DIY / Grow

Site Analysis

Take this checklist out to the garden to view your landscape through a new pair of ecological lenses.

Site Analysis

The first thing to do is look around your space and think about where you could grow vegetables. Which areas get the most/least sun, and when? Which spots are coolest/wettest?

Observe the passage of sunlight on the areas you are considering, and keep in mind that the pattern of sun and shadows shifts throughout the year.

For example, a patio which is shaded by a leafy tree in the summer may get plenty of light over the winter and become ideal for a winter garden.

We encourage you to do this more than once to track changes in your site through seasons, weather, and time. Important things to pay attention to include:



 Identify major features in your garden
  • Landforms, ex: boulders, slopes
  • Buildings or hardscape, ex: sidewalks
  • Mature trees
 Grow with the cardinal directions: N, S, E & W

Six to eight hours of sun a day is ideal for vegetable gardening, but there is some wiggle room in this requirement – sometimes plants will surprise you with their adaptability. Keep in mind the power of reflected light from nearby walls. Southern California sun is strong, and it bounces, producing added, longer-lasting heat. Generally speaking, south and west facing areas are best for growing food.

  • North side of a building

Coldest, shadiest, and dampest
Receives very little sun
Early morning sun and late evening sun during summer
Good for shade loving plants

  • South side of a building

Receives most sun
Shaded in early morning
Warmest area in winter
Longest growing season

  • East side of a building

Most moderate temperature
Receives morning sun and afternoon shade
Good for plants that require partial sun and shade

  • West side of a building

Hottest and driest location during summer
Direct afternoon sun exposure and morning shade
Good for heat and drought tolerant plants

 Locate your water sources and patterns
  • Find your nearest water sources and check for any existing irrigation set-up (sprinklers, hoses, tubing).
  • Identify nearby rooftops where rainwater could be collected as well as any dips or slopes in the landscape that could flood during heavy rainfall.
Track Wildlife
  • Take note of the wildlife that passes through lives in your garden area. You want to encourage habitat for beneficial organisms, such as bees and insects that pollinate plants and eat pests. However, you want to discourage pests from settling.
Access & Walkways
  • If you have lots of options, an important secondary consideration is ease of access. Vegetable gardens are best placed near the classroom or kitchen, if possible, so that the food is close at hand. It’s also good to locate gardens in high traffic areas, or places where you naturally hang out, so you can keep a close eye on your crops.

The two most important things to know about your soil are its composition and its nutrients. Once you know those, you can effectively work with your soil. Other important considerations include:

  • preventing erosion and maintaining soil structure with ground covers and mulch
  • minimize earth moving and soil disturbance to maintain its structure
  • keep native soil on site and minimize the use of imported soil

Your garden is a unique composition of microclimates, made from different arrangements of temperature, sun and wind exposure, and moisture. Identifying your microclimates throughout the garden will help you select the ideal plants for each area of your site and create a thriving ecosystem.