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How to Assess Your Existing Landscape

Before you begin planting your water efficient garden a few steps should be taken to pinpoint exactly what is right for you and your landscape.

Soil Type Assessment

Soil Type Assessment Sample
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Different compounds can be seen in a soil sample, after performing a soil type assessment. A mason jar has been filled with soil, until it is 1 quarter full. Then water has been added, until the jar is half full. The contents of the jar were swirled together and then left alone for several hours to settle. The soil type assessment in this image displays the following compound breakdown (from top to bottom):

  • Light organics on top
  • Water
  • Heavy organics
  • Sand
  • Silt
  • Clay on the bottom

Please note: An additional bottom layer of rocks or pebbles
could be present in your soil assessment. This bottom layer
does not appear in the illustration above.

A soil type assessment is a simple procedure where the compounds (i.e. clay, sand, silt) of the soil, and their ratios, are identified.

Soil type assessments can be completed through the submission of a soil sample to a certified agricultural professional. An assessment can also be completed at home using a mason jar and these four simple steps:

  1. Fill a mason jar one quarter full with a soil sample from your landscape.
  2. Once you have placed your soil in the mason jar, fill the jar half way full with water.
  3. Place the lid on the mason jar and shake and/or the swirl the contents well to assure proper mixture.
  4. Place the jar in a undisturbed area for a few hours then observe the layers of content which have formed.

The distribution/amount of one soil type to another within the jar will provide you with a proper tool to characterize your soil type. Use the following rules to characterize your soil type:

  • Loam soil: Contents of jar will display an equal balance of clay, sand and silt. Loam soil is an ideal soil type for all types of gardening.
  • Sandy soil: Contents of jar will display a large distribution of sand particles (approximately 1/3 or greater). Sandy soils can dry out very quickly following periods of watering.
  • Silt soil: Contents of jar will display a larger distribution of silt (approximately 1/3 silt or greater). Silt soils have the ability to retain more moisture than what is required by most plants.
  • Clay soil: Contents of jar will display a larger distribution of clay (approximately 1/3 clay or greater). With the extreme hardness in dry times and compaction properties during wet periods, clay soils can create problems in trying to establish all plant types within your landscape.

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Climate and Light Exposure

It is important to identify the light exposure of your property. Note areas on your property which receive direct sunlight, areas that are highly shaded, and areas which are directly exposed to wind and precipitation.

Each native and drought tolerant planting will have a set of individual requirements for sunlight and water, assessing the climatic regions of you home's landscape will help you to make the appropriate plant choices.

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Similarly, certain plants require very moist soil, whereas some prefer drier soil. It is important to understand the drainage of your property and consider certain factors such as steep elevation of your property or soil type, both of which have a bearing on soil drainage.

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Lawn and Garden Usage

You will also want to identify what your lawn and garden will be used for.

  • Do you have kids that like to play on grass?
  • Do you want to build a walking route and anticipate a lot of foot traffic?
  • Or do you just want a quiet patio to relax on?

The anticipated usage will determine what plants are most suitable for your property as the resilience and durability of plants varies.

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