We often think of landscaping as something we do to make our yards more attractive; but thoughtfully planned landscaping can add much more to our lives than beauty. It can help us create an ideal atmosphere for spending time outdoors, it can shield the home from hot sun and cold winter winds and it can help us spend less time and money on upkeep. Before you begin, take time to know your yard’s growing conditions so the right plants go in the right places.
Shade and sun patterns
Plants have the ability to turn sunlight into food, but not all plants have the same needs. Before you landscape, one of the first things you need to know is how much sun and shade specific areas of your yard get in a day. There are plenty of apps and products to help you do this. But it can just as easily be done yourself with a day’s worth of note taking and alarm reminders.
What do you do with this information? It can help you find the best spot for your vegetable garden, since many vegetables grow best with six or more hours of sunlight a day (though some herbs and vegetables are happier with more shade).
Sun patterns also help with other areas of landscape planning. Some perennials, for example, thrive in the shade; if you plan to replace part of your turf with drought-hardy plants, the north side of your house should get shade-loving plants.
Knowing your sun patterns can also help adjust hot spots on your property. If one side of your house sits in full sun for several hours a day, for example, planting trees will (eventually) throw some shade on your roof, which will save on cooling costs. Vines also provide shade and grow more quickly; one way to take advantage of this is to build an arbor that backs up to that sunny outer wall of your house and plant vines for additional shade.
When you’re choosing plants, trees, flowers and veggies for your yard, it’s important to know whether it’s appropriate for your climate. One excellent resource for landscape and garden planning is the USDA hardiness zone map, which separates the U.S. into 20 growing zones. Each zone is 10 degrees warmer (or cooler) in an average winter than the one next to it. Find your area on the map, and that will help you determine if the plant of your choice has a chance of thriving in your region.
One approach to gardening and landscaping that’s quickly gaining traction is all about relying less on thirsty imports and more on hardy native species. Some see value in taking a more eco, conservation-minded approach to landscaping. There’s also some practical benefits to the homeowner, because these plants will require less water and attention from you. Whatever approach you take to your yard, it’s important to factor your plant species’ water needs along with average rainfall in your area.
Keep in mind, however, other conditions can affect your soil’s ongoing moisture levels. Clay soil hangs on to moisture longer than sandy soil. Think of what happens, then, if you have clay soil in a shaded depression versus sandy soil on a sunny hilltop! That’s why it’s important to remember there are no absolutes when it comes to planning your garden. Even a small variation can make a big difference.
Before you choose, spend some time in your yard and get to know your region’s growing climate. With this knowledge, you’ll have the oasis of your dreams much more quickly.