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 and foundation plants. Expansive lawns and tiny shrubs do little to complement a new home’s curb appeal.
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.
Get to Know the Landscape
Great gardens and landscape plans 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 foundation shrubs that thrive under existing conditions. Flowering shrubs and evergreen shrubs are particularly effective for the foundation of your landscape.
Sun Levels or Exposure
Sun exposure shifts throughout the day, so you will need to observe your outdoor space 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. Encore Azaleas are low-maintenance foundation plants that tolerate more sun than traditional azaleas.
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 shrubs and trees are also limited by soil pH, (for example: do you have acidic soil?) so it is a good idea to conduct a soil test. Experts at your garden center can often assist with how to amend your soil once you know your soil type.
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?
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 steps, landscape design considerations and irrigation.
Part 3 offers planting advice and subdivision landscape ideas for when you are ready to start digging!