Garden Planning 101

By Krista Vieira

Now that the snow is finally gone (fingers crossed), and garden centres are starting to be set up, it’s time to start thinking about what to do with the garden. Whether you have an existing garden that needs sprucing up or you’re looking to plant a brand new garden, these seven tips will help you look like you’ve got a well-developed green thumb.

Know What You Want

Are you looking to create a low-maintenance garden that comes back year after year, or do you like to change your garden’s look each season?

Perennials are a long-term investment while annuals only let you appreciate their beauty for one year. Make sure you read to tag to ensure you’re buying the type of plant you want.

Know How Much Space You Have

Measure the size of your garden and keep those measurements handy when you go shopping. Before you buy any plant, read the tag that comes with it. If your garden is six-feet long and the plant you’re interested in gets to five-feet wide, you won’t have a lot of space left to add anything else.

Know What the Plant Needs

Plants need anywhere from full sun to partial shade. It’s important to read the tag to find out how much, or how little, sun is required for the plant to thrive.

The tag is also going to tell you how much, or how little, water the plant needs along with the soil quality required to let it grow. If the plant thrives in poor soil quality, you can save some money by not having to buy high-quality dirt.

Know Your Hardiness Zone

All plants are not created equal, so it’s important to know the hardiness zone they can survive in. We have nine zones in Canada, which range from 0 (the harshest) to 8 (the mildest). Each zone is divided into two parts: “a” is harsher than “b.” Zone maps are created by considering the minimum and maximum temperatures, snow cover, rainfall, wind patterns, and the average number of frost-free days an area has.

It’s also important to know that hardiness zones are not equal across Alberta. Edmonton has a hardiness zone of 3b (-34 to -31 degrees Celsius) while Devon’s plant hardiness zone is 4a (-37 to -34 degrees Celsius). A quick Google search can help you learn about the hardiness zone you live in.

Know Your Garden’s Microclimates

You may be surprised to learn that your garden, or yard, can have several microclimates. You may have full sun on one side of your yard, but an entirely different temperature on the other side under a mature tree. And these temperature variations can have a huge impact on your garden’s success.

It’s also important to know how long the microclimate lasts. Your garden may get full sun first thing in the morning, when the sun’s strength is at its weakest, but only partial sun for the rest of the day, which may mean that area is actually better suited to partial-sun plants. Meanwhile, a spot in full sun for only four hours a day (depending on the sun’s heat) could be worse for your plant than a spot in partial sun for eight hours. Peak sun can bake areas over a shorter period of time, so make sure whatever you plant can handle the type of heat for the length of time it’s going to face.

So, get to know your yard’s microclimates. Using an electronic thermometer, take heat readings throughout the day to find out exactly how hot each spot gets. Your plants will thank you for providing them a custom space to live.

Know the Location of Your Temperature Traps

You usually find cold traps in low areas with pour wind circulation, while heat traps are usually found near stones (stone patios, retaining walls, etc.) or buildings that radiate heat and dry out the area. These mild fluctuations in temperatures can impact the growth of your plant, especially if a plant that loves heat is planted in the middle of a cold trap.

Know Which Way the Wind Blows

Does the wind get trapped between your house and the neighbours? Or your house and the workshop? Have you noticed that some areas of your yard get messed up by the wind more than others? This is important: wind can dry out areas of your garden, which means you could be watering more often if the plant making its home in that spot needs moist soil to survive. A drought-tolerant plant may do better in a windier spot. Or consider using shrubs as a wind breaker. Depending on the exposure to wind, anywhere from one to two shrubs, or up to five or six, could be enough to deflect the wind and give you back that portion of your garden.