By Kimberly Toscano
While a brand new home delivers up-to-date countertops and the latest in bathroom fixtures, it is often lacking when it comes to the landscape. Expansive lawns and miniscule shrubs do little to complement a new home’s shining exterior. It can be tempting to start planting as soon as possible. Before digging into planting, take some time to get to know the landscape and develop a plan for success.
Great gardens begin with an understanding of the property. Spend time studying your landscape’s sun patterns, soil types, and take note of wind and water movement. This information will help you select plants that thrive under existing conditions.
Sun. Sun exposure shifts throughout the day, so you will need to observe the garden at different times to gain a good understanding of light exposure. Note areas that receive full sun or full shade. In areas with partial exposure to sun, identify whether sun strikes the area in the morning or during the afternoon heat.
Soil Type. Soils may vary from one area of the landscape to another, so be sure to dig holes in a variety of locations to determine the texture of soils. Does the landscape have sandy or loamy soils? Do you have a lot of clay? Soil type and drainage go hand-in-hand and impact the types of plants that will thrive. Sandy soils drain very quickly, while clay soils are slow to drain. Many plants are also limited by soil pH, so it is a good idea to conduct a soil test.
Water and Drainage. In addition to soil type, topography and physical structures influence soil moisture. Low spots and areas surrounding downspouts tend to be wet, while the area beneath an overhang is commonly dry. Walk the garden after a rain to see where water collects and make note of rainfall patterns in your area. Do you frequently experience drought or is your climate humid in summer?
Wind. Many plants, such as broadleaf evergreens, are sensitive to drying winter winds. Understanding wind patterns can help you site plants appropriately and plan for protection in seating areas. Wind exposure varies considerably across a landscape. Some areas are likely exposed to strong winds while others may be protected by buildings, structures, or tall plants.
Part 2 of this series addresses pre-planting landscape design considerations and irrigation.
Part 3 offers planting advice and suggestions for when you are ready to start digging!