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Extension > Yard and Garden News > Before buying plants, understand your site

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Before buying plants, understand your site

The first trip to your local garden center or nursery in spring can be exhilarating. After six months of winter, gardeners may allow their emotions and excitement rather than their site conditions to determine their plant choices. It's important to select plants that don't just grow in your landscape, but thrive. Healthy, long-lived plants can be a good investment in your landscape as well as a well-landscaped yard adds value to your home.

Take time before visiting your local garden center or nursery to gain a good understanding your soil, the quantity and quality of light in your landscape, and your space available for planting. Armed with this information, you will make better plant choices, and better choices will save time and money, and improve your chances for a healthy, beautiful landscape.
  • Understand your soil. Healthy soil is like building a good foundation for your house, and understanding your soil type is the first step to a healthy landscape. The best option is to submit a soil sample to the U of M Soil Test Laboratory. Instructions for how to collect and submit a soil sample are found on the U of M Soil Test Laboratory website. The cost for a routine test is $17. You'll receive information in a couple weeks that includes your soil type, pH, % organic matter, fertilizer and lime recommendations, etc. Explanations are included on the back of your results.

    At minimum, you should know whether your garden soil is clayey or sandy by doing the soil ribbon test. Clay soil does not drain well while sandy soil drains too quickly. Mixing in compost can help in both of these situations. Amending Soils for Perennial Beds
  • Observe the quality and quantity of light in your landscape. Plants are usually labeled with
    their optimal light requirements for best plant performance. "Full sun" means the plant requires six hours or more of complete sunlight. "Part sun" is 3-6 hours of complete sunlight. "Shade" means three hours or less of sun. "Heavy shade" means almost no sun. Remember that nearby trees cast shade as well as buildings, overhangs and fences. Quality of light is also important to understand. Six hours of morning sun is going to be less intense light and heat than six hours of afternoon sun. Some plants like Ligularia and Hydrangea macrophylla will wilt in intense heat, so locating them in a site that receives less intense morning sun may reduce wilting. The Best Plants for 30 Tough Sites

  • Know how much space you have available. The goal is to choose plants that will easily fit
    into landscape spaces when they reach their mature size and form. Measure the garden space you are planting. Locate windows, steps, driveway, walks, patios, decks, easements, and utilities on your drawing. Measure the height of windows nearby to avoid buying plants that potentially would overgrow the windows and thus require severe pruning. You may choose to draw a  base map. A base map is drawn to scale and represents your entire property on paper. It shows existing plants, topography, structures, North arrow, views, natural areas, mature trees, easements, fencelines, etc. A site survey form is helpful in identifying features of your site. A base map is especially helpful if you are planning to add / change areas of your landscape.

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