Evaluate Your Garden Conditions

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Lawn & Garden

Before starting a garden, it is important to assess the growing conditions such as sunlight, soil type, climate, and moisture. No plant can thrive if it is not suitable for the conditions. While growing conditions can be modified to a certain extent, it is important to strike a balance between the plants you want and those that can be supported by the conditions.

It is important to have a clear goal in mind before starting a garden. Do you want to improve the front entrance, repair the lawn, create an outdoor seating area, grow herbs or perennials, or add some shade trees? It is important to approach each task in the right order. Healthy soil is crucial for the growth of plants, so it may need significant improvement. Trees take the longest to reach full size, so they should be given priority over other plants. If you want to terrace your lot, it is important to have the construction completed first to avoid damaging the garden later. If you cannot afford a terrace, it is recommended to grow grass instead and surround it with flowerbeds of annuals and starter perennials. Quick projects such as doorway planter boxes can give immediate rewards while still fitting into the long-term plan.

A Garden for Every Purpose

Before starting a garden, it is important to consider the functions of the space. Do you want to create a safe play area for your children, have space for pets, or entertain guests outdoors? It is also important to consider the style of your property. A large, formal house requires compatible landscaping, while a cute little cottage can get away with whimsical accents. Maintenance is another important factor to consider. While a water garden may seem fun, the upkeep can be a nuisance. Harvesting cherries may be enjoyable for some, but it can attract wasps and become a nuisance for others. It is important to keep these factors in mind before starting a garden.

This article also covers the role of sunlight, rainfall, and soil quality in the growth of plants. It is crucial to select plants that can thrive in sunlight or shade and adjust to varying day lengths throughout the year. The weather and average temperatures of your area will also determine which plants will grow well. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Map can help determine the climate zones for North America.

Need more gardening information? Check out these resources:

  • How to Begin a Garden: Learn how to start your own garden.
  • Planting Your Garden: After planning and preparing the soil, the next step is to plant your vegetables or flowers.
  • Annual Flowers: Discover annual flowers that bloom throughout the growing season.
  • Perennial Flowers: Explore perennial flowers that come back year after year.
  • Gardening Basics: Learn the fundamentals of successful gardening.

Quick Gardening: Evergreens for Your Entryway

Add some greenery to your entranceway with a potted evergreen that will look great all year round without requiring extensive digging. This project can be done on any paved or unpaved surface at any time of year.

Determine the size and height of the feature you want to add and select a container that complements your home. Purchase a dwarf conifer or evergreen plant that fits the desired shape and size (the nursery pot should be about half the size of your chosen container). Make sure to choose a plant that will thrive in the lighting conditions of your chosen spot (a reputable garden center can assist you).

Place the container in its new location and add a layer of potting soil. Add enough soil so that the soil line of the potted plant is about an inch below the container’s rim. Remove the evergreen from its pot (loosen any tangled roots) and place it on top of the soil layer, ensuring there are no large air pockets beneath it. Surround the evergreen with soil, filling the container partway up. If desired, add groundcover plants (such as ajuga or liriope) to the surface, spacing them evenly around the shrub. Firm everything in place and water thoroughly. Adjust the soil level with additional potting soil if needed, add mulch, and water gently once more. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged, and fertilize as needed according to package instructions.

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Garden Climate and Temperature

Microclimates in your yard enable you to cultivate plants that might not otherwise thrive in your region.

Plants have adapted to local conditions all around the world, whether they live in temperate or tropical regions, wet or dry climates, loamy or rocky soils, or sunny or shady areas. Plants that failed to adapt became extinct and vanished. Nowadays, we introduce plants from a variety of climates and communities into our gardens. Even when we try to incorporate native plants, we know that they, too, have a diverse history. Their seeds may have been brought to the area hundreds of years ago by animals, water, wind, and indigenous people. Each plant species has a range of conditions in which it thrives, other conditions in which it simply survives, and unique constraints that cause it to perish in hostile environments.

Temperature and Plant Survival

Plants’ ability to thrive is influenced by the temperature in their environment. Knowing the temperature in your garden can help you choose the plant varieties that can survive in your area, especially those that typically live for more than a year. The climate of your region, including frost dates, and your garden’s unique exposure can affect your garden’s conditions. If you want to grow tropical plants in winter or plants from temperate climates in winter, you can provide warmth or cold to them respectively. Before selecting your plantings, consider their tolerance for heat and cold.

Weather and Plant Suitability

Depending on the region, weather conditions can vary from hot summers and freezing winters to consistently hot or cold climates. Some regions have dry summers and wet winters, while others experience changes in weather patterns from year to year. Although you cannot change your local weather, you can observe its patterns and choose plants that are naturally suited to the conditions.

Microclimates in Your Garden

Every garden has areas that are exposed to different elements, known as microclimates. Even a small deck can have several microclimates, where the part closest to the house may receive more light or shade compared to other parts of the same deck. In larger areas, differences in microclimates are even more pronounced. Some plants may bloom earlier or longer in these special niches, while others may freeze or overheat. South-facing slopes or sides of buildings tend to have a longer growing season than nearby areas. The cooler, shadier, north-facing exposure is better for marginally hardy plants and those that are prone to drying out in winter.

The Impact of Wind on Plants

Wind can cause plants to dry out faster than they can take up water, and strong winds can snap off branches. When selecting plants for windy areas, try varieties that have developed resistance through strength and flexibility. Leathery, stringy, or waxy leaves are other adaptations. Protection from wind may be needed for other garden plants, and windbreaks, walls, buildings, and berms can alter wind patterns in your garden.

The USDA hardiness zone map shows the hardiness zones for the United States and Canada, which can help you choose the right plants for your climate. Refer to the next page to view the hardiness zone map.

Need more information on gardening? Check out these resources:

  • Starting a Garden: Learn how to begin your gardening journey.
  • Planting a Garden: Once you have planned and prepared the soil, it’s time to plant flowers or vegetables.
  • Annual Flowers: Discover the beauty of annual flowers that bloom throughout the growing season.
  • Perennial Flowers: Find out about perennial flowers that come back year after year.
  • Gardening Basics: Learn the fundamental principles of successful gardening.

Planting a windbreak made up of a variety of plants is an effective way to reduce the force of strong winds. Wind can damage plants, dry them out, and make it difficult for them to grow. A mix of tall trees and shade-tolerant shrubs planted together creates an uneven barrier that slows wind without completely blocking it. Solid fences, on the other hand, allow wind to pass over and swirl back in on the other side.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for North America divides the continent into 11 zones based on average minimum winter temperatures. Zone 1 is the coldest, while Zone 11 is the warmest. Each zone is further divided into sections that represent five-degree differences within the ten-degree zone.

Keep in mind that this map is a general guideline and not a definitive rule. Plants that are recommended for one zone may also thrive in the southern part of a neighboring colder zone or in the adjacent warmer zone. Other factors, such as altitude, wind exposure, proximity to water bodies, and sunlight availability, also impact a plant’s ability to withstand winter. Marginal hardy varieties are more likely to be damaged in winters with little or no snow, as snow cover provides insulation. Additionally, the indicated temperatures are average minimums, so some winters may be colder or warmer.

Knowing your zone is just one aspect to consider when choosing plants for your garden. You must also evaluate the light conditions in your garden, taking into account the position of structures, trees, and shrubs. Keep reading to learn more about assessing garden light conditions.

If you’re looking for more information about gardening, there are several resources available. You can learn how to start a garden, plant flowers or vegetables, and discover the difference between annual and perennial flowers. Additionally, you can learn the basics of successful gardening.

Sunlight is an essential factor to consider when assessing your garden. Photosynthesis, which allows plants to make their own food, is powered by sunlight. Many plants, including lawn grass, flowers, roses, vegetables, and fruit trees thrive in bright sun. Six to eight hours of direct sun a day is sufficient for most plants that require full sun.

It’s important to consider the differences in sun intensity between planting on the east and west side of shade-casting trees or buildings. Even if east- and west-facing sites receive equal hours of sun, they will not produce identical results. Gardens with an eastern exposure are ideal for minimizing heat stress in southern climates or for plants such as rhododendrons that can burn in hot sun. Gardens with a western exposure are ideal for sun-loving plants.

Shady gardens require different kinds of plants, but they can still be successful. To learn more about assessing garden shade, continue reading.

If you’re looking for plants to thrive in sunny conditions, there are several options available.

The list provides a variety of plants that can be grown in different categories, including annuals, conifers, evergreens, herbs, perennials, shrubs, and trees. When it comes to garden shade, it is essential to assess the level of shade that exists in your garden during the growing season. Limbing up trees or removing scraggly saplings can provide more light to a densely shaded area. Pruning low-hanging branches can also be done to lighten the shade. Shadows and sunlight hitting the ground can determine the level of shade and which shade-loving plants would thrive in that environment. Light shade can be found under mature trees or on the east or west side of a building. Partial shade is filtered light that penetrates through the canopy, while deep shade is found under thickly branched trees or evergreens. It is crucial to choose suitable plants for each level of shade. The length of the day can also affect plant growth, so assessment of day lengths is also important.

Need more information on gardening? Check out these resources:

Better Blooms

To encourage better blooming, try exposing flowering shade plants to half a day of morning sun. Extra light can also help plants stay neat, compact, and self-supporting.

Assessing Day Length

Plants grow faster in locations with long summer days.

Day length is a crucial factor in garden success. While we’ve all heard of the midnight sun, we may not realize how our geographic location affects day length. At the equator, the day length remains the same throughout the year. However, the closer we are to the North or South Pole, the more the light shifts with the season.

Practically speaking, Boston plants receive more sunlight during the summer than Miami plants, but the opposite is true in winter. Plants respond to more daily sunlight with faster growth, which is why giant vegetable competitions are common in northern regions like Anchorage, Alaska. Changes in day length also affect plants’ growth cycles.

Water is another critical piece of the puzzle for growing healthy plants. On the next page, learn how to evaluate the rainfall that naturally waters your garden.

Need more information on gardening? Check out these resources:

Plants for Shady Conditions

Full Shade

  • Ferns, ivy, pachysandra, periwinkle

Partial Shade

  • Annuals: browallia, impatiens
  • Shade-loving perennials: astilbes, bergenia, bleeding heart, hostas, mint, sweet woodruff
  • Shrubs: azaleas, rhododendrons
  • Spring wildflowers: bellworts, bloodroot, Solomon’s seal, trout lilies

Light Shade

  • Annuals: ageratum, begonias, coleus, sweet alyssum
  • Herbs: basil, bee balm, parsley
  • Perennials: anemones, coral bells, daylilies, hardy geraniums, hostas, lobelia
  • Vegetables: arugula, lettuce, spinach

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Assessing Garden Rainfall

Water comprises at least 90% of every plant. No plant can survive without some moisture, and some plants use it in extraordinary ways. Orchids and bromeliads that grow on tropical trees absorb rainwater through their foliage. Succulent plants and cacti store water in their swollen stem tissues so they can go for a month or more without rain. Prairie flowers such as butterfly weed store water in their fleshy taproots. And daffodils store water in their bulbs.

Plants need water to survive, but too much can be harmful. Even if only the roots are submerged, plants may rot or drown from lack of oxygen. To maintain plant health, it is important to balance their water needs, like having a healthy diet. Most plants prefer steady moisture in the soil, especially in spring, to grow uninterrupted. It is rare for nature to provide the perfect amount of water for garden plants, so you may need to water them during dry spells. You can also observe your region’s rainfall patterns and choose appropriate plants. Garden soil usually needs work before planting. Be aware of rain shadows caused by obstructions, which can result in less water for some areas of the garden.

Evaluating the Quality of Soil for Gardening

©2007 Jupiter Images Corporation Most garden soil requires additional nutrients to be productive.

The soil in your garden plays a vital role in supporting plant growth. It provides structural support, nutrients, water, and air to the roots. While some soils are naturally suited for plant growth, others require amendments to improve their quality. Loam soils, for instance, contain a blend of soil particles and organic matter that promote nutrient-rich and well-textured soil. If you have such soil, you need not worry about amending it.

However, if your soil has a high clay content, it may not have enough air circulation. Such soil retains more moisture and takes longer to dry in spring, requiring less watering in summer. Adding compost and occasional fertilizers can improve the soil’s texture and enhance its nutrient profile. With sandy soil, on the other hand, air is abundant, but water runs through it too fast, which can wash away essential nutrients. You can remedy this by adding necessary supplements to the soil.

The texture of your garden soil must strike a balance between sand, silt, and clay. Learn how to assess your garden soil’s texture below.

For more gardening tips and tricks, check out these resources:

  • How to Start a Garden: A comprehensive guide to get your garden started.
  • Planting a Garden: Learn how to plant your flowers or vegetables once you have planned and prepared your soil.
  • Preparing Garden Soil: Get your garden soil ready to support your seeds and seedlings.
  • Gardening Basics: Learn everything you need to know for successful gardening.

Determining the Texture of Your Garden Soil

While some gardeners may have naturally fertile soil, others may need to amend their soil to ensure optimal growing conditions.

Garden soil comprises sand, silt, and clay, and all three must be in the right proportions for plants to thrive. There are several ways to determine the kind of soil you are dealing with. A quick test involves taking some slightly moist soil and squeezing it in your hand. Clay soils stick together and retain their shape, while loam soils form a ball that crumbles when poked. Sandy soils will not hold their form at all.

To check the texture of your soil, you can use a jar filled with water. Take a sample of soil from near the surface and down to a depth of eight inches, let it dry, pulverize it into fine granules, and mix well. Put a one-inch layer in a quart glass jar with 1/4 teaspoon of powdered dishwasher detergent, add enough water to fill the jar two-thirds full, and shake the jar for a minute. Then let it sit undisturbed, and mark the level of settled particles on the jar after one minute, which is sand. Set an alarm for four hours and mark the next level, which is silt. Over the next day or two, the clay will settle, allowing you to take the final measurement and determine the relative percentages of sand, silt, and clay in your soil. Organic matter is vital for providing nutrients to your plants, and you can add it to your soil with chopped leaves, animal manures, wood chips and other mulches, and compost.

Seeking additional knowledge on gardening? Check out these resources:

  • Getting Your Garden Started: Discover how to begin your garden.
  • Planting Your Garden: After the planning process and soil preparation, the next step is planting your seeds or plants.
  • Preparing Your Garden Soil: Make your garden soil ready to nourish your seeds and young plants.
  • The Fundamentals of Gardening: Learn the essential techniques for a thriving garden.


1. What are the factors that affect the garden conditions?

Garden conditions are influenced by several factors, including soil type, sunlight exposure, moisture levels, and weather patterns. Each of these factors can have a significant impact on the health and growth of your plants. Understanding how they interact can help you make better decisions about what plants to grow and how to care for them.

2. How can I determine the soil type in my garden?

You can determine your garden’s soil type by conducting a simple soil test. You can purchase a soil test kit from a garden center or use a soil testing service. The results will provide valuable information about your soil’s pH level, nutrient content, and structure, which can help you select plants that are well-suited to your garden conditions.

3. How much sunlight do my plants need?

Most plants require six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day to thrive. However, some plants can tolerate partial shade, while others require full sun. It’s important to consider the amount of sunlight your garden receives and select plants that are well-suited to your specific conditions. You can also use shade cloth or other techniques to adjust the amount of sunlight your plants receive.

4. How can I improve the drainage in my garden?

Poor drainage can lead to waterlogged soil, which can suffocate plant roots and promote the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi. To improve drainage, you can add organic matter to your soil, such as compost or leaf mold. You can also create raised beds or install drainage pipes to redirect excess water away from your plants.

5. How can I prevent soil erosion in my garden?

Soil erosion can occur when heavy rain or wind washes away the top layer of soil, exposing plant roots and reducing the soil’s fertility. To prevent soil erosion, you can use mulch or ground cover plants to protect the soil surface. You can also install retaining walls or other structures to stabilize slopes and prevent erosion.

6. How can I conserve water in my garden?

Conserving water in your garden is important for both environmental and financial reasons. You can reduce water usage by selecting plants that are well-suited to your climate and soil conditions and by using mulch to retain soil moisture. You can also install drip irrigation systems or rain barrels to collect and redistribute rainwater.

7. How can I protect my garden from pests and diseases?

Pests and diseases can quickly destroy your plants if you don’t take steps to prevent or control them. You can use organic or chemical pesticides and fungicides to protect your plants, but it’s important to follow the label instructions carefully to avoid harming beneficial insects and wildlife. You can also practice good sanitation habits, such as removing diseased plant material and keeping your garden clean and free of debris.

8. How can I maintain my garden’s health throughout the growing season?

Maintaining your garden’s health throughout the growing season requires regular attention and care. You can fertilize your plants with a balanced fertilizer and prune them as needed to promote healthy growth. You can also monitor your plants for signs of stress or disease and take action to address any issues that arise. Regular watering, weeding, and soil testing can also help ensure that your garden stays healthy and productive.

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