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Right plant, right place — site preparation

By JANETTA FOX - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Aug 12, 2022

Let’s say you completed a site analysis and design plan for a landscaping project. Preparing the site for what is to follow is a natural next step. Although your landscape design may include both hardscape (non-living) and softscape elements, this article will focus on site preparation as it specifically relates to the project’s softscape, or living elements.

When preparing the site, begin by clearing the area, removing obstacles such as branches and other debris, and vegetation that is not part of your design plan. Next, investigate the site’s grading, as applicable, to determine the direction stormwater runoff travels. If you see that water moves towards your home foundation, take action to re-grade the area. By doing so you will help avoid issues such as premature foundation aging, cracking and shifting.

If your soil is compacted, loosen it up and remove weeds. This step could take a bit of time depending on how large the area and compacted the soil. Once done, you may be tempted to buy your landscape plants and immediately place them in the ground. However, going that route will more than likely lead to some very unhappy, stressed out plants in a short span of time.

Much of the soil in Southwest Florida landscapes lacks the nutrients that support plant growth. For that reason, amending the soil is always a good idea, working in compost, manure or other organic material before planting. Not only does this matter add nutrients and serve as a food source for microorganisms, it helps regulate pH and can improve soil fertility. However, keep in mind that there can be too much of a good thing even with organic additives. I used to think that if a little compost does a nice job in keeping my plants happy, then more must be better. Definitely not the case! When using compost, working a 1-3 inch layer into the soil a couple of weeks prior to planting is advised.

Ensure that irrigation will be sufficient to accommodate the needs of newly planted trees, plants and shrubs. All will need to be adequately watered for a number of months while getting established.

If you have a low lying area indicated on your design plan that accumulates water or one in the vicinity of a downspout, you may wish to prepare the area in anticipation of turning it into a rain garden. There are various on-line resources that provide step-by-step guidance in this regard. Tip: During preparation, make certain the garden is situated in such a way that any runoff flows away from the house foundation, by including an overflow area with stones that will direct the overflow.

Always remember that part of site preparation includes calling 811 before you dig to make certain all underground utilities, such as electric, cable and gas are accounted for and marked in advance of planting. There may be other underground features, such as irrigation systems, you will need to address personally by calling the appropriate point of contact for marking.

Site preparation is an important aspect of any landscaping project. Once completed you can move forward with plant selection and placement. Hope you will join me next time when I will present “Choosing the Right Plant for Your Landscape.” Until then…

Happy gardening!

Janetta Fox is a Lee County Master Gardener volunteer and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.


• How to use compost. (n.d.). UF/IFAS Extension. https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu

• Site preparation. (n.d.). Home Water Works. https://home-water-works.org/ landscape-irrigation

• Stevenson, C. Rain gardens – a solution for runoff. (July 5, 2017). UF/IFAS Blogs. https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu