More families move in June and in August than any other months. This has to do primarily with the school year. You may be one of those or you will be next year. If so, this article if for you. If you have moved to a home where there are already plants, and have no idea what is planted there, some of my magazines say to live in the house for a year to see what is there before you plant. If you have just moved into a new home where the yard is completely bare and you have to start from scratch, or you will be in a new home next year, I would check out my soil.  Your topsoil may have been scraped off to leave you to try to farm in subsoil or it may have been scraped to fill in the space by the basement. In that case it is several feet down and unavailable to plant roots. Your first step should be to amend the soil before planting grass, flowers or trees.

          In general good growing soil is about 50% soil particles and organic matter, 25% is air pockets, and 25% is water pores. Clay soil is good, but it has smaller particles, which leaves less room for air and water. Both are necessary for roots to grow.  Compost, which is organic matter, enters in here to create spaces and soak up water that would run off clay soil.  Sandy soil is just the opposite.  It has so many spaces your water and fertilizer runs through.  Here again, organic matter will trap and hold them for the roots.  It is almost impossible to have too much organic material in the soil so start a compost pile to add to your garden. To add organic matter, you can also dig in leaves, manure, or grass clippings as deep as you can. 

          In preparing you garden or lawn area you need to know the pH of your soil.  Also you need to learn which of your plants likes acid soil and which alkaline soil. The soil in Southeast and South Central Nebraska tend to run near neutral or slightly alkaline (6.0 to 7.0). Our native plants do well here but if you want azaleas, rhododendrons, holly, blue hydrangea, or blueberries, you need to add horticultural sulfur as these plants like acidic soil (5.0 to 6.0).

          When you amend your soil you can’t adjust it just once but must repeat as needed as the soil returns to its usual pH. This is usually needed at least once per year and sometimes both spring and fall. Find out what kind of soil your plant desires and plant similar plants together.  You can have your soil tested for a small fee.  Call or visit the County Extension Office for a kit with a container and instructions on how to take the sample and where to send it.  Postage Paid kits are also available from some of the Garden Centers. 

          Drainage is also very important to know before you plant.  Many plants cannot stand to have their feet wet.  However, there are a number of plants to choose from if you do have a low spot where water remains for a long time.  Some plants, like Siberian or Japanese iris, like wet feet in summer but not in winter. As always, there are plants that prefer a location that drains well and the soil is dry.  Many of our native plants belong to this group.  It pays to check the background of a plant before you decide to buy it.  Make sure you get the right plant for the right location!!!

          You can check your drainage. In different parts of your yard dig a hole one foot deep and one foot across and fill it with water.  Good drainage is about one inch per hour.  In sandy soil the water disappears almost at once.  In clay soil it may take much longer.  In either case adding compost or organic matter will help correct the problem. 

          Many people think they can add sand to their clay and make it better but remember, the formula for cement is clay and sand.  In preparing my garden I did have sand brought in many years ago.  12 tons of sand was tilled in, and only in a small part of the yard. 

          In a flower garden or vegetable garden a raised bed is also good way to improve the soil and drainage.  You can make your own perfect soil in the lawn or raised bed by adding what your regular soil needs.  My recipe for perfect soil is 1/3 clay, 1/3 sand, and 1/3 compost.  Mix it well, let it settle over the winter, and enjoy the good planting next spring. You can start this fall or winter to improve your soil by adding compost or other organic matter from your fall cleanup.  Dig or till it in as deep as you can go.  Double digging as often as possible makes for a good garden.

          My garden is so closely planted I can no longer dig anything in so I use my compost as mulch.  The earthworms dig it in. For more information on composting, go on the internet to “”. In the top box scroll down to “extension publications” and in the bottom box type in the name of the plant, or the subject, or the number of the publication you want information about. Extension publications on that topic will appear that you can download and print. NebGuide #G86-810 is on “Garden Composting”. Also watch your local newspaper for announcements about composting workshops or call the County Extension office for dates.

          An interesting project is to do what is called a “site analysis”. That is, you make a map of your yard and list (in place) where anything existing stands.  Note where the wind is most prevalent, and where the low places are that stay wet.  Put in all the paved and/or graveled areas such as driveways and sidewalks.  If you live in town, you can find out from the city where the water and sewer lines enter and exit your lot. If you live in the country, put in where the septic tank is and don’t forget the the laterals.

          The next project is then to do a landscape plan. Make sure you take into consideration what you learned from your site analysis. Most authors tell you to plant trees first as they are slower growing and will affect your other plants for many years. Where do you want shade? The new trees may seem small at first but if you plant too many, will you have any sunny areas later? Trees do not really do well in the middle of your yard. They shade the lawn, are hard to mow around. Also, if you have a sprinkler system that hits the trunk, this is not good. Trees are best close to the lot line.

          Do you want a vegetable garden or only flower beds? There may be something you would rather not see everyday so plan for tall or bushy plants in those locations. Excess noise can be buffered with plantings, walls and fences. You will also need to check city regulations to see what you can and can’t do such as fence height regulations, where you can and can’t plant trees and what trees are acceptable in your location.

          At the Garden Center or wherever you buy your seeds or plants, make sure you find out what kind of soil the plant likes, how much water it needs each week, and if it likes full sun, partial sun, partial shade or full shade.

          Finally, ask yourself “How much time will I have to spend taking care of everything?” In the long run this preparation time will pay off and save you time, work, and money. And don’t over plant or put in everything all at once. Also don’t be afraid to try something new and different. And if you make an error, change the plan and move the plant. I am always moving things.

Copyright 2006 Oct. 21