examine the garden from both ends. It really doesn’t matter at this stage if your rough plan is not perfect. Use a large sketchbook for the job—it offers sufficient space for the plan and notes, and isn’t too awkward to haul around. Your outline sketch should include boundaries, as well as main features, such as patios, paths, steps, garages, pools, flowerbeds, and any prominent planting. 

On a separate piece of paper, jot down the features you plan to keep, and those you want to lose. As you walk around your garden, take note of anything that needs maintenance or repairs.

Simple Measuring Techniques

You don’t need to measure your garden too precisely if you have an even-sided yard and plan to keep the interest in the center, with planting around the edges. Here, measure the house (noting the position of the windows and doors), boundaries, diagonals from each corner, and the position of features. The two diagonal measurements should be of equal length if the sides of the yard are equal. 

Advanced Measuring Techniques

There are two suitable methods of measuring irregularly shaped yards: “triangulation,” and “taking offsets.” Both methods enable you to plot the exact position of boundaries and features, which can then be plotted on a scale plan.

Triangulation involves measuring a line from a point on the property to a boundary or feature. You then measure from a different point on the house to the same point on the boundary or feature. When these lines are drawn onto your rough sketch they form a triangle, hence the term triangulation. 

To take offsets, lay a long tape measure at 90° from the house to the end of the garden. Then take measurements at right angles from this line to the boundaries or features. 

Measuring the gradient of a sloping garden is important where the site is to be terraced. If your garden is on a slope with a very steep gradient and you plan large-scale earth- moving or decked terraces, it may be best to employ a professional surveyor to chart the site.

Draw a Scale Plan

When you have taken all the measurements you need, transfer them onto a scale plan. The scale you use depends on the size of your garden. In general, for a medium to large garden, use a scale of 1⁄8”:1’ (or 1:100 cm); 1⁄4”:1’ (or 1:50 cm) for small gardens; and 1⁄2”:1’ (or 1:20 cm) for courtyards or patio areas.

Measuring Equipment

As well as pencils and a large sketchbook or large sheet of paper, you’ll need tape measures of various sizes—small metal measures are perfect for hard-to-reach places, while medium and extra-long tape measures are handy for large gardens. You will also need string and pegs or stakes, a level for measuring gradients, and a friend to help you.

  • Long level: Used to measure gradients.
  • Small metal tape measure: These are useful for areas that are difficult to access, because the metal tape remains rigid.
  • Medium tape measure: Ideal for gardens of up to 100 ft (30 m), but not as cumbersome as an extra-long tape measure.
  • Extra-long tape measure: Perfect for distances up to 200 ft (60 m). When taking readings, make sure your tape measure, whatever its length, is taut and straight.
  • Giant tri-square: This huge square is used to check right angles, and is needed to plot offsets.
  • Pegs and string: To mark out a perfectly straight line between two points, use special plastic pegs with string attached, or a length of string tied to two stakes. Pull the string taut to make an accurate line.

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