Few accomplishments are as satisfying as growing a healthy and colorful flower garden. Whether the gardener's taste leans toward the fabulous hues of a formal English garden or the lovely look of a perennial paradise, growing flowers is an artful and scientific undertaking. With a flair for flowers and the technical knowledge of how to grow them well, a fledgling gardener can become a master of the horticultural arts in just a few seasons.
The Proof is in the Prep
Preparing the bedding area before bringing home live plants is essential to their health and growth. Those who buy first and create space later are often disappointed to see that their bedding plants, which glowed with vibrancy at the nursery, have paled while languishing in their plastic pots.
Tip 1: Planning the Flower Bed
When starting with a lawn or bare ground as the backdrop for a new bed, experts recommend determining whether a fully sunlit, shady, or combination location will work the best. Considering the types of flowers intended for the bed is the best way to locate it appropriately.
Some flowers need full sunlight to thrive. Many of these are drought-resistant. Others prefer shade, withering in direct sunlight, and still other varieties like both.
Tip 2: Building a Flower Bed
A flower bed needs some garden border that defines it while holding in the soil and containing plant and weed growth. According to expert gardeners, rock or masonry borders provide an added advantage to seedlings and young bedding plants. They absorb the sun's warmth during the daylight. Then, as the soil cools after sundown, they release that warmth into the soil, keeping tender shoots warm and promoting plant growth.
Tip 3: Testing the Soil
According to a consensus of garden experts, the soil in a flower bed is the most important factor in the success of the flower garden. Therefore, before planting in a new or existing bed, the gardener should buy a soil pH test kit, available online or at selected garden centers. The pH factor of the soil reflects its acidity or alkalinity. A pH of around 7 is neutral and makes essential soil nutrients, such as nitrogen and potassium, readily available.
Tip 4: How to Enrich the Soil
Should testing reveal that the soil is poor for growing flowers, gardeners have several options.
One option is purchasing bags of garden soil enriched with the nutrients the soil lacks. However, it can be expensive. Trucking in a quantity of topsoil is another choice. Adding soil enrichment products, such as compost, to the flower bed soil until it tests positively for sufficient nutrient content is an option many experts highly recommend.
Get the Most from Compost
Master gardeners are virtually unanimous in recommending adequately balanced soil for the best and brightest flowers. Many endorse compost — a mixture of decaying organic matter — as an environmentally friendly and effective soil booster.
Tip 5: Composting Equipment
Organic gardeners advise those just establishing a compost pile to build or purchase a container that both isolates the organic matter from animal intrusion and allows easy access for stirring the pile to enhance the composting process. The simplest composters are containment barrels or boxes with air holes. More complex composters have revolving bins that make mixing as easy as turning a handle.
Tip 6: Materials for Rich and Flawless Compost
While most experts do not prescribe a specific recipe for compost mixes, they agree that combining ingredients yields superior results. Effective compost contains bulk, such as grass or straw, and green matter, such as garden waste, air, and water. Many gardeners consider some waste items inappropriate for composting, although some authorities disagree.
Suitable for composting: garden debris, lawn clippings, fallen leaves, coffee grounds, vegetable peels, leaves and stems, eggshells, livestock waste, and straw.
Unsuitable for composting: weeds, toxic plant waste, insect-infested organic matter, meat scraps, kitchen grease or cooking oil, fats, processed foods, and dairy products.
The composting process can take as little as ten days or extend over several weeks. Stirring the mixture aerates it and promotes desirable decay. Keeping the compost moist also speeds the breakdown of components into a fine, fully processed soil additive.
Tip 7: How to Use Compost
To use compost as soil enrichment, gardeners need only add it to the existing soil in their flower beds and mix it well. Then, they can repeat the soil testing process to verify pH levels if desired.
Experienced gardeners use compost as a mulch in their garden beds to preserve precious moisture for thirsty flowers. Adding a couple of inches of this rich organic matter on top of the bed will help the soil hold water. Then, as the mixture breaks down further, it will enrich the soil beneath.
Brewing up a batch of compost tea is another way that successful flower growers improve their crops. Compost tea starters are available for busy gardeners who got a late start on their compost. Experts make their brew by soaking compost in a bucket of water for several days. Pouring it into the flower garden adds natural nutrients free of the chemicals that commercial fertilizers contain.
Planting for Success
Planting is a critical time for the flower garden. Only seeds and seedlings that get a good start will thrive. Experts advise that planting success depends on the season, the weather, and the right tools to ensure that the particular seeds or plants will not sustain damage.
Tip 8: Prime Time for Planting
Many flower gardens incorporate two types of plants: annuals and perennials. Annuals bloom throughout the growing season but cannot survive once temperatures drop below freezing. Perennials are heartier and longer-lasting, blooming for several years with proper care. Both are available as seeds or young plants.
Early spring, once the danger of frosty nights has passed, is the best time to set out both annuals and perennials. Many gardeners plant some perennials in autumn as well. Experienced horticulturists advise planting early morning or evening to avoid the full sunlight that stresses new plants.
Gardeners should plant flower seeds as soon as the soil is workable in the spring and nighttime temperatures remain above freezing. While it is easy to add annuals or perennial plants throughout the spring, seeds need adequate time to grow and bloom.
Tip 9: Tools for a Flourishing Flower Garden
The right-hand tools for successful planting are a critical but often overlooked aspect of gardening. New bedding plants require delicate handling, and a set of gardening tools affords gardeners greater dexterity. Planting tools include a trowel for digging small planting holes, a claw for aerating the soil and mixing seeds with soil, and a spike for digging out roots and rocks that hinder planting.
A larger gardening spade is great to have on hand for planting or transplanting larger perennial plants.
Weeding Out the Worries
Of all the possible problems that flower gardeners face, weeds, the unwanted invaders top the list. Experts have developed some savvy strategies for preventing weed infiltration and defeating those who manage to pitch camp among their carefully nurtured blooms.
Tip 10: Making Weeds Unwelcome
Strategy one in discouraging weeds from the start is lining the flower bed with weed-proof landscape fabric. The fabric comes in rolls that are easy to spread out at the base of the bed before adding soil and compost. Made of water-permeable material, landscape fabric allows the bed to drain naturally but blocks the ingress of weeds that try to invade from beneath the bed.
Tip 11: Evicting Invading Weeds
Getting rid of weeds that compete with flowers for root space, water, and sunlight is essential for a thriving flower garden. Experts recommend a combination of strategies that together effectively evict invading weeds.
Vigilant removal of weeds before they become established in the flower bed is the first avenue of attack. Checking beds daily for weed sprouts and plucking them out keeps the invaders at bay.
Applying a commercial weed control product formulated to kill broadleaf and grassy weed species selectively is often the only way to eliminate those weeds that gain a foothold.
For gardeners who are hesitant to use chemically formulated products that may be toxic to pets, natural weed control products are available. However, experts caution that gardeners spray any weed control product at times when the wind is calm to prevent spray being carried to desirable plants too.
Nurturing Naturally Vibrant Blooms
Several factors conspire to produce the most breathtaking blossoms, and gardeners can augment these with experienced care. Once seedlings are well-established and sprouting true leaves, employing a few tips from the experts will help them become better bloomers.
Tip 12: Feeding Fabulous Flowers
Nurturing better blossoms with the right plant food is a universal recommendation from flower experts. Both commercial fertilizers and homebrews can be just what a particular plant needs to burst into record-breaking bud production.
Commercial flower fertilizers provide a mixture of the three primary nutrients that healthy plants need: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. To optimize the number and quality of the flowers, fertilizers for blooming plants provide a higher percentage of potassium.
Organic flower fertilizers provide similar nutrients from organic animals and herbal matter. Experts in organic flower gardening recommend fertilizing with non-chemical products. No matter the type of fertilizer, gardeners should closely follow the manufacturer's instructions. Too much feeding can kill delicate flowers.
Tip 13: Pruning for Perfectly Lovely Blooms
Pruning off spent blossoms, also called "deadheads," helps encourage new buds to grow. By also regularly snipping brown leaves and wayward sprouts, a flower gardener can keep blossoming plants healthy and in shape during the growing season. According to expert gardeners, a small clip here and there will not jeopardize the plant's flower production. They recommend a sharp pair of pruning shears to do the job effectively.
Tip 14: Curating Cut Flowers
According to the National Gardening Association, the best time to cut flowers in the garden is early morning while the dew is still wet on the petals. Gardeners should place stems in a pail of tepid water as they go. To promote the growth of new blossoms on the plants, the best place to snip is slightly above a dormant bud. Sharp pruning shears are the best tool for cutting flowers.
Upon bringing cut flowers indoors, gardeners should recut stems diagonally beneath running water to eliminate any blockages that could inhibit water intake later. Then, they should set the stems in fresh lukewarm water in a dark location for several hours to allow them to drink and acclimate to the indoor environment.
The vase for displaying cut flowers should be filled with water at room temperature. To keep flowers fresher longer, experts advise changing the water daily and using a floral preservative if desired.
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