Iowa Planting Guide
The Ted Lare Look
If hardscapes are the bones of a landscape, plants are the heart. Filling our yards with greenery, blooms, trees, and shrubs allow us to give life to our homes and customize the colors and textures of our design. For novice gardeners, there can be a lot to think about – from methods of planting to soil testing to USDA hardiness zones. That’s why we put together our guide to planting in Central Iowa. It’s full of advice for planting and maintaining vibrant, healthy plant life, leaving you with a garden that you don’t just love looking at, but that you love working in, too!
Determine the Conditions of Your Planting Area
When it comes to your garden, your property is a canvas. Even if your home came with a garden, it’s always possible to restore and re-imagine an outdoor space. When re-planting a garden from scratch, every garden project always turns out looking more true-to-vision if there’s a plan for the layout of the area before we break ground.
Before creating a garden layout, it’s important to assess the conditions of your desired planting space. You can start with a spiral notebook and a pencil and begin to take note of the different aspects of your yard. As you work through these components of the property, you can begin to form priorities about which aspects you want to remain the same, which you want to change, and which elements you’d like to move before you consult with a Ted Lare Design Build specialist. Take note of the following:
Shade – The shade areas of a property can be difficult to change, and unless you have a strong desire to remove a tree, it’s often best to work with the existing gradations of shade and sun when creating your layout. To help visualize the area, use your pencil to sketch a rough layout of the property and shade in areas with different darknesses to denote areas of full sun, part sun, dappled shade, part shade, and deep shade. Later on, this will help you to choose plants suited to the shady areas you have.
Soil – Soil is an amazingly complex component to every garden and so much of our planting success depends on our ability to match plants to the soils they’ll thrive in or amend the soil to suit the needs of our plants. A few things to consider when getting to know your soil:
- Soil Types – From clay to peat to loam, the quality and structure of the soil dictates important features like moisture retention, drainage, and organic matter content. Soil amendments and mulch can help with correcting problem soil.
- Soil Temperatures – Iowa occupies USDA zones 4 to 7, which is a pretty broad variation! In Central Iowa, we sit in zone 5, but we typically recommend using zone 4 plants.
Iowa Soils – Typically you will find your yard consists of black soil form the original farmland, or compacted dense clay from the development of your neighborhood. Digging several holes in your yard 12 inches deep will tell you what you have to work with. If it is rich black soil, you are lucky and do not have to do anything to your soil before planting. If it is dense clay, we recommend amending your soil with black dirt and compost.
Develop Your Garden Space
If you’re just establishing your garden for the first time, you have a big job ahead of you. Once you’ve completed your assessment of the area and decided how much of your space you want to develop into a garden, it’s time to make some decisions. This is a good time to get a Ted Lare Design Build landscape designer involved. Our experts can handle this part of the project to make sure your garden layout reflects the result you want. This will involve:
Removal and Soil Prep – Before you can create planting beds, you need to remove the old soil, sod, and debris in the way. Our team will clear out the material you don’t need and prepare the soil for planting.
Hardscape Design – You’ll want to discuss all the hardscapes you hope to incorporate, whether now or in the future, with your designer. That includes patios, pathways, retaining walls, water features, fire pits, decks, and pergolas. Our team has a lot of experience building each of these fixtures, and our designers can help you prioritize which hardscapes will have the biggest impact within your budget.
Locate All Trees – Well-maintained, mature trees enhance the appearance of all landscapes. Your professional will design your garden strategically around your trees so the final look works with them.
Fill Planting Beds – When it’s time to fill the planting beds, our experts take a strategic approach. We want to create structure in our design by planting shrubs, then create attractive green spaces with our choice of grasses. After that, we’ll plant perennial flowers that will become the foundations of our color palette, and then accentuate with annual flowers.
While flowers and cover crops provide most of the fine details of our garden designs, larger plants also establish structure and framing of the overall space.
Ornamental trees create framing for the area, and can have extra benefits like shade, edible fruit, and added privacy. Shrubs and trees both have excellent potential for attracting wildlife, like our many beautiful native birds!
Planting trees and shrubs may seem daunting, but the process is generally not as involved as you might think and our garden professionals are more than equipped to assist you. Simply select a tree that works with your design, and before you know it, our team will have it planted and staked for you, ready to grow big and tall.
When choosing perennials, USDA zone is the most important factor to make decisions by. While our region of Central Iowa is considered zone 5, zone 4 plants have a much better shot at surviving our winters, especially if you live out of town where there’s less wind protection. We have tested a lot of these plants, so consult our Garden Center staff for more information on plants that work in Central Iowa.
Working with Wide Open Spaces – While urbanites with fenced properties may be happy with a few shrubs and trees to liven up small to medium properties, those in rural locations may be working with much larger territory to cover. Planting a forest in our backyards could be cumbersome, to say the least, so how do you fill in those acres best?
We’re big believers in the beauty of our native prairies. Prairies teem with important wildlife, and we love a field of wildflowers in the summertime. Consider establishing a prairie on larger properties to bring eco-friendly, rustic beauty to your acreage.
Low Maintenance Gardening and Planting
Planting a garden is a big job, and if you’re planting annuals, it’s a job that will need to be done every year. The key to consistency is enjoying the work. We’ve found the best way to take pleasure in gardening is to work with plants that work with, not against, the specifications of our properties.
Time-Saving Plants – Especially with larger properties, caring for many plants at once can quickly become overwhelming. Including a significant population of low-maintenance plants that require little upkeep can free up an enormous amount of time, allowing you to focus more time on the more demanding plants you can’t live without. Planting shrubs, perennial flowers, and annual flowers from potted containers, rather than growing plants from seeds, will also save time and allow you to enjoy some color during the planting season right away.
Effort-Saving Plants – Even if a plant variety requires very little upkeep on paper, a variety that isn’t naturally adapted to the Central Iowa climate or your soil conditions will end up demanding a great deal of effort once planted. Choosing native plants that thrive in our state will save you from taking on an exhausting uphill battle.
Maintaining Your Garden’s Beauty
Once your dream garden has been planted, the maintenance begins. Keeping notes on the needs of each of your plants can do wonders for simplifying the care schedule for your garden. Give some thought to these major maintenance areas when developing a care strategy:
Watering – All plants will require varying degrees of moisture to thrive. Manage thirstier plants with a quality natural wood mulch, and consider irrigation systems for gardens with large populations of delicate flowers. Your plants will need the most watering care the first year and then will need less time the following years, except in drought conditions.
Drainage – Sometimes the problem isn’t getting enough water, but having too much of it. If your downspouts don’t have proper drainage, you run the risk of flooding your garden during downpours. Consider installing a drainage system for your downspouts to route your rainwater where you want it to go.
Weeds – While there are ways to plant strategically to fight weed competition, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate weeds altogether. Using new, sterile garden soil at the time of planting will allow a head start on weeds by reducing the population of weeds in the seedbed, however, it is ideal to keep a weed pulling schedule and scout for new weeds every few days. Pulling a newly sprouted weed is always easier than dislodging an established one. They also have a much lower probability of growing back. After watering, weed management is the most important part of landscaping maintenance. If you let them go, your hard work and investment will be slowly destroyed.
Pest Management – When thinking about pest control, don’t just think small. While it’s always a good idea to have horticultural soaps and other natural solutions on hand for invasive insects, the pests that can do the most damage in the least amount of time are much larger. Deer-proofing your yard can save you from the devastation of waking up to a completely destroyed garden. Inspect fencing for small gateways, which can allow rabbits to come in and feast on your precious flowers and edibles, as well.
Patios are so much more than another entry into our homes. A well-loved patio becomes an extension of the home, and for many of us, our favorite part. Patios can be an urban retreat into nature, a refuge for winged wildlife, a gourmet dining experience, and a place where childhoods are made – all in one day. In many ways, how we build our patios dictate a lot about how we’ll build our memories with family and friends. By building our dream patio layout, we can enjoy the absolute best moments that homeownership has to offer.