Develop the landscape by small, defined areas/rooms rather than taking on the entire landscape in one season. This includes creating a shady sanctuary where you can sit comfortably, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Within each area, create strong focal points, where the eye can naturally land/rest. Privacy screens can be created with 6-8' densely planted shrubs that also serve as a perennial garden backdrop. Garden edges need to be clearly defined using durable, long-lasting material. Likewise, utilize inorganic materials to create long-term, low-maintenance walkways and pathways that allow for ease of movement through and to developed areas.
Let the site determine the plants you choose. This applies to trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals and includes available light, water, and soil quality. Our Availability List Pages can provide the information you will need when choosing plants for your site. Prior to stopping out, check the area for available light and perform simple, at home, soil tests to determine soil conditions. All plants benefit when gardeners take the initiative to understand and improve the soil's structure and tilth.
I am usually skeptical of catalogs that describe a plant that "does well in poor soil", it seems like an oxymoron to me; though it is true that some plants, like xeric plants, do grow better in lean/sandy soil rather than rich in organic matter soils. We work to improve our soils by topdressing with organic matter because we feel it benefits a larger range of plant types and the beneficial organisms living in those soils. Soil organisms fare better in a plant community where the relationship between the trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals growing in an area together impact each other and create a bio-diverse environment. The opposite would be a monoculture, where a single planting dominates the growing area. A lack of diversity creates a range of problems not found when diversity exists. Biodiversity provides food and healthy conditions for a broader range of beneficial insects to thrive thereby reducing the need for chemical control/pesticides.
Once you've chosen a site for planting a large tree, consider doing a simple perc test to check for drainage. Perc Test: Dig a hole and fill it with water, go back a couple hours later and fill the hole again; there's a difference between absorption and drainage. Let sit for four-six hours, after that time, if the hole has standing water in it, that hole has poor drainage. Site drainage can vary within close range, sometimes within 10 feet, so don't get discouraged with that first test. For trees, we recommend digging the hole as deep as the soil level in the container and twice the width. For shrubs, dig the hole as deep as the top of the container and twice the width. That way the top couple of inches of the shrub's roots will be covered to prevent drying. At the time of planting, we do not amend individual holes. By backfilling with native soil the roots are less likely to interface as the roots grow into the adjoining soil. Native soil in this area tends to be heavy, so trees backfilled with native soil are more likely to grow straight, rather than slanted (despite strong winds that move through the area) because they're not shifting in the hole.
Always consider the impact of large plantings from the point of view standing or sitting inside the home looking out and from the deck or patio. Garden spaces should enhance any view from any location from which they can be seen.
Improve/amend areas with heavy, clay soils that: fail to drain properly, bind rather than release water and nutrients, and inhibit root growth and development. This chore is by far easier to achieve prior to planting the area. We topdress with organic matter, lightly till to incorporate, and mulch after planting. In developed gardens, after the perennials are cutback in October, I topdress with compost, manure, and other organic matter.
Watch for nitrogen and iron deficiencies. Through the heat of summer we water more frequently and nutrient deficiencies are more common. Revealed as yellowing foliage, the plants will benefit from an application of either water-soluble (quickly absorbed) or a slow-release fertilizer. Our well water averages a pH level of 7.9 making the iron in the soil unavailable. To avoid plants with bright yellow tip growth, we use a combination of a 14-14-14 slow-release fertilizer and Ironite on lawn areas, trees, shrubs, and in gardens throughout the landscape since it's a readily available form of iron and is quickly absorbed.
Repeat successful plantings throughout the landscape to achieve continuity. Favorite plantings in our landscape include friuting and fall foliage shrubs and drifts of 24-36" perennials. Also, repeat successful hardscape materials to achieve similar continuity. Common hardscape materials include: Wood, brick, concrete, vinyl, and metal. Design manageable gardens in scale to surrounding hardscapes, including your home and overall lot size, then choose plants that are in scale to the size of the garden.