- Author: Laura Lukes
- Author: Eve Werner
Are you ready to convert your thirsty lawn to a beautiful array of low water plants? Have you had your fill of the “crazy quilt” approach to planting? Do you wonder why some gardens seem perfect in their space? Would you like to create a garden that makes a personal statement?
There are many ways to approach the art of arranging plants in a garden. Considering four basic principles can help you create a cohesive, beautiful, and lower maintenance garden. These principles, in the form of four questions, are the following:
1. What can I give my plants?
2. What garden style do I want?
3. What plant ‘jobs' need to be filled in my yard?
4. Is my yard ready to plant?
This article focuses on question one. Questions two through four will be covered in this column in the coming weeks.
Observe and record onto your base map information that you want to consider when designing your garden. First, note your yard's relationship to your home. This could include potential locations of features that you want to screen or highlight when viewed from within your house. Next, note slope and drainage issues, including areas that puddle easily or slopes that cause water run-off. Finally, consider the relationship to neighboring properties: record features such as large trees or buildings that cast shade on your yard; unattractive items that need to be screened; and perhaps beautiful elements that you want to be able to see from vantage points in your garden or home.
Next, determine cultural conditions that will affect plant growth. These include solar exposure, soil texture, water, and maintenance. Knowing your cultural conditions will lead you to select appropriate plant species.
Soil texture refers to the proportions of different sizes of mineral (sand, silt, and clay) and organic particles in soil. Sandy soils have a large percentage of coarser particles. These soils drain fast, lose nutrients quickly, and are easily eroded. On the other end of the soil texture spectrum, clay soils have finer particles, hold water, retain nutrients, and are easily compacted. Most soils are composed of a mix of sand, silt, and clay with varying amounts of organic matter. You can quickly estimate your soil type by performing a soil texture “ribbon test” – a description of this can be found online (see, for example, How to test your soil - texture and/or Guide to Texture by Feel).
For water analysis, know your average annual rainfall, and decide how much additional water you are willing to provide through supplemental irrigation. Choose your irrigation methods (drip, spray, soaker hose), and check if you need to replace or update any existing irrigation systems.
Maintenance includes the weeding, deadheading, pruning, raking, and perhaps fertilizing required to keep the garden looking good. All gardens require some level of maintenance, but plant choice and design style greatly affect the level of that maintenance. Who will be maintaining your garden? What is their level of experience? How much time will be spent maintaining your garden? Your planting design should reflect your maintenance abilities. Formal gardens with many poorly adapted plants require skilled care and much more maintenance than naturalistic gardens with plants that will thrive under your specific cultural conditions.
Once you have created a base map and performed a site analysis you will know the growing conditions you can offer your plants. Now, you are ready to consider the remaining three questions that will be covered in upcoming Real Dirt articles. Happy Gardening!
This and three subsequent Real Dirt articles summarize the presentation Butte County Master Gardener Eve Werner created for the Butte County Master Gardeners Spring 2017 Workshop Series. For more information about the Master Gardener Program and their Public Education Series, please visit our website.