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Think Soil

  • The Golden Rule of Gardening - A soil test is essential for determining the pH (level of soil acidity or alkalinity) and major nutrient levels to be sure the amount of fertilizer and limestone is just what the plants need.
  • Remove and compost any grass covering the area. Dig out stumps, large roots, stones and other obstructions.
  • As part of the soils preparation well in advance of planting/sowing It may be necessary to control noxious perennial weeds by hand or hoe or with an herbicide such as Quik-Pro that contains 73% active ingredient.
  • Most plants need soil that is loose enough for roots to grow easily. Adding coarse sand and well-rotted organic matter to clay (heavy) soil will help loosen it.
  • Organic matter should be added to sandy (light) soil. Spread 1 to 3 inches of compost or peat moss, or 1 inch of well-rotted manure over the surface of the garden and spade or rototill in before planting.
  • Standard bed establishment practice also includes the addition of well-rotted organic matter or adding an organic fertilizer like Earthworks 3-4-3 or a 10-10-10 Natural Base 
  • Spade or rototill needed amounts of lime, organic matter, fertilizer(s), and sand into the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches for general annual and perennial beds. 
  • When large, deeply planted bulbs such as daffodils, tulips or lilies are planted, cultivate to a depth of 12 inches. This allows room below the bulbs for root development. Rake smooth after incorporating these amendments.
  • Lime, organic matter and sand may be incorporated into the soil in the fall for a head start on spring gardening and to allow winter freezes and thaws to settle materials.
  • Mulching: Organic mulches such as grass clippings or wood chips, or inorganic mulches such as black polyethylene weed barrier with slits cut for plants, help maintain even soil moisture and temperature and deter weeds.
  • Mulch depth should not exceed two inches.

Feeding

  • Generally, flowering plants need a complete nutrient supplement containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to grow well. The source can be an organic or a synthetic fertilizer.
  • Some flowers like peony and chrysanthemum require soil of high fertility to thrive.
  • A pH range of 6.0 to 6.5 is desirable for most flowering plants.
  • Annuals grow rapidly and may need additional nutrients in order to complete their life cycle in one growing season. Side dress at mid-season (August) or as required by individual plants.
  • Plants may be sprayed instead with liquid seaweed,  fish emulsion or manure or compost tea or earthworm casting tea several times during the growing season.
  • For bulbs, adding a thin layer of humus or compost and fertilizing with a special bulb fertilizer in late fall or before growth starts in March will help ensure vigorous productive growth each year.
  • An excellent phosphorus source for any flowers, but especially for bulbs, is bone meal. Apply at the rate of up to 5 lb. / 100 sq. ft. when used as the only fertilizer and soil test shows the soil is phosphorus deficient.
  • For bulbs planted individually the rate of bone meal is 1 teaspoon per hole for minor (small) bulbs, and 1 tablespoon per hole for major (large) bulbs. Mix bone meal into the soil thoroughly, so there is no direct contact with the bulb.

Watering

  • Moisture Requirements
    • Most prefer well-drained soil. There are plants that must have well drained soil, especially in winter, such as dianthus, sea thrift and sea lavender.
    • Others tolerate or require wet or boggy conditions, such as yellow flag iris, cardinal flower lobelia, and impatiens.
    • For most flowers 1" on clay soils to 1 1/2" on sandy soils is enough water for garden beds each week. Use a rain gauge to determine how much rain has fallen, and reduce irrigation by that much.
    • Ideally, water should be applied in the early morning.
  • Water thoroughly so the soil is moistened to at least 8 inches deep. Frequent, shallow sprinkling encourages shallow root systems and disease development.
  • Incorporating water-retentive polymer crystals in garden soil or container potting mixes helps retain water and reduces watering frequency.
  • Container grown plants may need to be watered daily, but this is determined by the size of the container (soil volume), the type of plant grown, and the direction the plants face. Plants facing south or west tend to dry much faster than plants facing north or east.

Types of Plants

  • Annuals
    • Annuals complete their life cycles (grow, flower, set seed, and die) within one year or growing season. They include tender perennials and plants that flower the same year they are grown from seed.
      • There are some that are cool weather tolerant and those that must have hot weather to thrive. 
      • Annuals generally bloom for the entire growing season. 
      • Most bulbs bloom for about 2 weeks or so depending on temperature. 
  • Biennials 
    • In the first year biennials grow from seed - grow, flower, set seed and die the second growing season.
  • Herbaceous Perennials 
    • Herbaceous perennials are plants that do not form woody stems. They die down to the ground in winter and renew their growth in the spring. Some live almost indefinitely, while others tend to die out after a few years.
    • Spring and summer blooming bulbs are also perennial. Plants classed as bulbs may grow from true bulbs, corms, tubers, tuberous roots, or rhizomes 
    • Perennial bloom ranges from January to December, with the majority in spring, summer and fall. Length of bloom varies.

Pest Control

  • Pests
    • Take many forms: weeds; insects; fungal, viral, and bacterial diseases; mites; slugs, and animals.
    • Take care to keep weeds out of the flowerbed to avoid competition for available nutrients and water, especially while plants are small.
    • Fortunately, many herbaceous plants are relatively undamaged by insects and disease.
    • When there appears to be a problem with a plant, have it diagnosed so that proper control measures can be taken.
    • Many herbaceous plants are resistant to insects, disease, slugs, and mites.
    • Some are food sources for deer, woodchucks, rabbits, voles and other animals. Protecting flowering plants from deer, rabbits and voles can be very challenging. Installing deer netting/fencing may be necessary or the use of systemic repellents such as Repellex Systemic Mole and Vole Granules or Repellex Deer and Rabbit Systemic Tablets may be a solution to damage from these pests.

Planting

  • Seeds
    • Follow seed packet instructions for distance apart, correct depth of planting and proper timing.
    • Timing is important as some seeds are not frost or cold tolerant and must be sown when the soil is warm.
    • Seeds sown in fall or very early spring may need freezes to break seed dormancy.
    • Cover the seeds with fine soil and water thoroughly.
    • Biennials and many perennials will not bloom the first year from seed.
  • Bulb Planting
    • Plant as soon as bulbs are purchased or received from the supplier to prevent drying out.
    • The ideal time for spring blooming bulbs is September and October, but bulbs can be planted until the ground freezes.
    • Spring-blooming bulbs are planted in fall so they will have time to form a strong root system before the ground freezes. Summer blooming bulbs are generally planted on or after the frost-free date in spring.
    • Depth of planting is usually 2 1/2 to 3 times the diameter of the bulb measured to the bulb's shoulder: a little deeper in sandy soil, shallower in heavy soils.
  • Transplants
    • Select healthy seedlings and reject any that appear stressed because of nutrient deficiency or infestation.
    • If plants are raided from seed be sure they are hardened off for a week before transplanting. Tender plants sunburn or die if planted outside directly from protected greenhouse or window growing conditions.
    • Stopping fertilizer applications, reducing watering, lowering temperature, and increasing ventilation help harden them off.
    • Expose the plants to protected (shaded) outdoor conditions for a week or so before the transplant date. Most transplants obtained from nurseries and garden centers have already been hardened off.

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Maintenance

  • Pinching and Shearing
    • Some annuals, such as sweet alyssum and lobelia, benefit from pinching their tips to encourage branching or to maintain form.
    • Some chrysanthemums will form a more compact and bushy plant before buds set if the tips are pinched several times during the growing season.
  • Deadheading
    • Removal of spent flowers to keep plants productive, to prevent roots or bulbs from putting their energy into seed production, and to maintain an attractive appearance is called "deadheading".
    • Marigolds, zinnias, calendula, daffodils, tulips, and others benefit from this form of pruning.
    • Do not deadhead if seed dispersal is desired for self-sowing or if seed is going to be harvested.
    • The spent flowers of flowering bulbs are removed after bloom.
    • Staking/Caging/Supporting
      • Tall plants and plants with tall flower stalks benefit from added support to prevent being knocked over by heavy rain or wind.
      • Bamboo stakes, tomato cages, tall brush, and special wire hoops or rings are used as supports and should be positioned just as new growth starts in the spring to avoid damaging plants later.
    • Winter protection
      • Most perennials and bulbs are winter hardy and do not require protection from the cold.
      • Mulch may be applied after the ground is frozen to a depth of 2" to protect from heaving caused by alternate freezing and thawing and to prevent premature emergence during warm spells in winter.

Benefits

  • Many hours of free entertainment as the flower garden attracts birds, bees and butterflies.
  • Contributes to ones physical and mental health. Flower gardening forces one to get up off the coach, turn off the games shows and venture outside.
  • Considering seed packets and soil are relatively inexpensive flower gardening is a cheap hobby.
  • Protecting Mother Earth as planting flowers helps decrease air pollution and soil erosion.
  • flower_garden_330662870Enrich the life of a friend, a neighbor or your significant other for pennies. No need to pay 20 bucks for a simple bouquet when you can grow 100 of them for nearly the same price.
  • Gardening is one of the few hobbies that doesn't demand leaving the house or lots of money to have an enjoyable time with the family.
  • Planting flowers adds color to the outdoor creation.
  • Adding flowering color among shrubbery increases the appeal of outdoor spaces.
  • Plants flowers improves one's mood and provides an overall feeling of well-being.