One of the suggestions we usually tell gardeners is to have a soil test done especially on new garden sites. It's better to see where your pH and soil fertility levels stand prior to applying anything and leads to determining better soil management practices. Before applying fertilizers what are the existing levels of phosphorous and potassium and are they at optimal levels or are they on the excessive side or maybe too low? Is your pH at a level that is suitable for the plants you want to grow or better yet know what your soil pH is and then select plants that do well in that pH.
Over the years I've reviewed numerous soil test results. Many times a soil test was conducted because turf wasn't growing somewhere, trees were dying, or vegetable plants weren't performing well just to name a few. Was getting a soil test done a good idea? Most definitely! As I said above knowing your soil pH and fertility levels allows you the chance to develop a better management plan. Though, more often than not though the reasons for why plants aren't doing well (at least in this area) isn't because of soil fertility inadequacies, but due to other factors – usually cultural or environmental.
It would be so nice if we could just apply something to our soil and magically fix the problems and save our plants or have an easier time getting things to grow. In reality we need to think about what might truly be causing a plant to not succeed. This really goes back to the concept of right plant, right place. Taking the time to complete a site evaluation so that you can make the best plant choices and or landscaping decisions leading to successfully growing plants.
Here are a few right plant, right place reminders:
1) Evaluate the amount of light the site is getting on a daily basis. This means checking the light situation throughout the day so you know what the sunlight availability is for proper plant selection.
2) Have a soil test done. It's easier to find plants to match your existing soil pH then to try and modify it up or down.
3) What kind of soil drainage is in that area? High and dry? Low and moisture holding? Some plants really hate wet feet or don't do well in dry conditions. Make sure to take this into account as your deciding on what plants to include.
4) Select plants that are hardy to your area. As much as you may love that one plant, it's not worth planting if it can't survive the winter.
5) If you are thinking about planting trees check for overhead utility lines. The last thing you want is to plant a tree that will become a large shade tree and end up being pruned so that it doesn't interfere with those lines. Also – always make sure to get a JULIE locate done before starting digging for a tree or digging for a new garden to avoid any underground utilities.
6) How much space do you have to work with? Make sure that when selecting plants account for their mature size. (This also ties into #5)
7) Take the time to evaluate your planting location and select plants that have the best chance for being successful.
8) Don't feel like you have to accomplish everything at once if you have a new yard to landscape or you want to renovate an existing landscape – take it a piece or portion at a time.
9) Finally – remember that gardens and landscaping is fluid and always changing. A small tree matures and provides more shade and that sunny spot is now mostly shade. A mature tree comes down and a shade garden is now in full sun. Be willing to adapt and modify and look at it as an opportunity and a chance to try new things.