Understand Plant Needs and Garden Conditions

1. Understand Plant Needs and Garden Conditions

Lotusland’s plant collections contain over 3,000 taxa from around the world with widely varying needs in terms of soil, nutrients, light, temperature, water, and space. A one size fits all approach to plant care doesn’t work at Lotusland, and it most likely won’t work in your garden. Understanding the needs of the plants in your garden is a critical step in sustainable horticulture, otherwise you will be met with poor growth, pests, and disease.  

This pillar can be summed up in the adage “right plant, right place”. Take time to learn about the conditions in your garden and the needs of the plants that you wish to grow. You will have the best chance at success if you select plants that are compatible with the existing conditions. Growing a plant in the wrong conditions will be an uphill battle. If a plant in your garden is suffering, consider whether the growing conditions might be the cause. What, if anything, you can do to provide more optimal conditions? 

An understanding of plant needs and garden conditions coupled with the remaining pillars of sustainable horticulture will prevent many problems and make plants more resilient to those that do arise.  


Begin by understanding the climate in your garden. Knowing your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone is a good place to start and will inform you if a plant is suitable to your climate. If you are on the west coast of the U.S., the Sunset Climate Zone is also helpful.  These zones are meant to make understanding climate simple and you will likely see them referenced as you research plant selections for your garden.   Along with these simplified understandings of climate, it is good to know annual high and low temperatures for your area, as well as total annual precipitation and the timing of when it falls. 

When growing exotic plants, it is important to also understand the plant’s native climate (among other factors). For instance, what are the precipitation patterns in its native habitat and how do they compare with the patterns in your garden? The climate which a plant evolved in will determine its growth cycle – when it is actively growing during the year and when it is dormant. This understanding will direct your decisions on when to feed and prune plants, when and how much to irrigate, as well as decisions related to soil and drainage.  

Soil and Nutrients

Take the time to learn about your soil conditions – this will be an enormous benefit to the success of your garden. You could be dealing with a compacted urban soil or a natural, unamended soil best suited for native plants in its current state. Knowing the characteristics of your soil will inform your plant selection and also help you determine ways to improve your soil. 

There are inexpensive do-it-yourself methods to determine the characteristics of your soil, including soil texture (the ratio of sand, silt, and clay particles) and drainage. See Clemson Cooperative Extension’s Soil Texture “Jar Test”, Washington State University’s Easy Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Soil Tests, and Landscape for Life’s How to Determine Soil Type. Knowing the qualities of your soil will inform your plant selection and can also help you to adjust your irrigation properly. See Clemson Cooperative Extension’s Soil Type & Irrigation Frequency. 

Learn about your plant selection’s native soil type and fertility.  Does the plant you’ve chosen require good drainage? Does it prefer sandy soils? Or acidic? Does it require high fertility? It is possible to improve some soil conditions through the practices discussed in Build Healthy Soils. However, there are certain characteristics, such as texture, which are more difficult to alter. In order to maintain the health of our collections, Lotusland has had to make extensive modifications to existing soil conditions in certain sections of the Garden. This level of modification is not practical for most homeowners – be realistic about what you are able to achieve at home. 


Observe the light in your garden throughout the seasons. As day length and the height of the sun in the sky changes throughout the year, so will the light in your garden. A spot that is shady all winter might receive hot, afternoon sun in the summer. Ensure the plants you select will tolerate the changing conditions. Plants that receive too much light will sunburn and/or drop leaves. Plants that don’t receive enough light will grow leggy as they try to grow towards the light. Flowering plants might fail to bloom. 

Understand Plant Needs and Garden Conditions Resources 

Make a Reservation

Learn More
Photo by Lisa Romerein.

Become a Member

Learn More
Photo by Lisa Romerein.


Learn More

Aloe Lutescens