Spring is finally here, and it’s time to get started on some of that outdoor living you’ve been dreaming about over the long, cold winter. It’s also time to dress your garden up in her summer finery, which means just one thing: flowers!
To make sure that your garden is lush with beautiful blooms during the summer months, now is the time to prepare your garden for planting. Good soil preparation today makes for a healthy, bountiful garden later, so it’s definitely worth the effort. If you’ve never planted a flower garden before, don’t worry. We’ve got all the information you need about choosing a location and preparing the beds for best results, and we’ve even put together a shopping list so you can gather everything you need to enjoy both the process and the final product.
Choosing the Right Location for Your Flower Garden
If you don’t already have a flower garden outside, it’s important to choose a spot where your blooms will thrive. Most flowers require full sun exposure to pump out the most blossoms, though some can handle part sun. Full sun means that at least six (and preferably eight) hours of direct sunlight falls on your garden patch each day; part sun means four to six hours of sunlight. Measure the amount of time different spots in your yard are in the sun over the course of the day (check it hourly starting first thing in the morning, and make note of when it’s in sun and when it’s in shade). If you have trees nearby that haven’t leafed out yet, take this into consideration — they’ll create shade eventually.
Once you know where your prime sunny spots are, there are a few other considerations before you start digging. First, most flowers require well-drained soil to keep roots healthy, so avoid any low spots where you often get big puddles after a rain storm. Also, make sure your flower garden is close enough to a water source that you’ll be able to irrigate it easily during dry spells. Finally — and this is the most important — choose a spot where your flowers will be enjoyed! Flower beds lining the paths leading to your front door are a popular choice, as are gardens near a deck or patio where you spend most of your time.
Essential Tools of the Trade
For starting and maintaining a flower bed, you’ll need the following tools:
- A standard garden spade
- A standard, rigid garden rake (not a flexible leaf rake)
- Garden gloves
- A hand spade
- A hand cultivator
- A small bucket or basket (for holding cut flowers and/or weed refuse later)
- A tape measure (for correctly spacing plants)
Garden tools don’t have to be expensive, but test them out to make sure they aren’t too heavy to enjoy using and that they have comfortable grips before committing to a purchase.
Preparing the Garden Beds
Once you know where you’ll be digging, use your standard spade to cut deep into the soil around the edges of your bed. If you’re creating a new bed where you currently have grass growing, you’ll need to use your spade to cut out patches of sod and remove them, roots and all. This can be hard work, so if you have a large area to cover, it’s worth it to rent a rototiller instead.
Once you’ve uncovered bare earth, use that spade to turn it by digging up one shovelful of soil at a time and dumping it back into place, then repeat across the entire bed. This will loosen the soil and allow your flowers’ roots to spread easily. It also lets you see what kind of soil you have. The best garden soil is sandy loam, which is loose and dark (and probably has some friendly earthworms in it as well). If your soil is brightly colored, slimy clay or loose sand, you’ll need to add some loam to make it suitable for planting. You can order loam from a local landscape company and add it to your soil by spreading it over your garden and once again using the spade to “turn it in” with the digging-and-dumping technique we just described. If your existing soil doesn’t look terrible, you can get away with just adding some compost instead, turning it into the soil in the same manner.
Finally, sprinkle a balanced fertilizer (one where the three numbers listed on the front of the bag are equal or nearly equal) over the entire area according to the manufacturer’s instructions for coverage. Use your rake to smooth out your soil, and don’t worry if your flower bed is a little higher than it was before: You’ve just added a lot of air and some extra loam or compost, so this is normal. Unless you’re working on a steep slope, it should settle in place after a few rainy days. You can add a border of bricks or other landscape edging if you like, but it’s not necessary unless erosion becomes an issue.
Preparing the Planters
If you don’t have access to an entire yard, you can still spruce up your space with beautiful planters. To get started you’ll need a flower pot with drainage holes on the bottom so that your plants don’t drown. Next, you’ll need potting mix that’s rich in nutrients. And finally…the flowers! The best flowers for planters include African daisies, begonias, marigolds, petunias, zinnias and more.
Annual Vs. Perennial Flowers: How to Choose
Now that your soil is ready to go, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to think about what you want your flower garden to look like before you rush out to the nursery to buy plants and seeds. You should also know some important information about what to expect from flowers you do eventually choose.
In general, flowers come in two major types: annuals and perennials. An annual flower is one that completes its life cycle in just one season, sprouting from seed, blooming and dying all in the same year. Some common examples of annuals are pansies, marigolds and snapdragons. The beauty of annuals is that you can change color and style each year and enjoy experimenting with new flowers without a long-term commitment.
Perennial flowers, on the other hand, live for many years. Most die back to the ground over the winter; however, their roots are still alive but dormant under the soil. When the temperatures warm the following spring, these hardy plants put up new green shoots and come back better than ever, making them a great investment for a more permanent flower garden.
Most flower gardeners mix perennials and annuals together to get the best of both worlds. If you plant both, draw a diagram of your flower beds to mark where your perennials are so you don’t accidently dig them up. It’s a good idea to save room for annuals near the front of your flower garden, where they’ll be easy to replace each year. Annuals tend to bloom all summer long, ensuring that you always have color — even when your perennials might be past their first flush of flowers.
Still not sure which flowers to choose for your new flower garden? Check out our next post, where we’ll talk about selecting the perfect flowers to stand up to the heat of summer — and to keep your home full of gorgeous summer bouquets.