I love growing food at home. When House hunting, I scrutinize the yard space as well as the house. If you want to have a garden, whether for food production or ornamental purposes, not all properties are created equal. After 20 years of gardening at two different properties in very different climates, I can explain the best home yard features for gardeners shopping for a new house.
What Should a Gardener Look for When Buying a House?
The entire yard of a house does not need to be fully exposed to sunshine, but a gardener needs a space that receives full sun. To successfully grow most vegetables and many types of flowers, you need a spot that gets at least eight hours of sun.
Ideally, the sun starts hitting the garden area early in the morning. Therefore, an east-facing garden represents your best bet. Morning sun is best because it touches your plants during the cooler part of the day. The majority of plants perform best when temperatures are between 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures cause stress, and the plants just sort of hang out waiting for better temperatures instead of thriving. A garden that is sunny all morning and into the afternoon, but gets shade late in the day, will do well. The late-afternoon shade mitigates the higher temperatures of the afternoon.
Morning sunshine also burns off dew quickly and reduces the risk of fungal diseases. Fungi bother many types of plants. Powdery mildew is a common example of a fungus that compromises plants like cucumbers and squashes. Early and late blights afflict tomatoes.
A spot with morning shade and then full sun the rest of the day is not the end of the world. You can succeed under those circumstances as well. It is far better than not having any full-sun area to plant a garden.
When viewing homes, you may want to carry a compass so that you can assess the layout of the yard. Knowing how the land is oriented to the sun will let you estimate where shade and sun hit the yard throughout the day.
How to Make a Full-Sun Area for Gardening
If you really like a house, but it does not have a full-sun area, you could consider removing a tree. Taking out one tree could do the trick and give you a good full-sun area for your garden. So, if a house suits you in terms of price, location, and features, think about the tree removal option. I had to take out one tree at my current home in Battle Creek, Michigan. I hated to kill a tree, but without doing so, I would not have been growing food for the past 13 years.
Unless you are a complete newbie to gardening, you know that Soil is critical. Your average piece of residential real estate may or may not have good soil. As a gardener, it is always your job to improve soil. This will be an ongoing process, and almost any miserable land can be improved for growing, but it’s best to start with something that’s halfway decent.
I mention soil because many housing developers strip off the topsoil and sell it before building houses. This gives the construction company an extra source of revenue. When I lived in Chico, California, I had the good luck to have a yard with its original topsoil. The soil in that area of the state is magnificent, black, volcanic soil that will grow crops marvelously. Many homeowners I spoke to, however, had to struggle to grow in the miserable clay left behind after the developer stripped the topsoil. When this is the case, you will have to buy topsoil and compost to prepare a garden.
Housing developments that went up in a few short years may be missing topsoil. Selling the topsoil makes the developer some easy money. Homes in older neighborhoods where houses went up one by one by different builders are more likely to have topsoil. Rural properties will too.
How to Check Soil When House Hunting
A soil test probe offers a quick way to take a look at soil when house hunting. The simple hand tool pokes into the ground and collects a small bore of a few top inches of soil. It won’t tear up the ground or leave an unsightly hole. Take a sample out in the yard away from the house. Soil near the building may be sandy or gravelly because the builder needed to prepare a level surface, but the rest of the yard may have original top soil.
You can use a soil test kit to analyze the soil later or simply give it a visual inspection. If it’s just sand or clay, then you will need to build your soil for gardening at that particular property.
Obviously any home worth looking at will have a municipal water supply or functional well with good water. As you look over a house you might like to buy, walk around the outside and see how many outdoor faucets you have. Most homes have one in the front and one in the back. My current home, unfortunately, only has one in the front. This makes watering in the backyard garden a pain in the butt. I have to run a hose around the house. The lack of a backyard outdoor faucet is not a dealbreaker, but inconvenient.
If you are lucky to find a house with water barrels to collect rainwater, make sure that your purchase agreement addresses whether or not the barrels will be left in place. The seller may want to take them, but anything is negotiable.
As a gardener, you should plan on adding rain barrels to supplement your water supply for the garden. In some states, laws restrict rainwater harvesting, but this does not mean you can’t add some discreet barrels in the backyard because, if no one knows, you can’t get in trouble.
Other water resources you might find on the property of a home you’re thinking of buying are ponds, streams, or lakes. Regulations will control whether or not you can pump water from these resources to water plants.
Gardener-Friendly Rules AKA Minimal Regulations
Homeowner Associations (HOA) have a great hatred of gardeners who dare to plant anything remotely unique or edible in their front yards. HOAs mostly insist on a toxic wasteland of chemically treated grass that must be kept mowed.
Some municipalities impose limitations on front yard gardening, but this is much less of an issue than tyrannical HOAs. Most municipal regulations want to make sure that you don’t grow anything too tall too close to roads that would block views for traffic. Fencing regulations will address heights and distance from curbs or sidewalks.
You should have relative freedom to garden in the backyard whether you are contending with local or HOA regulations.
Older neighborhoods tend to have fewer HOAs. If you want to nurture a productive landscape, especially in the front yard, you should avoid HOAs whenever possible.
If you find a house for sale with a privacy fence around the backyard, you are a lucky gardener indeed. This is a strong feature in favor of buying the house if you want to grow a garden.
Assuming you still have a sunny space, a privacy fence is a great deterrent to deer. These animals can easily jump over a privacy fence, but they are unlikely to do so. The privacy fence blocks their view of the other side, and they fear entering an area that they cannot assess for threats.
In many areas of North America, deer are a devastating garden pest, far worse than insects. Deer will destroy all of your crops. Only your potatoes will be safe from them.
Best Home Yard Features for Gardeners Shopping for a New House
In the eyes of gardeners, a house with the best home features for gardeners is more valuable than other houses. Developing beautiful gardens around your home creates a pleasing and nurturing environment that you can take pride in. Also keep in mind that food price inflation makes every calorie you grow at home more rewarding than ever.
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