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Step Two-Map Existing Site and Vegetation


Before you can make any changes to your landscape, you need to know what you have. Creating an accurate base map, which shows all existing permanent physical site elements is how you discover just what you have. More information on Mapping Existing Site and Vegetation.

Get a Plot Plan for Property. When you purchased your house, you should have received a property survey or plot plan of your property. This plan drawing should include the lot configuration, property lines, the house, and other permanent features. If you don’t have one, request one from the tax assessor’s office or download a copy from your county’s GIS website. You also can develop one entirely from your own field measurements, but that will take you longer. Typical plot plan.

Enlarge Plot Plan. A typical plot plan always includes a drawing scale, for instance 1”=40’, which means that every inch on the map is equal to 40’ on your property. Plot plans need to be enlarged to allow you to show more details of the landscape. You can take your plan to a copy shop and have it enlarged to a minimum of 1”=10’ for smaller properties or small areas of your garden, or up to 1”=20’ for larger properties. The plan should have the north arrow on it as well, which will be needed to assess your growing conditions.

Create a Base Map. Trace or re-draw the plot plan on 5 x 5 graph paper (when 1”=10’, each square equals 2’). If your property or area of interest is larger, adjust the scale of your squares as needed. For instance, 1” could equal 20’, which would make each square equal to 4’. For this, you can use a plot plan you had enlarged or take the dimensions directly off the original plot plan. Sample Base Map with Existing Features.

On the base map, list all existing site features including:

  • position and dimensioning of the house
  • garage
  • windows
  • doors
  • decks
  • steps
  • patio
  • terrace
  • downspouts
  • spigots
  • HVAC units
  • drier vents
  • sidewalks
  • driveways
  • walkways
  • fences
  • septic tanks
  • wells
  • sprinklers
  • plant beds
  • lawn areas
  • right-of-ways
  • easements
  • utilities
  • lights

Make Copies of Base Map. You can use the copies to complete your inventory and site analysis and to sketch out your design ideas.

Map and Inventory Existing Vegetation – Identify all the existing vegetation on your property and locate these plants on a copy of your base map. Be sure to include trees, shrubs, vines, flowers, ground covers, and grasses – anything that is growing in your landscape. Note any native plants and those that are invasive exotics. Sample Base Map with Existing Vegetation.

Use the plant lists, web links, or field guides below to help you identify the welcome and unwelcome plants in your landscape.



  • Great Smokey Mountains Wildflowers. By C. C. Campbell, W. F. Hutson, A. J. Sharp, and R. W. Hutson. Windy Pines Publishing.
  • Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southeast: Landscaping Uses and Identification. By L. E. Foote and S. B. Jones, Jr. Timber Press.
  • Wildflowers of North Carolina. By W. S. Justice and C. R. Bell. The University of North Carolina Press.
  • Forest Plants of the Southeast and Their Wildlife Uses. By James Miller and Karl Miller. University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA.
  • Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. By L. Newcomb. Little, Brown and Co.
  • Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Trees. By G. A. Petrides. Houghton Mifflin Co.,
  • Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. By A. E, Radford, H. E. Ahles, and C. R. Bell. University of North Carolina Press.
  • Gardening with Native Plants of the South. By Sally Wasowski. Sally, and Andy Wasowski. Taylor Publishing Company.

Keep Records for a Year – Take the time to observe the changes in your landscape throughout the seasons. On your base map, identify areas where food and cover are limited and abundant.

Photograph Your Landscape – A picture is worth a thousand words. Take pictures of different areas of your yard during different seasons. As you develop a final plan, these photos will help you remember how the yard looked at various times of the year.

Make Wildlife Observations. Keep records of the wildlife using your landscape, making sure to note what areas are used and the specific timing of that use. A written record can help you identify which areas of the landscape are performing well and which areas need habitat improvement. The following web links and field guides can help you identify the wildlife in your landscape:



  • All About Birds
  • Tools for Learning About Birds
  • Birds of the Carolinas. By Eloise Potter, James Parnell, and Robert Teulings. The University of North Carolina Press.
  • The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. By David Allen Sibley. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
  • Field Guide to Birds of North America. National Geographic Society.
  • Eastern Birds. By Roger Tory Peterson. Peterson Field Guide Series.
  • The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. By Paul Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye. Simon and Schuster, Inc.



  • Caterpillars of Eastern Forests
  • Caterpillars in the Field and Garden: A Field Guide to the Butterfly Caterpillars of North America, Oxford University Press.

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