Gardening can be intimidating, especially if we did not grow up with it. We watch our neighbors bring plants home, and spend Saturday planting a tree, digging out shrubs, adding new shrubs, and finish up planting trays of flowers. We watch with amazement wondering where they learned to do all this.
Today let’s focus on what is catching everyone’s eye and that is annual flower beds. These groups of flowers are often planted around mailboxes, along people’s sidewalks, and bordering the front of shrub beds. These plants we are seeing are called annuals; meaning they only live one spring through fall season, then they promptly die with the first frost. Seems a bit unreasonable to go through the effort to only have them die. However, these special plants bloom their entire lives, making them hard to beat for color.
Let’s go through the steps of creating and planting our own annual bed or beds.
- Choose a location. A quick drive through your neighborhood will give you some inspiration. Choose a spot that is highly visible. Some popular locations are around the mailbox, along the sidewalk near the front door, above a retaining wall, and the front border of a pine island.
- Determine the size and shape. Size should be relative to the bed and yard, and distance from which it will be seen. Keep things in scale. Again the drive through the neighborhood will tell you a lot. Pay attention to what jumps out and is appealing. Make note of what doesn’t work. Snap photos for reference. Keep in mind as you are laying out your bed that it should be about 30 inches in width (front to back) to allow you to plant several rows of plants.
- Preparing the soil. Most of us do not have tiller, so you will be turning the soil with a shovel. First remove any sod that exists. Then dig down about 8-10 inches, lift and turn the soil over then using your shovel break the clumps of soil up into much smaller clumps. Next add nutrient rich compost or soil amendment. We recommend Mr. Natural’s Complete Landscape Mix. Made up of hen manure, worm castings, compost and top soil, the Complete Landscape Mix is rich in nutrients, and will help feed your plants all season long. Add approximately two cubic feet of amendment for every six square feet of bed (2’x3’ area). Once your compost is spread across the beds, using your shovel thoroughly combine the new and native soil. Discard any rocks, and rake the bed smooth. By adding the additional soil you should now have a slight mound or berm.
- Choosing your plants-Step one. First determine if your new bed is going to be sunny (5-6 or more hours of sunlight each day) or shady (less than 5 hours each day). Using your phone snap a photo or two of the area of your bed and the surrounding plants. Make some notes of the approximate size of the new flower bed(s). Now to go shopping, and don’t forget your phone for reference.
- Choosing your plants-Step two. At your local garden center ask to see the annuals for sun or shade depending on your beds. Spend some time to see what varieties jump out at you. Read the plant tags to see what height each variety grows to. If you are going to be combining a few varieties of flowers you will want taller ones either in the back of the bed or center of the bed if it is a long narrow bed. Look for color and leaf textures that look good together. Choosing plants can be intimidating, so do not be afraid to ask for assistance. The plant tags will also tell you spacing of the plants, to help determine how many you need. Before you leave pick up a small package of Osmacote slow release fertilizer.
- Time to plant. Before you begin planting sprinkle a few handfuls of osmacote fertilizer on top of your flower bed. Plant following the recommended spacing. When separating the flowers from their pots, try to gently push the plant up from the bottom rather than pulling on the plant itself. Once out of the container, carefully loosen the roots with your fingers so the roots are not wrapped around themselves. Using a trough or your gloved fingers dig out a small hole and place the plant. Gently push the soil around the plant making sure the top of the root ball is even with the surrounding soil. Using your hand press the surrounding soil firmly to help it from settling later. When finished planting, cover the soil between the plants with a light layer of mulch.
- Watering your plants in. You will want to immediately water your plants. Use gentle stream to avoid damaging the tender plants. Take your time to saturate the entire bed.
- Caring for your flowers throughout the season. There is no set rule for how frequently you need to water. Beds in the sun may need to be watered daily or every other day. Shade beds may be less frequent. When in doubt, bury your finger several inches into the soil to check moisture. An inexpensive moisture meter helps too. While your soil is providing nutrients, you may want to supplement with a water soluble fertilizer every 10-14 days.