Some beginner tips to make planning your garden simple and successful.
“Can I plant this in my yard?”
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard that question. And the simple answer is YES. Yes, of course you can plant that in your yard. You – yes, you, reading this right now – can go to a garden center, pick out the most amazing plants, take them home, and plant them in your yard. If you’re lucky, they won’t all die. And if that’s all you want out of spring gardening, read no further. However, if you want to make sure to get plants that will thrive, read on! We’ll go over what you need to know to plan a successful garden this spring.
When you visit a garden center, the staff will be much better able to help you if you know your yard or planting area. The main things to focus on are sun exposure and soil.
What kind of light does your planting area get? This can be harder to answer than it sounds, as not all sunlight is considered equal. Look at your yard at different times of day – when does it get the most light? Is your planting zone subjected to direct sun the entire day? Or is it shaded by 10am? Morning sun is considered the weaker of the two, while afternoon sun is the heavy hitter. Plants tend to be divided into three categories: full sun, partial shade, and shade. Full sun plants tend to want at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, especially afternoon sun. Shade plants, on the other hand, tend to burn and wither easily; they like a little morning sun, but generally no direct sunlight in the afternoon until late. Partial shade plants are a little hardier, but don’t usually like being in sun all day long – there are a wide range of preferences within the “partial shade” group. This is where knowing your yard comes in handy – if you can tell the garden center staff what kind of light you get, they’ll be much better able to recommend plants that will do well for you.
Some plants can live anywhere, even in concrete! Others need a very specific environment to do well. Time to get to know your dirt! Here are some things to consider:
How rich is your soil? Is your yard bursting with healthy black mineralized and composted dirt? If so, you are one of the lucky ones and the rest of us hate you. More likely, your soil maybe needs a little help. The best way to know what your yard needs is to take a soil sample and have it analyzed. But if you live in the real world and don’t have time for that, there are lots of wonderful soil amendments you can get to make sure your plants receive the nutrients they need.
Drainage is the other main thing to consider when looking at soil. Does your yard drain quickly, leaving the soil dry most of the time? Does the soil tend to erode or wash downhill? Are there areas that get more less rain than others? Maybe it doesn’t drain well at all, and water tends to sit and pool. Or the back strip of your garden sits under the overhang of the house and stays dry, while the front is very wet. Your yard could be anywhere on the spectrum, and having a basic idea about where your moisture level is will really help you out come plant shopping time.
There are also options out there to help you grow the plants you love, even if you don’t have the best space for them. Shade cloth, watering systems, and even mobile containers can help you work around lighting and soil challenges. Ask your garden center staff to point you in the right direction!
Lastly, and maybe most importantly – take pictures! Nobody needs (or really wants) to see 500 pictures of your yard, but a few pictures of the space can really be helpful, especially if you’re starting from scratch. It’s a very convenient reference point for both you and the staff to look at when discussing plant heights and widths, and even color. Will this purple flower clash with the brick out front? Pull up the pictures and double check.
(Pictures are also helpful if you’re going for a specific “look”. See a plant or garden picture you want to duplicate? Bring that too! It’s far easier to say “something that looks like this picture” than it is to spend half an hour trying to describe a plant you saw on your mom’s neighbor’s garden that one time.)
Stepping into a garden center or nursery at the height of plant season can be dizzying. Use this winter time to plan and get inspired, so that you have an idea of what you want when spring arrives. And spend some time getting to know your yard and garden environment; you’ll feel more comfortable choosing your plants. Lastly, take advantage of your local garden center! By using the resources and staff knowledge, you’ll be better able to have a happy, healthy garden.