Landscaping your
new home

When you have a new home setup, your landscaping needs will differ from home to home, depending on the situation. Several of those situations could be:

  • The entire site was bulldozed and you have chosen to do the landscaping yourself
  • The entire site was bulldozed and it has been WRITTEN INTO A CONTRACT that the dealer or a contractor will do the landscaping
  • Very little of the lawn was disturbed and you choose to do the landscaping yourself
  • Very little of the lawn was disturbed and you HAVE IT WRITTEN INTO A CONTRACT that the dealer or a contractor will do the landscaping

Whatever your situation, if you are expecting someone else to do the landscaping, you need to GET IT IN WRITING, being VERY specific as to what you want done. If you want the lawn to be sodded or grass seed sown, that needs to be IN WRITING. If you want the foundation plantings to be done by someone else, you need to get EVERYTHING IN WRITING - which plants do you want, what size, where do you want them - etc.

Don't expect this to automatically come with the purchase and setup of a home. It usually doesn't. You even need to see that general cleanup of the area afterwards is IN WRITING.

If you have decided to do the landscaping yourself there are many things to consider. If the whole site was bulldozed, you may have lost all your topsoil. You can arrange to have the topsoil pushed aside somewhere, out of the way, and then have it pushed back over the top of the site after the setup work is done. Be sure that it is the top 6" or so and has not been mixed in with the subsoil. It needs to be moved to an area by itself and needs to be the last layer smoothed over the top. This is the part of the soil that has nutrients for your grass and other plantings. As always, GET IT IN WRITING.

Before doing landscaping yourself - or even having someone else do it - there are some things to consider:

  • What type of soil do you have?
  • What growing zone are you in?
  • Do you have more sun or more shade and in which areas?
  • What overall effect do you want to achieve?
  • How much room do you have?

I am going to try to help you with these questions but you might find that I am going to get quite wordy. When the subject is plants I can go on and on and on - ask Bill! I will add some links at the bottom of this page that will help you. Some of them will be favorite places of mine, some are helpful in finding other information like your growing zone.

You might want to have a soil test done on your soil. You can buy test kits at various places or you can contact your county extension agent and he/she can help you get a test done. Your county agent can also tell you what needs to be done to your soil to grow what you want to grow. Although there is an average soil type, you will need different kinds of soils for different types of plants.

Most plants like to be approximately halfway between alkaline and acidic soil BUT some plants like acid soil, such as Azaleas and Blueberries while others hate it. Deciding what you want to grow will determine what, if anything, you will do to your soil.

Before deciding what to grow, you need to know what will grow in your zone. Trying to grow palm trees outdoors in Michigan would not be a good idea! Growing arctic plants in Florida - not usually a good idea either. When ordering plants or buying them at a nursery you might see "Zone 4-9 or Zone 6-8." This tells you which zone or zones this plant will do well in, if otherwise grown properly.

Unless you know you can trust the person you are buying from, don't necessarily expect them to know everything there is to know about plants. They might not know what a "zone" is. Just because someone works in the garden section of a large chain store - or anywhere - does NOT necessarily make them experts. YOU need to be informed to protect your investment.

If you don't want to do research yourself to learn what to grow, find someone who DOES know about plants and talk to them. You could spend hundreds of dollars on plants and end up losing all or most of them, not to mention your time invested as well.

When buying from catalogs there are several things you should know about. As in all areas of life, if a deal sounds too good to be true it probably is. If an ad says you will get 12 one year old Creeping Phlox for $4.98 what you probably WILL get is divisions from a one year old plant. Most people think they will get 12 Phlox as big as the one they seen at the nursery down the road who wanted $4.98 for ONE but a division is usually very small.

Another thing you need to understand is the term "row run." Basically, what that term means is that trees/shrubs/bulbs etc were planted in a row to grow to a decent size. However, unless it specifies what size the plants are, you could be getting babies that haven't really achieved a good size. You might also get all the same color even if they say mixed. (How do I know this? I found out the hard way looooong time ago. I bought 50 Glads for about $5 - they were so small that they had to grow 4 more years before they bloomed and they were all white. I never did THAT again). It would probably be best to only buy a plant that has the size listed so you know what to expect.

I have also found that many of the not-so-good companies, that sell what I consider to be trash, have more than one company but with different names. These might be legitimate separate companies but it seems awful funny to me that I can single out 3 different groups that each have the same format in their catalogs, offer the same plants at the same prices and the same "free gifts." They are easy to spot if you pay attention.

These places are C - H - E - A - P !! but you get what you pay for. If you pay junk prices then junk is what you usually get. Why waste your time and money when you can get quality and no hassles for a little more money?

Besides soil and zone considerations you need to keep in mind that some plants love the sun and some die in it or never do well. Likewise, sun loving plants may die in the shade. Some plants like a little of both. Know your yard. Watch for the times of day to see when the sun or shade is in certain areas. Choose your plants with this in mind.

You will usually find something on a plant or in a catalog that will tell you what its sun/shade requirements are. If in doubt, look it up. If you are reading this then you obviously have access to the internet. There is a wealth of information out there if you can sort through all the other stuff to find it.

What effect do you want to achieve? A lot of people choose to make their home aesthetically pleasing either for their own happiness or to increase the value of the home. I can understand that. But I never did care too much about aesthetics. I always wanted everything in my yard to be useful as well as nice to look at.

I also have a weird way of landscaping in and of itself, I guess you could call it "find or make a place to put this plant that I can't live without." I DO try to make it fit in with the rest of the place while trying to keep its needs in mind but I just love plants and find them so interesting that I GOT to have some of them. Very few of them are just for looks, though. Most of mine are edible or for use medicinally. I have a lot of shade and I do have a lot of Hostas and other shade loving plants but even in the shade I find things that are useful to have as well as pretty.

How much room do you have? If you bought an acre of land there is no reason to concern yourself with "plowing the back 40." You can fit a lot of stuff in a small area but if you try to crowd it too much, you may either stunt or kill plants. Just like you, they have to have certain things and the right amount of room is one of them.

I have seen a lot of people making a horrible mistake. I have seen them plant some of the most beautiful Bradford Pears, (et al), you have ever seen - 4 foot apart. Yes, the trees look fine like that when they are 4' tall but they will eventually grow to about 30' and spread out. If they are that close together they will not do well and they will NOT look good. A Bradford is usually purchased because of its beautiful shape. If you have them all growing into one another all you have is a miniforest. No distinguishable shape. And Brads are NOT usually cheap if it is a good, quality tree.

The same thing goes for bedding plants. You can have a fantastic looking bed but not for a few weeks. I have seen people buy a whole flat of Petunias, Snapdragons, Begoinias etc and tell me they are going to plant all 48 plants in an area that is 1' by 10'. If you plant them too close, they won't do very well, they may even die.

When you first buy them, of course, they're small but they are - hopefully - going to grow. I can fill that same area with 8 plants easily and they will outgrow most of your neighbor's plants. How? First of all, I can tell you how I do this but I can't explain it on paper that well. Try this at your own risk and if possible, talk to someone in person that knows how to do this. It's really great to know, though.

I carefully take a plant out of its little pot or cell it was growing in. I pinch it back about halfway, maybe shake out its roots if they look like they are winding around and around too tight and close together. (If you know what you are doing, pulling at and loosening the roots won't hurt them - it might even help them). I would plant them about a foot apart, remembering to leave a little room at either end.

Pinching the plant back at the right place will cause the plant to put out new stems instead of just the one main stem. This will mean more leaves and blooms - more plant to fill in an area. I've planted this way since I was 10 and it always comes out looking great but it takes about 3-4 weeks for mine to bust out. (I was 10 in 1964 - you do the math).

Yes, you will lose that blossom it had when you bought it but that's ok. (Mine look like plucked birds after I prepare them for transplanting). Losing that one will probably cause you to have dozens more. If possible, buy plants that haven't started blooming yet. Transplanting them when they are blooming isn't the best time for them. They are putting all their effort into making blooms and when they are transplanted they have to divide their energy between making blossoms and putting down their roots.

Take the time to learn about your location and the plants you want. And if you decide to get someone else to do it - BE SPECIFIC AND GET IT IN WRITING. Put everything in a contract BEFORE it is signed.

Click here for USDA Zone Map

I have found the following plant/seed sources to be good places for me.

Nichols Garden Nursery -
Seeds and plants. Good place for herbs.

Johnny's Seeds -
Lots of seeds here including a large variety of herbs

Whiteflower Farms and Shepherd's Seeds -
Quality Perennials, Seeds and Equipment

Southern Exposure -
Wonderful source for heirloom or open pollinated seeds

Territorial Seeds -
Seeds and plants

Thompson-Morgan -
Good source for seeds

Tomato Grower's Supply -
Over 500 varieties of tomatoes and peppers

Raintree Nursery -
A little pricey but good quality and informative

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