Residential Landscape Design: Keeping a Garden Journal

Keeping a garden journal during the  landscape design process is an excellent way of keeping track of valuable information that will guide future changes and plant choices.

As you progress through the inventory and analysis phase of design, documenting characteristics of the landscape that might influence plant survival can be noted in the journal.

  • Observe soil drainage in the landscape
  • Identify areas in the landscape that are getting too little or too much water (ponding)
  • Pay attention to plants that

What is a “Native” Plant?

In the United States, native plants are generally defined as plant species that have existed in an area before European settlement.

Some Definitions of Native Plants

Federal Register: “Native” plants are “all species of plants and animals naturally occurring, either presently or historically, in any ecosystem of the United States.”

USDA Federal Executive Order 13112: “With respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that, other than as a result of an introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that …

Types of Mulch: Organic Mulch

Organic mulches are materials that are or once were living plant materials that are placed on the soil surface to prevent erosion, weed germination, and reduce evaporation.

Organic materials such as bark, wood chips, and newspaper can be used. Most are effective weed barriers. Cost, availability, and aesthetics are all elements that factor into choosing a type of mulch.

Types of Organic Mulch

  • Pine bark, pine needles, wood chips are all aesthetically pleasing. Pine bark can easily move and be

Types of Mulch: Inorganic Mulch

Many materials have been used as mulches. Inorganic materials, anything not living, such as rocks and plastic can be used. Most are effective weed barriers. Cost, availability and aesthetics are all elements that factor into choosing a type of mulch.

Types of Inorganic Mulch

Weed barrier and landscape fabric

  • Prevents growth of most annual weeds
  • Allows for the exchange of water and oxygen
  • Apply directly onto the soil and fastened to the soil to avoid movement
  • Works well with

How to Add Organic Matter to Soil

Healthy soil is made up of many components. Soil texture, drainage, and nutrient content are all important ingredients that contribute to plant health. One of the best ways to improve the ability of the soil to hold moisture, provide nutrients, and allow drainage is by adding organic matter into the soil.

Adding Organic Matter to Soil

  • Rototilling usually mixes organic matter into the top 4-6 inches of soil, heavier-duty tillers can reach depths of 8 inches
  • Aim for 5% organic

Water Conservation Practices for Vegetable Gardens

Ornamental plant varieties can be chosen based upon water use. Grass can be allowed to go dormant during dry seasons. However, choices for low water vegetable plants are limited. Thankfully, there are some water conservation practices that can increase water efficiency.

  • Adding organic matter in the form of compost, animal manure, grass clippings, and leaf mould are ways to improve the soil by increasing water holding capacity and improving soil structure.
  • Planting in blocks instead of rows creates

Materials to Improve Drainage in Soil

Materials to improve drainage in soil include organic or inorganic amendments. Organic amendments have the added capability of providing additional organic matter and nutrients.

Amendments can include bark and wood chips, compost,and pea gravel, depending on soil type. Note that mixing wood products into soil can tie up nitrogen availability. Additional nitrogen fertilizer may be necessary.

As a result of their high water retention capacity, clay soils often drain inadequately. Materials to improve clay soils differ from those needed for …

Improving Water Retention in Soil

  A sample of vermiculite. Photo credit: Brian Pettinger Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Improving water retention in soils begins with understanding the soil type found in the garden. Soils are generally made up of varying mixtures of three sizes of soil particles; sand, silt and clay, known as soil texture.

Generally, water retention is inversely related to permeability. Sandy soils have the lowest water retention, followed by silt, and then soils high in clay.

Various soil amendments are available that …

Misconceptions about Water Conserving Landscapes

Many people have misconceptions about what a water conserving landscape should look like. Instead of xeriscape, another term for water conserving landscapes, many think of a ‘zero-scape’ or a landscape made up of rock, cactus, and animal skulls.

While there are many concerns about what a water conserving landscape should look like, many can be solved by simply understanding what a water conserving landscape is and what it is not.

A water conserving landscape simply uses less water than …

Ornamental Grasses for Water-Wise Landscapes

Ornamental grasses are becoming increasingly popular for use in water-wise landscape designs. Combined with drought tolerant perennials, ornamental grasses can create a strong visual impact from summer through the winter season.

Characteristics of Ornamental Grasses

  • Most ornamental grasses require full sun
  • Many species of ornamental grasses are drought tolerant
  • Different ornamental grass species bloom either in summer or fall  depending if they are cool or warm season plants
  • Are available in a wide array of sizes, forms, leaf colors,