Planning and prepping are the essential components in order to create a successful flower bed. Master gardeners begin with important factors such as habitat, plant selection, design and soil condition before they even break ground.
Novice gardeners often tend to dream about an effortless flower garden rather than testing the soil, removing grass and choosing which plants will thrive. Here's how to learn about all of the important elements that work together to create a stunning flower garden that will delight from the last frost into fall.
The location you choose should get the right amount of sunlight for your favorite flowers, an ample water source and easy access for daily tending and harvesting for cuttings. Most bloomers need at least six hours of sun so pick your spot and observe the sun’s path throughout the day. If your proposed bed doesn’t get quite enough sun, check with the local garden center to select flowers that require partial shade.
Use your mind's eye to visualize your new flower bed. Decide on the size and shape and if you prefer symmetrical plant placement or a casual, random appearance. If you are a beginning gardener start with a bed no more than 5 feet wide and 10 feet long. This will give you plenty of color and variety but requires less work and maintenance.
Grab some graph paper and draw your flower bed to scale. This way you can see how the shape and size works and where your flowers should be positioned within the bed. Keep taller plants toward the rear if the bed is located against a wall or house.
If your flowerbed is freestanding, place taller flowers in the center and step plants down as you move toward the outer edge. Note the locations of various annuals and perennials to ensure your garden is in bloom throughout each season.
If you have existing flower beds begin by digging up and removing any dead plant material. Add it to your compost bin or simply chop it up and incorporate it back into the soil. Carefully till and lift the soil around existing perennials. Trim the stems back and add a thin layer of organic compost around them for good measure.
Outline your flowerbeds with specially formulated landscape spray paint directly on the ground. Remove any sod, plants and weeds from the area. Install a weed barrier made from landscape fabric to keep the weeds from popping up. Finish by edging the bed to keep soil and mulch in place. You can choose from flexible plastic, wire, metal, stone or brick edging material depending on your landscape style.
Digging, aerating, tilling or turning the soil will establish roots faster and make your flowers thrive. As you turn the soil, remove any roots, sticks and rocks from the area. In small beds you can easily get by with a hand spade to aerate the soil. If the soil is loose and nutrient-rich just till the top 3 to 4 inches.
In larger beds with compacted and depleted soil go down 8 to 12 inches with a garden fork and turn the soil then follow the instructions for amending. For best results, aerate the soil only once a year in the spring before planting.
Like humans, plants perform best with proper nutrition and healthy pH levels—that’s why you need to amend or feed the soil. Most organic matter whether it’s compost, manure, dry grass clippings or even decayed leaves provide many of the nutrients needed for hardy plants. Add 2 to 3 inches of organic matter on top of your flower bed and work it into the turned soil.
Your soil may also be hungry for minerals like potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus, which support growth, photosynthesis and increase blooms. If you’re unsure of the nutrient levels in your soil purchase a soil testing kit or contact your county extension office for assistance. They'll be able to tell you what is lacking and which type of fertilizer to use.
© 2019 Linda Chechar
Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on June 13, 2019:
Liz, it certainly takes time and effort to take care of flower beds. I did spend a lot time year round maintaining my flower garden in coastal California. Living in the high desert, I can't plant beds but I do have potted plants and flowers that require lots of watering because it's so arid. Soon the monsoon will arrive and the flowers will be happy!
Liz Westwood from UK on June 13, 2019:
I am the person who looks on with envy as I walk past well tended and well coordinated flower beds. Having read your article with all its helpful advice, I now have no excuse, other than time constraints, for not improving my garden.