Right plant, right place — site analysis
“Failing to plan is planning to fail” — Alan Lakein
Let’s say you have an outside location that is begging for a fresh start. How would you go about turning things around to create an area that is both functional and visually pleasing, with the right plants in the right place? I speak from experience when I say that haphazardly selecting plants at a nursery or big box store and placing them in the ground without proper consideration is not the answer.
The answer begins with planning and a site analysis. Asking yourself a few key questions is a great start. What is your plant hardiness zone? Depending on where you live in Southwest Florida, your hardiness zone will be either 10A or 10B. What are the average temperature highs-lows? Many plants have temperature limits. As a result, if it gets too hot or cold, they will pay the price if not protected. How do weather patterns affect the site? For example, is the location protected from the wind or does it serve as a wind tunnel? Does the area face north, south, east or west?
As you stroll round your property look up, look around and look down, taking note of your observations. A question that presents itself is, “What are you looking for.” The following provides some areas to explore for answers.
Look up and around. What non-living elements are present? Are there roof overhangs, utility wires or other obstructions in the area that may “get in the way” of your landscaping plans? A case in point: It would be ill-advised to consider placing a tree that has a mature height of 30-40 feet under overhead hanging utility wires, which normally measure 18 feet above ground level; or that same tree under an overhang or close to the house foundation.
Look down and around. How much sun-shade does the area receive? Consider this question with the understanding that sun-shade positioning changes with the seasons. There will be more or less shade in a given area, and plants placed in a sunny location will receive more or less sun at greater or lesser intensity, at different times of the year.
What is your soil type? Is it mostly sand, clay, silt? Not all soil types drain equally well. Sandy soil drains readily, silt moderately so, and clay much less so. The answer to soil type provides important insight into the kinds of plants that will either do well or struggle. Does water accumulate in the area or drain freely after a rain? Many plants do not appreciate “wet feet” while others thrive in those conditions.
Working hand in hand with soil type is its pH. Online test kits are available for identification purposes, or you can contact the UF/IFAS Lee County Extension in Fort Myers for a free pH soil test. A test result of 7.0 indicates neutral; acidic soil is less than 7, and alkaline greater than 7. Nutrient deficiencies will more than likely occur when a plant’s pH requirements are not met. If your wish is to incorporate low-maintenance plants into the landscape, the ideal situation would be to select plants that best match soil type and pH. Otherwise, you may find yourself expending more time, effort and money in an attempt to fix soil and plant nutrient deficiencies, and mitigate pest/disease issues.
Underground utilities are another important consideration. If you are uncertain what lurks beneath the surface, take advantage of a free utility locating service offered by your electric company by dialing 811 or creating a ticket at www.sunshine811.com.
Janetta Fox is a Lee County Master Gardener volunteer and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.
Call 811 before you dig – it’s the law. LCEC. https://www.lcec.net/call-811-before-you-dig-its-the-law
Florida-friendly landscaping program: right plant, right place guidance. UF/IFAS Extension.