When you have decided on the type of garden you want, you must find out what types of plants your soil will support. Understanding the basics will save you time and money in the long run, so it is best to test the soil and then plan and plant the garden accordingly.

Although soil appears inert and lifeless, it is actually a hive of frenzied activity—or rather, it should be. In addition to earthworms and other soil-burrowing creatures who literally process and regurgitate the soil, bacteria and various enzymes are constantly at work breaking down the components and improving the life-sustaining capacity of the soil.

Good soil is a balanced mixture of mineral particles, decomposed vegetable matter (humus), water, and oxygen. Humus provides the nutrients on which the plants depend; without oxygen and moisture, the plants’ roots cannot do this jobs. Your job as gardener is to ensure the soil is in its optimum condition for supporting healthy plant life.

There are myriad plants yon can select for a particular soil—dogwoods {Cornus) for clay soil; laurels {Aucuba) for alkaline: fothergillas for acid soil; and elaeagnus {Elaeagnus) for sandy soil. All these plants require a specific level of nutrients, drainage and water. There are some plants that will flower on a variety of soils, but generally those that grow in acid soils such as heathers (Calluna and Erica) and lupelos {Nyssa)—will not tolerate other types. By preparing your soil well, whether by first eradicating weeds and debris, or by introducing fertilizers and composts, you can increase the chances of growing your plants successfully. However, the pH of your soil will not change dramatically in the long term, so it is best to grow plants that will be best suited to the soil you have in your garden.
Whatever plants you decide to purchase, you must ensure they are healthy, otherwise their chances of flowering fully will be reduced. Make notes of plants that will match your design and then look for the best examples in your local garden center.

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