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Three Things You Need to Know Before You Begin Planting Your Landscape

You don’t need a degree in horticulture, to understand conditions in your garden. You just need to know three easy, basic things before you begin placing plants into your landscape. They involve your soil type, your hardiness zone, and the amount of sunlight each area receives.

Know your Soil Type

This is much easier than it sounds. You don’t have to buy a chemistry set. Grab a shovel and dig up a tiny little chunk of your yard. Look at the soil. It will generally fall into one of three basic categories:

  • Sandy: It’s grainy--looks like a child mixed in some contents of his beach bucket.
  • Loam: It has the consistency of rich, moist chocolate cake mix. Ideal. But don’t eat it.
  • Clay: It’s dense and tempts you to fashion a piece of pottery.

Although loam soil is ideal, many plants--but not 100 percent of them--will also thrive in sandy or clay soils. There are some plants that are very picky about their soil type. If you live in an area with clay soils, don’t purchase a plant whose tag says, “prefers sandy soils.” The plant will not thrive.

If you go to a garden store to buy plants and the 60-year-old master gardener with a Ph.D. in horticulture starts asking you whether your soil is alkaline or acidic, politely explain that you have no desire to test your soil--you just want to buy hardy, carefree plants that naturally thrive in your area.

What is Your Hardiness Zone?

My what? Your hardiness zone. In other words, what area of the U.S. do you live in? The country is divided into different hardiness zones. As you may have guessed, certain plants thrive better in warmer, or more “hardy” southern climates. Many weather factors in your local geographic region affect your hardiness zone: average annual temperature, average minimum temperature, elevation, rainfall, prevailing winds, the jet stream, the last frost date in the spring, and the first frost date in the fall. You can view a U.S. hardiness zone map here:

You can click on your state, and a color-coded map key corresponds to the average annual minimum temperature. Figure out what your zone is. And why is this important? Because there are certain plants that will thrive--and will not--in your zone. In other words, this can save you a lot of money from purchasing plants that would just end up dying! Not to mention the time and effort to plant them.

When you go to the garden store to purchase plants, they will have tags that say what zones they thrive in. If your zone is not listed on the tag, don’t buy the plant. But if you’ve noticed that the plant is thriving in your neighbors’ yards and you really like it, then talk to the garden store owner to get his or her opinion about whether it will thrive.

Shade, Sun or a Combination Thereof

The next thing you need to know is which parts of your yard have full shade, full sun, or a combination of sun and shade. When you’re home all day on a sunny day, periodically inspect all the areas of your yard throughout the day. Certain shady spots may migrate across the yard as the sun moves across the sky. In late April is a good time to do this, after the spring equinox in March. That’s because the sun is getting closer to its peak in the sky, which occurs at the summer solstice on June 21; this may affect certain areas in your yard. Plus, it’s close enough to planting time, which is early to mid-May--very generally speaking.

Some spots may be in the sun all day; this is called full sun. Some spots may be in the shade all day; this is called full shade. Some spots may be in the sun for part of the day, then in the shade for part of the day; or, some spots may be very lightly shaded yet dappled with sunlight. In either of those cases, the spot is called part-sun, part-shade.

This is important because again, the plant tag will specify whether the plant requires full sun, thrives in shade, or does well in part-sun, part-shade areas. Whatever you do, don’t buy a plant that requires full sun, then plop it in the shade. It will die. There are a few shade-loving plants that may withstand a little sun, but if there’s too much sun, they will fry.

This is as complicated as it gets! That’s all you need to know. You don’t have to be an avid gardener to know the basics and to choose plants that will thrive in your area. These three things will help you purchase the correct plants that will naturally thrive in your landscape. This can save you a lot of money, time and effort!

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