...Every landscape requires careful analysis to determine the availability of light, wind exposure, drainage patterns, and soil composition. Even within a single landscape, a wide variety of conditions are possible: wet, dry, sun, shade, exposed, protected. While some of these existing conditions can be modified, to do so may require a considerable investment of time or money and plants may still succumb during years of weather extremes.
Observation and research are critical for any garden to be truly successful. An ideal way to determine what types of plants will thrive on your given site is to identify and research the types of plants that are indigenous to your property or neighborhood. Native trees, shrubs, weeds, and wildflowers offer great clues about your soil type, light, and wind exposure although many of these plants are adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions ensuring their survival from year to year despite variations in moisture and temperature.
Soil composition is of primary importance when selecting plants for your individual landscape. Soil is comprised of inorganic (mineral) components and organic (decomposed plants) matter. Clay soils are dense due to tiny particles that cling together and drain slowly. These soils tend to be damp especially during the winter months when plants are not actively growing and thereby unable to diffuse excess moisture through their leaves. Sandy soils
contain large particles that drain rapidly and dry out quickly during dry spells and summer heat. While the addition of organic matter improves drainage and airflow in clay soils and enhances water and nutrient retention when incorporated into sandy soils, identifying your soil type and selecting plants that tolerate damp conditions or prefer dry soils are often the best strategies to ensure plant longevity.
The availability of light is another critical aspect in choosing plant material for your garden and is best judged once trees have leafed out in the spring, taking notes throughout the day to determine how much light your area receives. A site that receives morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled shade most of the day is considered shady; conversely, a site that receives morning shade and afternoon sun is usually classified as full sun.
As the spring growing season gets underway, take time to analyze your personal site. Knowledge of soil conditions and the availability of light will greatly assist in the selection of plants that are well suited to their growing environment ensuring healthy, attractive plants and gardens.