This is a guide that outlines how you can figure out in a quick and simple way what to grow in your garden and soil.
We outline key considerations to be aware of in coming up with a growing plan.
*NOTE – this is just a guide on figuring out what you might be able to grow. It’s not a comprehensive step by step gardening plan that includes planting and maintenance information
Summary – How To Know What Can Grow In Your Garden & Soil
There’s 3 main things you might consider that will give you a good base going forward in knowing what you can grow in your garden and soil:
- the existing natural soil you have
- the climate and/or growing region you live in
- the optimal soil type, and growing conditions (and inputs like water etc.) that a plant needs (regardless of what you’re growing – flowers, fruits, vegetables, trees etc.)
If you are unsure about anything, you can always go to a local gardening nursery or gardening professionals shop in your area once you are aware of the characteristics of your gardening plot of land, and ask them for their advice on what you might do and what has worked for them.
Assessing The Existing Natural Soil
Each state within a country has soil that might be local or representative to that state, but soil type can also differ from location to location on a single plot of land.
What you can do to assess existing soil is two things:
1. Look up the soil that is representative of your state
- If you live in the US for example, check out nrcs.usda.gov
- If you live in Australia for example, check out soilscienceaustralia.org.au
These guides might indicate the soil you might have on your land, but it isn’t a guarantee (they are just representative soils).
2. Take photos of the soil on your plot of land, and do several squeeze tests in different locations to find out the texture and type
Generally, soils are going to be a majority of one, or mix of, clay, sand and silt. Each has different characteristics and properties for growing.
Soils may also be acidic, neutral or alkaline.
To test the soil type, you can get several slightly dug up soil samples, make the soil damp with water, and squeeze it in your hand. Clay soil tends to be sticky and compact (and crackly or solid when it dries out), sand soil tends to be gritty and loose, whilst silty soil tends to be somewhere in between.
To test soil pH, you can get a simple soil pH testing kit from the gardening shop or from online and find out if the soil is acidic, neutral or alkaline (a pH range from 0 to 14, with below 7 being acidic, and above 7 being alkaline).
There’s also other tests you can do on your soil for things such as soil nutrient level, or you can can a professional soil testing company in if you really want to (although this is generally not required unless you are a professional or a farmer)
You can show photos of the soil (dug up just beneath the topsoil) to your local gardening shop and they might be able to identify it for you from the appearance.
A note about soil types is that sometimes amending soils is going to be far harder and more time consuming than bringing in new soil in raised garden beds.
This is especially true sometimes of extreme clay soils which can be hard to grow in, and can take a long time to mix the right amount of other soils like sand, and organic matter into, to change the composition of the original clay soil. Some people even find that adding sand to extreme clay soils can make it even harder to grow in.
Read more about two different people’s experiences growing in clay soils here:
Finding Out The Climate Or Growing Region You Live In
Next, each state or region of a country is going to have different local climates and belong to a different growing region.
To check this, you might look at the plant Hardiness Zones (that take into consideration average minimum temperature in a zone in the country)
You can view each here:
- USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (planthardiness.ars.usda.gov)
- Plant Hardiness Zones For Australia (anbg.gov.au)
These maps can be imperfect though because there can be other climatic and non climatic factors other than low temperature that improve or restrict plant growth.
So, beyond these maps, observe the temperature, average rainfall and wind patterns in your area.
This bring us to the last point…
Consider The Soil Conditions & Climate A Plant Needs To Grow
Perhaps the most important factor – picking a flower/vegetable/fruit/tree that suits the soil and climate you are growing in.
Some plants are very hardy and versatile and can grow in a range of soils and climates. Others need specific soil types, soil pH, specific temperatures and climates, a specific amount of water etc.
Pick a plant to suit your soil type and climate, or pick a versatile plant that grows under a range of conditions … it will save you a lot of effort and time.
Research the plant life (a flower, a fruit, a vegetable, a tree – or whatever it is you want to grow), and see what it needs exactly in terms of conditions and resources to grow.
Something you might do is check out a website like Gardenia which can give you information on the types of plant life that might grow in a specific area:
Other things you might do are look at what the people around you are successfully growing in their gardens, or, ask the local gardening shop (or someone with knowledge) what tends to grow well in the area.
Can You Just Make Raised Garden Beds & Import Quality Topsoil, Or Grow Plants Outside Of Your Natural Soil?
This is an option some people pursue – growing outside of their natural soil in raised garden beds, growing inside a greenhouse, growing inside their homes in planter containers or pots – or some type of similar options with imported soil.
It’s up to the individual gardener if they want to pursue these individual options and use imported soils – they have their own pros and cons.