By Katie Marks, Networx
Many gardeners have a strong wish that their gardening conditions were perfect: nice, rich, balanced soil on an even landscape, ample water supplies, just the right amount of sun, everything just ideal for anything they might want to plant. Unfortunately, real life often interferes with these dreams. The soil's too alkaline or too acidic, too dry or too wet, too steep for easy growing, heavily shaded or blasted by sunlight. It's possible to fight those conditions every step of the way, but a better strategy for gardening can involve working with them instead, and planting smart to save energy and resources.
Perennials are an important part of the landscape: once they're established and they start to thrive and grow, they'll become a developed part of the environment. They can help condition and retain soil in addition to creating a lush backdrop for more splashy annuals, and they provide something beautiful to look at throughout the year. If you're tackling a tough landscape, you definitely want to take advantage of all that perennials have to offer when it comes to making your garden beautiful without wanting to tear your hair out.
Got dry soil conditions? You want to look into xeriscaping, which relies on low-water plantings to create a lush, beautiful landscape without endless watering needs. And xeriscaping doesn't have to mean some cacti on a blasted heath of lava rock. You can plant a variety of succulents, perennial herbs, and other drought-tolerant plants to create a lush, green, multi-layered garden that will stand out in any season, and in any neighborhood. For those areas of the lawn filled with harsh sun, plant sun-loving plants (succulents again are a great choice) and take advantage of the heat to stimulate plant growth.
Opposite problem? If your soil is too wet, roots rot, plants sag, and everything can struggle to survive. You may want to consider installing French drains and using other tactics to improve drainage, such as working sand and pearlite into the soil. However, you can also install moisture-loving landscaping, including mosses, ferns, and more.
Steep landscape where nothing wants to grow? Creepers and groundcovers are ideal. They'll sprawl across the slope to soften the look while adding rich layers of green and flowers, during their flowering season. In addition, they'll help to retain the soil with their root networks, preventing soil loss and runoff. As your slope stabilizes thanks to your groundcovers, you can consider installing larger perennial shrubs along with garden features like large stones and statues.
Shade? Whether it's because of a neighbor's trees or the angle of your house, shade can be a real problem in the garden. Fortunately, there are a huge number of shade loving plants out there including hostas, bleeding hearts, ferns, mosses, lungwort, phlox, sorrel, begonias, hellebore, astilbe, and foamflower. Too much sun? Try hollyhocks, poppies, peonies, mallow, or coreopsis.
For strongly alkaline soils, coral bells, anemones, catmint, pinks, baby's breath, penstemon, yucca, and more thrive on the basic conditions, so you won't need to use amendments to make your soil amenable to plants that prefer more neutral to acidic soils. Meanwhile, cinnamon ferns, bear's breeches, Japanese iris, bergenia, and our friend hellebore love acidic soils.
Wherever you're gardening, there's a plant to meet your needs. If you aren't sure about where to start for your area and conditions, one option is to consult resources like the Sunset Western Garden Book, or to ask at your local nursery. One advantage of local knowledge is that staff members are very familiar with soil conditions and limitations -- some of them might even live in your neighborhood! -- and they can provide very customized regional advice.