Selecting and arranging features within a landscape requires far more planning and work than may seem apparent at first glance, and landscapers face the greatest number of challenges when fitting plants into a new location. No two areas are exactly the same. Each landscape presents a unique combination of environmental factors that can either help plants to perform at their best or rob them of essentials and bring about the need for potentially expensive and time-consuming correction.
Soil type is an important consideration for any landscape project. The type of soil can influence the level of maintenance needed for plants and how well they will establish themselves. For example, sandy soils drain well--sometimes too well. Plants located in sandy soils may require additional watering or the installation of an irrigation system in areas where the climate is particularly arid. The good drainage of sandy soils can lead to loss of nutrients, which wash away with the water. This means plants may require greater amounts of fertilizer. Clay soil is heavy, retains large amounts of water and lacks pockets of air that make it easier for plant roots to grow. This soil type can harden as it dries, posing another barrier to root expansion. Chalk soils present yet another problem. Not only do they dry out quickly, they tend to be alkaline and block trace elements from being absorbed.
A site’s drainage can make or break landscape planning. Standing water is more than just unsightly, it has the ability to cause root rot and to support the growth of fungal diseases. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, microorganisms in the soil may not be able to survive in such conditions and the oxygen that plant roots require for growth may be unavailable. Some drainage issues can be addressed through reshaping the slope of the land, filling in and eliminating low spots or encouraging drainage from high spots to flow in another direction. Areas with significant problems may need to be part of a major improvement project or avoided altogether.
The levels of available light in a location may limit the types of suitable plants. Many plants require full sun, some can adapt to partial sun and far fewer are able to tolerate a shady area. To confound the matter, not all shade is the same. Shade levels can vary from light to deep, and the deeper the shade, the fewer plant options available. In some cases, the amount of available light can be increased by trimming back tree branches or moving features of the landscape--such as fencing--that block light.