A Dozen Items to Consider Before Gardening at Your New Home
- Sunlight: Throughout the year, watch the sun move across the sky; know what parts of the garden are in full sun, or receive morning sun and afternoon shade, or receive winter sun under a deciduous tree.
- Drainage: Watch the way the water runs (or not) on your property when it rains. Find the outside spigots and the main water shut off valve. Get a hose that is long enough to reach the garden beds and get a sprinkler, a watering wand, and watering can. In the winter, look at how fast the snow melts, possible salt damage patterns, and if the neighborhood kids sled in your backyard.
- Existing Plants: Identify the plants/shrubs/trees that currently exist on the property and learn if they are annuals, perennials, conifers, or deciduous shrubs and trees. Likewise, know the difference between a weed and a great perennial that is coming up in the spring.
- Wind Patterns: Find out if you have shelter from winds or how storms may affect your property. Look for dry air from the dryer vent and increased air circulation from the AC unit.
- Soil: Get a soil test of the area where you intend to plant by contacting the local extension office for bags and laboratories. Typically, soil in this area has a high level of clay and soil around a house may be compacted. (soil testing information can be found at http://www.pegplant.com under the soil test tab/page).
- Family Needs: Determine the style & color of the house and the style of garden you want. List needs such as a place to entertain adults, a place for kids to play, and/or a vegetable garden. Watch the foot traffic that your family favors. Sometimes the developer does not do this justice and you need to re-align the paths and sidewalk. Also, look for ways to soften the lines, it is best to create curves and soften the developer’s harsh angles.
- Resources: Visit the public gardens and nurseries during the four seasons. Find out the best prices and sources for plants, mulch, tools, etc. Find out if there is a local gardening club to join, check out the local gardening books from the library, read the gardening columnist in the newspaper, and/or subscribe to the local gardening magazine. Identify the local extension agent and, if interested, find out about the Master Gardener program. All of these resources for the Washington DC metropolitan area are at http://www.pegplant.com under the tabs/pages.
- Existing Animals: Watch your property at different times of the day to see if there are deer, foxes, rabbits, dogs, cats, etc. Deer and rabbits present challenges for gardeners but sometimes dogs and cats are helpful in scaring away the deer and rabbits. Determine if existing fencing is yours or neighbors and if tall enough to keep out animals such as deer. If fencing is needed, contact the local extension agent for suggestions on recommended heights.
- Lawn: Identify the type of grass you have, some are dormant in the winter. Find out if the previous owners used a service and what type of chemicals/fertilizer they applied to the grass. Decide if you will be cutting the grass or hiring a service because if it is a service, the staff may not be able to distinguish a weed from a great perennial plant. Determine how much lawn you want to keep and how much to dig up and create beds for gardens/vegetables. Determine if there are exposed tree roots to trip up little kids or slopes that can be filled to level out the land.
- Records: Keep records of what you buy and where you buy it so you know where you can get the best deals. Take photos throughout the year. Know your homeowner association rules. If you plant, keep records of what you plant; if you fertilize, keep records of what you fertilized, with what type of fertilizer and when. Measure the property, create a map, make copies and overlay water flow, sunlight, plants, etc.
- Tools: Make an inventory of tools that either came with the house or that will have to be purchased, including the tool shed to house them. Determine if the hose is long enough to water the plants, if there is a trowel, shovel, sprinkler, etc. Sometimes it is best to spend the first year searching for the best deal on tools, accessories, and containers while getting to know the layout of your yard before planting in the ground.
- Weather: Learn your USDA Plant Hardiness zone, which would be zone 6 or 7 in the Washington DC metropolitan area (see link below). Learn first and last average frost dates, which are usually Mother’s Day and Halloween (see link below). Download a weather app on your phone or buy an outside thermometer because from now you, you will be watching the weather!
U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness map
Table listing first and last average frost dates by state
Written and Produced in January 2015 by Peggy Riccio, pegplant.com
Copyright Peggy Riccio and pegplant.com