Surround your outdoor living space with color and fragrance this year by planting a new flower garden. Whether your space is a window box, a porch container, or a flower bed alongside your house, take time to plan your planting this spring for three seasons of blooms and foliage.
Before you go the the Garden Center and buy a cart full of plants, take some time to review these planting basics. Plan the flower bed, prep the soil and research the plants that will grow best in your climate. Getting it right the first time means less work and expense in the long run.
These three basics are essential for new gardeners and a timely refresher for experienced green thumbs.
1. Location is everything
Your flower garden can be as small as a window box or a container on a patio. It could be a raised garden bed or a brand new flower bed. Whatever the size, know the sunlight in your chosen location. Spend time outside and note the light and shade in the chosen spot throughout the day.
Remember that more sun equals more blooms. A south-facing flower bed that gets six hours of sunlight is ideal for drought-resistant perennials like coreopsis and coneflower. Filtered light works, too, you can just choose from a different group of plants like shade-loving hosta and heuchera.
Flower borders can be narrow or wide, from two feet up to eight feet. A wider flower border offers more opportunity to layer plants in clumps for a cottage garden look. Just be sure to build in room to maneuver when you need to prune, deadhead, or divide perennials.
Once you determine the location, amend and improve the soil before the plants go in the ground. If this is a window box or container, buy a well-draining, moisture-retentive potting mix for the best start. Raised garden beds need a special mix of organic material and nutrients. Buy a raised garden soil or mix your own from ingredients at the Garden Center.
In a flower border, remove weeds and amend the soil. If this is a new bed, put down a layer of landscape fabric to block weeds and top with six inches or more of garden soil or top soil. In an existing bed, amend the soil with composted manure before planting.
The ideal location will need adequate drainage. A swampy site is good for water-loving plants, but most perennials like dry feet. Consider, too, how you will water the garden. Is a garden hose nearby, or will you need a watering can to water by hand? An irrigation system may make things easier, and this may affect your choice of plants.
2. Choose your plants
Prioritize and plan your garden according to height, color and spacing. Place taller plants and shrubs in the back, smaller plants near the front.
Consider ornamental grasses like Muhly grass and Fireworks Pennisetum to add height and structure. Use small shrubs like distylium, nandina, loropetalum, and ligustrum to anchor a flower bed and contribute evergreen interest in winter.
For help planning plant lists for your region, check out these stories:
- Perennials for Northern gardens
- Perennials for Southern gardens (including the South Texas Valley area)
- Perennials for Western gardens (including Western desert regions)
- Perennials for South Florida gardens
If you’re planting a container or window box, this is the thriller, spiller, filler formula. Set the taller element near the back and fill in with colorful elements and a final fillip draping over the edge.
3. Keep it simple
Plant low-maintenance, low-water perennials and annuals that will look good all season long. This is a garden, and even more than that, it’s your garden. It’s ever-evolving and will reward for years to come. Adding and subtracting plants is part of the process.
One way to keep it simple is to begin with a few colors and add as you go along. When you select flowers, stay within a limited color palette. Three colors is a good place to start. For example, shades of yellow, orange and red can create a monochromatic look, as can a serene selection of pinks and pale purples.
In the fall, you can add bulbs either in the ground or containers, for spring blooms. As you learn more, you may want to expand by adding edibles like kale and herbs to your flower bed. You can try growing from flowers from seed; zinnias are easy and provide a fiesta of color in the summer heat.
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