How to Map Your Plot

When first looking to apply permaculture principles and design to a property, one of the most useful tools you can have at hand is a detailed map of the site. It gives you a blueprint of where your site is at the moment, and so provides a framework in which to work as you design your permaculture garden. By plotting the dimensions of your site, noting the native species already growing there, marking the immoveable structures, and any other features you wish to retain, you can then experiment with design ideas on the map using overlays. These are a common feature of much permaculture design, whereby you use tracing paper to sketch out design ideas and then place them over your map to see how they configure with the size, shape and features of your site. It is a very useful way of trying out strategies and ideas before embarking on the physical labor to institute them. Making an accurate map of your permaculture plot will also give you an idea of the space you have available to devote to different kinds of cultivation to meet the needs of you and your family. Having mapped you plot you may find that you only really have sufficient space to institute zone 1 and 2 crops, or that you can configure the site to provide a wider range of plants.

A map will work in conjunction with your analysis of the inputs and outflows on your site. Such an analysis would include gathering information on weather conditions – such as when the first and last frosts fall on average, snow fall, and average rainfall patterns – how energy such as moisture and sunshine moves across the site, what outside influences will impact upon the site (such as government restrictions, nearby industrial activity or views you wish to retain, and how the structures on the plot interact with the land.

Make a sketch
The first step to making a map of your site is to draw a rough sketch. On it you will note the boundary lines, the buildings, any large trees on the property, fences, power lines and any other features that are permanent. You will take measurements at a later step, so this rough sketch doesn’t need to be too accurate; the main thing is to mark down the main features of the. Of course, you may have a detailed builder’s blueprint or deed map among the paperwork that you received when you purchased the property. This will have accurate measurements of features such as boundary lines and buildings. If you have such a document, make a copy and then sketch on the features such as trees, power lines and fences. If you don’t have this paperwork, you can often acquire it from your local planning office, but there may be a fee attached.

Measure permanent objects
Using a tape measure or a piece of string attached to stakes, measure the dimensions of the permanent features of the plot. These will be things like the house and other buildings, the lengths of fences and the drip lines of mature trees. Mark these measurements on the sketch of your plot.

Measure boundary
Use a tape measure or string and stakes to measure the lengths of each side of the boundary of your site. Some plots, especially those in suburban areas, are likely to have fairly regular shapes, such as rectangular configurations, but more rural location may have an irregular boundary. Mark the length of each “side” of the boundary, however many there are.

Measure curved objects
To measure curved objects such as curved garden beds or ponds you need to establish a straight line from which to take measurements. Create a straight line with string and stakes at the bottom of the curve of the object. Then measure straight up, at 90 degrees to the base line, to the curved edge every couple of feet or so (if the curved edge is very variegated, you may want to measure at smaller increments to get a more accurate picture).

Measure relative locations
Once you have measured all the elements of your site, you need to measure the distances between them.fencing-20133_640 So, for fencing-20133_640instance, you would measure from each corner of the house to the boundary and mark down the distance. Likewise measure where trees are in relation to structures and the boundary. To confirm accuracy, it is always a good idea to take a measurement from at least two points. So you would, say, measure from the corner of a building to two different orientations of boundary.

Measure slopes
Measuring slope on you map is an important thing with regard to how you design your plot. The placement and aspect of slopes will affect water runoff, wind strength and temperature in microclimates across the site. To measure slope you will need a board or other straight implement, a spirit level and a tape measure. Extend the board out from the top of the slope, place the spirit level on its top edge and ensure it is straight. Then measure the distance from the board at the downslope end to the ground. If the slope varies, repeat at different points where the angle of slope changes.

Make overlays
Once you have you detailed map with all the objects, measurements and distances marked on it, you can begin to make map overlays to determine the permaculture design you would like – and is most suitable to – to implement. You could use different overlays for different aspects of your design – such as zones, or separate sheets for trees, vegetables beds and water bodies. If using multiple sheets, cut them all to the same size and mark a circle at the same point in the corner of each sheet. That way, you can use the circles to line up the sheets and make sure the different elements of your design tally with each other. You may also use a sheet to mark weather phenomenon that you have researched, such as typical wind direction and the way the movement of the sun across the sky affects shade on the site. The compass direction you noted on the initial sketch is important for this information.


I found it useful to print out a screen capture from Google/Bing Maps (whichever has the latest imagery at the time) and do the overlay on there. Most structure and permanent vegetation is shown quite clearly, and forms a good starting point for planning – Wayne, Adams Family Projects


Am I the only one that finds this exceedingly difficult? Especially the slopes part, and measuring curved features. I feel like I need a PDC just to get started.


Thanks Wayne that’s a great idea.

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