You've got a new home and this lovely new yard that is screaming for landscaping. You have visions of neatly trimmed hedges and shabby-chic wildflower patches in flowerbeds and want to start planning right away — not so fast.
There is a very good chance that the soil in your yard, if it is not already landscaped and full of healthy plants, has some problems. It's also very common for people to have to add to or even replace the topsoil in yards in order to create a healthy growing environment. When you look at that yard, first get the existing soil tested to learn the current state of its nutrition and pH, and then go look for soil supplies, or have a landscaping company take over the amending and planting of the soil. Unknown yard soil has too many potential issues to use straight away.
Unknown Weed Factors
The previous owners may have ignored the yard or simply removed their landscaping. In either case, you have no idea what's left under the soil. It might be full of weed seeds or seeds dropped by the older landscaping as it was removed, and both of those can ruin the garden you had planned in your mind. To remove the threat of weeds or unwanted plants sprouting up later, you'll either need to do some serious mulching and composting or have the topsoil removed and replaced. Both a landscaping supply company and landscapers can help you with these tasks.
Nutrition and pH May Be Off
The soil that's in your yard right now may not have much nutrition in it, which would render any plants you attempted to grow as weak and unable to thrive. Or, the soil could have a pH that is wildly off from what you need for the plants you want. Amending the soil is possible, but you need to start now because it can take a while to transform the soil. You'll need testing kits and amending materials, which you can usually find along with other soil supplies.
Who Knows What Was in There Before
Overall, you just don't know what was in the soil before. And that doesn't refer to plants. Soil is subject to pollution from runoff, for example, and if the land your home is on used to be agricultural or industrial land, the soil could be contaminated with pesticides or heavy metals. Testing can reveal some of these, but it always helps to remove what you can. You can also look at having a container garden in the meantime as the rest of the yard is transformed into land that is usable to you.
You may want to call in landscapers to help you test and fix the soil situation, even if you want to manage the planting and care yourself. Check out garden centres and speak with the staff there and at landscaping companies to get a better idea of what you'll need to do.