The Right Plant for the Right Spot

Before you head off to the garden centre to buy plants, take a look at the spot you want to put the plant(s) into. This is very important because plants have different needs. Some need full sun and some need shade, some like it dry and others like it wet, even the soil pH (the acidity of the soil) can make a difference, and how big the plant will get is also very important. A tree needs lots of room to grow tall, shrubs can be small and some can get quite large, does the plant keep its leaves (evergreen) or does it loose its leave (deciduous). Will it spread into areas that you don’t want it in, is it easy to grow or does it have special requirements making difficult to grow. There are many aspects to consider. First, find out what plant hardiness zone you live in. Here in the lower mainland of BC, we are zone 8. There are micro climate spots that will differ slightly; southern Vancouver Island, the southern Gulf Islands, and the southern part of the mainland (White Rock, South Surrey, South Langley) are zones 8a and 8b (Coastal Douglas fir biogeoclimatic zone). Then, when you are looking at the hardiness zone for a plant you want to put in your garden you will know if it can handle the winter (possibly the summer) depending on where you live.

Permaculture is a philosophy of gardening that is about working with nature, and one of the aspect of permaculture looks at the layers of natural landscapes to help create a sustainable ecosystem, or food forest within our gardens. There is the canopy layer of the tall trees that have open spaces between them to let the sun through in spots. The understory layer of plants that thrive under the canopy, and this includes shrubs (woody perennials) and herbaceous plants (perennial plants that die back to the ground each winter. The groundcover layer which are plants that grow close to the ground and fill in bare spaces. This layer overlaps with the understory herbaceous layer. The rhizosphere, is the root layer within the soil, where the soil, the soil organisms, and plant roots intermingle. There is a vertical layer, which are climbing plants or vines. If you think about your garden in this way, you can look around your yard and see what you already have, and then you can add plants to enhance what is already there. Even if you are in a townhouse, or even a condo, what is around your yard or balcony? Now a days, some townhouses and condos have very little room to work with, but it is still good to take a look around to see what is there. Maybe you can get on council or a committee, and get involved with the landscaping around your complex. Most developers put in the usual green non-native shrubbery that doesn’t provide much in the way of habitat or colour. Even if you have a tiny balcony and room for only a few pots, you need to know if you need sun loving plants or if you need shade plants, it depends on what direction your balcony faces. Sun loving plants won’t do well in a shady spot and will become tall and leggy trying to get some sun. I know this first hand, as I have a shady yard and really wanted some plants that were sun loving. You got to work with what you got.

Here are some things to consider:
– What direction is the plant going to be facing, and are there other plants that will shade the plant. South side of a building will get full sun, East side of a building will get morning sun (not as hot as West facing), North side of a building will be shady, and West side of the building will get afternoon sun (hotter than morning sun). Also, in the northern hemisphere the sun will be lower in the sky in winter and higher in the sky in summer. It is best to look at the site in the morning, mid-day, and afternoon to see how much sun the spot actually gets.
– Full sun is considered 6 or more hours of direct sun.
– Partial sun or partial shade are considered 4 to 6 hours of direct sun, with east facing/morning sun better than west facing/afternoon sun for plants that don’t like the heat. West facing is good for plant that like the heat, ask the salesperson or google the plant to find out what it likes.
– Full shade is roughly less than 4 hours sun and is best as filtered/dappled sun, or morning sun.

The soil is important as well, find out what soil type the plant likes, or figure out your soil type, and then find plants that like that soil type. There are some plants that like what we would consider crappy, rocky, sandy soil because that is the type of soil they evolved with. Many of the Mediterranean plants will do well in sunny areas with more sandy, gravelly soil. Some plants like the acidic humus rich forest soil of the Pacific Northwest. Of course, that would be many of our native plants and ferns. You can always work at improving your soil. Add soil to your garden if you have really gravely, sandy soil. If your soil is ok, add organic matter to build up the humus component of the soil. This can be compost either purchased or made. Add the autumn fallen leaves back onto the garden, and if this looks too messy for you, get a leaf mulcher and mulch the leaves first and then spread it on the garden. Every year you should be adding organic matter to your garden, as your plants take up nutrients from the soil. Organic matter is better that adding fertilizer. Fertilizers usually require fossil fuel to make them, they tend to leach away when it rains, can be harmful to the soil organisms, and it doesn’t help to build up the quality of your soil. Organic matter holds nutrients and moisture, and nutrients are released by the soil organisms as they eat and die making them available to the plant’s roots. Sometimes, you do need to add a little fertilizer, such as, getting a new garden started. Also, does the area you want to plant in stay wet after a good rain or does it drain well. Or is it a spot that doesn’t get much rain, maybe because it is close to the house and the roof overhangs the area and the gutter diverts the rain away to a downspout. A raised garden bed should drain better than level ground or low lying ground.

What do you want out of your garden? Is it easy maintenance, creating habitat for our pollinators and birds, lots of colourful flowers, a fragrant garden, or maybe an edible garden. Decide what you want to create before going out and buying plants. A very important point to keep in mind is; Don’t Buy Or Take From Common Areas Plants That Are Invasive. You should not take plants from parks or natural areas anyways because they generally don’t survive the move, plus the plants are there for all to enjoy and for the native fauna. Check out the Invasive Species Council of BC website to learn more. I have a post on invasive species under the Living with Nature category.

One more thing, know where the underground gas lines, irrigation lines, and any electrical lines are before you start digging. In BC, FortisBC is the gas company and there is a free information site or phone number you can contact, and give them the information they need and within three days they will let you know where your gas lines are. So google BC 1 Call before you dig because you will be on the hook for the cost of repairs if you hit a gas line, and it could be dangerous. If you are in a townhouse or complex with irrigation and lighting, your strata council should have the maps showing where the lines are.

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