Some people seem to be born with a green thumb. Everything they touch becomes — and stays– beautiful. I am not one of those people. I love flowers and have visions of a beautiful yard that is the envy of all my neighborhood. I often walk into Home Depot or Lowes and walk out with a cart full of pansies and dahlias, maybe even a fern or two. Fast forward a few weeks, and most of the flowers are wilting. Or worse, they’re still sitting in their original packaging, just waiting for me.
Gardening and planting flowers does not come naturally to me. So what can I do to create a beautiful bed that thrives despite my natural inability to keep plants alive?? Here are the 7 steps I am implementing this spring.
STEP 1: Consider your Location and Mark your Area
Before you start any planting, you need to ask four questions about your location:
- Is there adequate room?
- Is there adequate drainage?
- Is there adequate sunlight?
- Is there adequate water?
Flower beds come in all shapes and sizes. With some guidance, you can basically create any type of bed you want, from a typical rectangular bed to a more stylistic centerpiece. The most important consideration is spacing: how much area do you have? Do you have enough space to create the style of bed you want?
When deciding location, you also want to consider how the water will drain. You don’t want to put your flowerbed where water tends to pool. Besides creating a swampy, muddy mess, pooled water leads to mold, fungus, and disease. Not ideal for the beautiful flowerbed you want!
Lastly, you want to consider whether your location will receive adequate sunlight and water. The amount of sunlight will dictate what types of plants will thrive and what plants will struggle.
STEP 2: Choose your Plants
When choosing your plants, consider sun, shade, and spacing. Be mindful about what types of plants grow best in your climate. Once you know what will grow best in your space, visualize the plan. Think about the future and how you want your flowerbed to look once the plants mature. Choose a variety of plants and flowers, focusing on different heights and colors. One tip: Stick with one color scheme that includes different hues of three to four colors. This will help your flowerbed look colorful but not chaotic.
STEP 3: Remove the Weeds and Till the Existing Soil
Once you have marked your area, it’s time to prep the soil. Start by pulling any weeds or grass that you can see. Next, work over the soil, digging down 12-18 inches. For best results, the soil should be slightly moist but not soaking wet.
STEP 4: Add a Weed Barrier
Here, you have several options, including landscape fabric, cardboard, and newspaper. Landscape fabric serves as a simple, easy way to prevent weed growth. You can get this fabric at any home improvement or gardening store. Use stakes to hold the fabric in place, and then top it with 6-8 inches of good topsoil.
Because landscape fabric can also prevent important nutrients from reaching your plants, many gardeners prefer to use cardboard or newspaper as a weed barrier. Both are biodegradable, providing important nutrients into the soil as they decompose.
Once you have installed your weed barrier, top with a layer of compost or nutrient-rich soil.
STEP 5: Arrange the Space
Before you start digging, imagine where you want your plants and flowers to go while they are still in their disposable containers. This way, you can move them around without damaging their roots. Place taller plants in the back and shorter plants up front. Be mindful of how the original spacing will change as the plants grow. For this reason, be sure to follow the spacing directions on the plant’s tag. Finally, remember to leave room for pruning and weeding.
STEP 6: Dig and Plant
Once you have decided where to put each plant, cut an X shape in the fabric barrier. Dig just enough space for the plant. As you remove the flowers from their containers, be cautious not to damage the roots. If the roots are tangled together, comb through them carefully with your fingers. Notice the soil level of the flowers in their original containers. Keep the same level of soil when you place them in the ground, filling in with topsoil as needed.
STEP 7: Water
For the first week, water plants daily in order to help the roots get established. Make sure the soil is moist but not soggy. Use a soaker hose to help the water reach the plants’ roots. Be mindful that you are not over-watering, which will lead to disease and mold. Flowering plants only need 1” of water a week, including rainfall. For more watering tips, see Flower Watering Tips