Your Planting Plan

Now that you have tested your soil, you have a much better idea of which types of plants and soil amendment to purchase. But, where in the yard do you plant them? This is where a planting plan comes in handy.

First, you need to get to know your yard. This is especially true if you’re a new homeowner. Spend time in your yard — as much time as you’re able to — and pay attention to the following: which areas receive full sunlight, which areas receive partial shade (morning sun and afternoon shade and vice versa), which areas are mostly shady, and the areas that are exposed to wind.

Do you have a concrete driveway or an existing garden bed directly underneath a window? Or do you plan on building a garden bed in either of those areas? If so, keep in mind that windows reflect light and concrete absorbs heat which explains why areas closest to windows and concrete driveways are the warmest, especially during the summer months. For these areas, you will want to plant hardy perennials that are both heat and drought tolerant. Conversely, frost tends to settle in shady areas sooner than in sunny areas and lingers longer in those areas.

Once you have spent enough time in your yard, you will have an even better idea of which plants to purchase. When it comes to planting, group plants according to their species, hardiness, light, and soil requirements. For example, plant lavender with sage, stone crop sedum, and yarrow in areas of your yard that receive direct sunlight for more than six hours a day (*I will be writing more in depth on this topic in a later post). Choose native plants as they are already well adapted to your region and hardiness zone, so they will thrive in almost any type of soil conditions. This is a perfect choice for a low-maintenance garden! To maximize colour in your yard, plant plants that flower at different times of the year. For variety, include early spring blooming hyacinths and tulips with late spring and summer blooming hydrangeas, peonies, dahlias, and fall blooming stone crop sedums and chrysanthemums. If you live within hardiness zones 5 – 9, you can also include winter heather (Ericaceae) to add colour in the bleak, winter months.

If you are planting trees or shrubs that require a depth of more than two feet, make sure to locate property lines, utility lines, and septic drain field (if you have one) before you begin digging. The last thing you need is a ruptured utility line or angry neighbour. The cost spent on hiring a local land surveyor will be well worth it as it could save you potential thousands of dollars in damage or fines for digging in the wrong location.

Getting to Know Your Soil

Designing a garden may look easy, but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. Not to mention, the choices in the garden center are overwhelming, especially if you’re a plant lover like me and want to buy every plant you see.

A large and very important part of garden design is plant planning. While the idea of having your front and/or back yard full of plants makes you tingle all over with joy and excitement, knowing the ins and outs of your own landscape helps immensely when it comes to knowing where in your yard to plant flowers, shrubs, and ornamental trees.

The first step in your planting plan is to get to know the soil conditions in your yard. This is tricky because soil tests can be quite complicated, however there are simple tests you can take to determine which plants to plant and how much soil amendment you will need when you decide to build your new garden bed.

The Ribbon Test

Take a handful of soil and moisten it until it is putty-like consistency. Then, gently knead the soil between your fingers or your palms. If the soil crumbles before it forms a ribbon, it is sand or mostly sand. If the soil forms a ribbon up to 2 inches long before it breaks, it is loamy, or composed of equal parts of sand, silt, and clay (the ideal planting medium). If the soil forms a ribbon longer than 2 inches, it is clay or mostly clay. This information will determine which plants will thrive in your yard and how much amendment you will need.

The Soil Drainage Test

Another test that is simple, yet important, is a soil drainage test. Dig a hole to about 12 inches deep and then slowly pour a bucket (between 1 and 2 liters) of water into the hole. If the soil drains quickly while you are pouring the water, your soil is sand, or composted mostly of sand. If the soil drains not too quickly, but at a steady pace (it drains within approximately 10 minutes), it is likely loam or a combination of clay, sand, and silt. If the soil takes longer than an hour to drain, it is clay.

Checking For Earthworms

This is not an actual soil test; rather it is a test of soil fertility. In spring after the first frost, dig a hole up to 12 inches deep and place the dug-up soil onto a piece of cardboard. Break apart the soil and examine it for earthworms. If you see 10 or more earthworms, your soil is fertile because the presence of worms indicates microbial activity. Microbial activity within the topsoil is beneficial to plant health and vitality because of the sufficient amounts of nutrients worms excrete. These nutrients, particularly nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium, then become readily available to plant roots.

Amendment For Different Soil Types

This is as recommended by the editors of The Old Farmers Almanac.

Sandy soils: Add in humus (or topsoil from your local garden center will do), a handful or two of peat moss, aged manure and/or sawdust to improve the soil’s fertility and water-holding capacity.

Silty soils: Add course sand (not beach sand) or crushed gravel, compost, well-rotted horse manure, and straw; that is if you have access to the latter two. If not, then the course sand, crushed gravel, and compost should be well enough if mixed into the soil in equal amounts.

Clay soils: Add in peat moss, compost, and a pinch of course sand or crushed gravel (not beach sand). For heavy clay soils, or soils that are compacted, you can do either of the following:

  • Build a raised garden bed
  • Place an arrangement of potted plants, patio lanterns or LED garden lights, and garden ornaments to prettify the space and give it a warm, welcoming look.
  • Build a patio with a seating area

Sources Used

‘3 Simple DIY Soil Tests’ by the editors of The Old Farmers Market. March 27th, 2019 https://www.almanac.com/content/3-simple-diy-soil-tests# Accessed October 25th, 2021.

Mindful Garden Design

One of the things to keep in mind when designing a client’s garden is their budget. A client may want an elaborate outdoor living space that exceeds his or her budget. The more elaborate the design, the more money the client has to fork over for labour and materials.

With the right planning, though, it is possible to exceed your client’s lavish desires if you focus on the design and re-landscaping of one area of their yard before you start work on another area of the yard. That way, you stretch out work and your client pays you in installments or per project, thus making it much easier on their pocketbook. You also bide your client time to revisit and revise his or her vision for their landscape as work progresses. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. This is what I refer to as mindful garden design.

Then again, sometimes less is more.

Even the simplest gardens can make an outdoor living space beautiful and enjoyable to spend time in throughout the spring and summer months.

What Does Virtual Garden Design Look Like?

This (photo above) is a side yard that slopes down towards a ditch and receives full sunlight for most of the day, though a two-foot wide stretch of area running parallel to the fence on the west side of the property (left side of the photo) receives shade throughout the afternoon. That is because of a shadow cast by the fence.

What this same yard could look like. The app (GardenPuzzle) that I am using to design gardens creates the visualization of what a garden will look like in the future when the plants are near/at their maturity if that garden is well taken care of.

The soil in this yard is mostly clay and compact in most places, especially nearest to the house, so the soil would have to be heavily amended to a depth of 6 – 12 inches with top soil and fertilized either with compost tea or MiracleGrow fertilizer (MiracleGrow is my go-to) in order for these plants to thrive.

As shown in the photo above, not all plants are meant to be installed in the ground, especially nearest to the house where the soil there is most dry and compact. Also, hydrangeas do not thrive in our northern climate, hence the reason they are in a pot. However, there is no reason no one living here cannot enjoy the lush green foliage and large, colorful flowers hydrangeas display every late spring and summer. They just need to be planted in pots so they can be overwintered indoors throughout the winter months.

Virtual Garden Design

You are here because you want to turn your back or front yard into a lush oasis. You may have ideas of the design and the type of plants you want, but don’t know how to visualize it or who to hire. Congratulations. You have come to the right place! Hiring a garden designer is a big decision, not only because it costs money, but also because, once you hire a landscaping company to do the work, you will have that garden and outdoor living space permanently. So, you definitely want to put your money to good and end up with a garden that is beautiful, functional, and easy to maintain.

What is virtual garden design? Virtual garden design is where I design your dream garden. The only difference: All of the consultation and design work is done online.

Here is how it works: Send me an email, stating where you live and any ideas you have for a garden and outdoor living space. From there, we can set up a Zoom or FaceTime meeting so we can at least see each other while we converse and get to know each other better.

This initial meeting is completely free of charge because it is, as I like to call it, the breaking-the-ice phase. If you are interested in hiring me after this initial meeting, I will ask you to email me the following information:

  • High resolution photos of your yard
  • With each photo, please include the following:
    • Areas that receive lots of sun
    • Areas that receive partial and/or mostly shade
    • Areas that are exposed to wind
    • Soil type (dry, wet, humus — meaning fertile, ideal for planting)
    • Please also include the edges of your house in your photos plus other information like drainage, utility lines, and sewer if there are any.

Send all your inquiries to deannaproach@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you and to designing your dream garden.

Flower of The Week: Geraniums

A good friend of mine gave my mother and I geraniums for Mothers Day. Geraniums are a beautiful plant, but until this past spring, I never really took much notice of them. Since we’re living in the north (Zone 2) where the winters are long and harsh and the growing season short, I had to bring these flowers inside every night until the long weekend at the end of May.

It’s common knowledge here that it snows every May Long weekend. However, our northern climate defied people’s assumptions and it was warmer than normal this year. The above seasonal temperatures provided me with an ideal opportunity to plant our geraniums in a large enough pot where their roots wouldn’t be confined. I also used Miracle Grow garden soil I had purchased from Canadian Tire — Miracle Grow potting soil is my go-to for container plants — but I didn’t fertilize them.

Location and soil did these plants well because, despite the heat and lack of rain this summer, they flourished. Our geraniums were placed in an area that is sheltered from wind and that receives sun for much of the day. They grew until they morphed into one plant, their green foliage spilling over the pot and their flowers a brilliant pink and red. The great thing about Miracle Grow potting soil is that it retains moisture, so I needed to water these geraniums only once a week. I also dead-headed them regularly which aided in the development of new buds. Then, around the middle of August, I fed them a sprinkle of organic fertilizer I had bought from our local Peevy Mart.

This day on October 3rd, these geraniums are still blooming. However, Falls are short here in the north and winter comes early. I’m already seeing a mix of snow and rain in our forecast next week, so these geraniums will be taken to the workshop where my father is renting for his business to be overwintered.