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This season, we’re all about flowers! Ready to join us? Think of this guide as a starting place for beginner flower gardeners. We’ll cover WHERE to get plants or flower seeds, WHAT supplies you will need, HOW to plant flowers to maximize their lifespan so they bloom with radiant color!
Seedlings: But I also order in some of the really hard-to-grow plants that we call plugs, basically seedlingsthat have had a good jumpstart on their root growth but aren’t quite all grown up yet. They are like adolescents in the plant world. You can also buy seedlings.
Plants in Pots: And still yet, when I drive by a nursery or just want to spend time looking at different varieties of flowers and shrubs, I inevitably end up taking home a few plants that look lonely. I’m a sucker, and I won’t deny it!
Start Your Own Seeds Inside: If you are planting your beds in the springtime, then you will have a lot of options. You can plan ahead and start your seeds inside your home under grow lights so that, depending on the hardiness of your plant choice, you can get those seedlings tucked right in as soon as we pass the safe planting date in your zone. In this way, you give them a great head start and get a jump on the growing season. This is especially helpful if you live in a cooler growing zone that has a short season of sufficient light and temperatures.
Start Your Own Seeds Outside: Directly sowing your seeds right into the soil is a perfectly fine option though it can be a little bit trickier and I find it less dependable. If you choose to directly sow into your flower beds be sure to plant according to the package instructions, water often, protect from birds looking for an easy food source and keep vigilance and patience close at hand. Many flower seeds are small and have tough seed coverings and it can take some time for them to sprout When seedlings are young, they require daily attention.
Buy Local: At local plant nurseries, they have started the seeds for you. By early spring, the plants have surpassed the plug or seedling stage and entered early adulthood. They are a bit stronger now. Whenever I go to a nursery I ask for their native plant section. For starters, I like to see what options there are that I haven’t come across before and also I think it’s important to let the nurseries know that I am interested in buying native plants, not just the imported ones. Our native plant species are the ones best suited to our climates as they have co-evolved within our ecosystem. They also are the basis for the local food web and what our pollinators and birds rely on as a food source and for some, a habitat. Whether you go in looking to browse or for something specific, if you are anything like me, you will not leave empty-handed!
Plant Trades: Swaps with friends, plant groups or neighbors can be a great way to share the florabundance. You can also divide from other plants in your flower beds or source from other parts of your property where the plants have spread beyond their boundaries. Where I live there are many church and civic groups that offer plant sales early in the springtime and again sometimes in the fall. Usually some of the community members who have years of gardening and a plethora of plants in the garden, divide up and sell their cuttings to raise funds for their particular groups. There are also a number of gardening clubs in the area where trades are par for the course among plant lovers. One of the most fascinating aspects of plant growing for me is the abundance of wealth one can garner from one humble bloom upon one beautiful flower. Plants might just be the best ROI (return on investment) if you are one to dig into the numbers.
Gathering the Goods: Supplies You Need
Over the years, I’ve gotten a bit better at my almost predictable need as soon as I start a project to have to run back to the barn or to the house for a specific tool, plant or bathroom break. Four decades into living and I’m learning a thing or two! A mental walk through the steps that you will be taking will help you foresee what it is you might forget if you simply lead with zeal alone and grab the plants and head outdoors.
Plants (of course!)
Water (we fill up a large blue tub of water from the house and dip in watering.)
Gardening shovel, trowel, or hori-hori knife
Garden gloves or go gloveless, up to you
Bark mulch or straw to cover
Spacing for Optimal Growth
Resist the temptation to overload! The above pictures were taken about 2 months apart. Your garden bed will likely look rather sparse when you start. That is normal. As the plants grow and mature throughout the season they will fill out and up and over and eventually spread into and wind through each other. Plants want to grow and they will! Witnessing the meandering vines and voluptuous blooms as they twist and twirl upwards and outwards, seeking sunshine, soil or some space to spread, is one of the simplest joys of gardening! If you overfill to begin with (and trust me it’s hard not to, “just one more!”) then your plants will be competing for nutrients and water and might even throw shade over one another. A little space for optimal growth between both plants and people is always a good rule of thumb in my book.
Spacing for each plant is usually listed on the tags if you purchase plants from a nursery or can easily be looked up in a handy reference guide such as The Old Farmer’s Almanac Flower Gardeners Handbook. In general, I usually give at least 18 to 24 inches between plants when starting out in a garden bed of this type.
If you find that your flower bed looks very bare and too sparse for your liking after you have planted then you can always add a focal point such as a potted flowering annual or a trellis or spinning ornament to provide a little visual interest. Yard and estate sales or thrift and consignment stores can be fun places to wander around and score unique garden treasures!
Breaking Up the Rootball
If you purchase your plants from a nursery then chances are, regardless of how healthy they look on top, they have established a closed root system within the pot they are in and might just be a dense, tangled knot of roots. Before planting, it is important to loosen up that root ball to allow the roots to spread outwards and seek the necessary water and nutrients rather than stay all balled up within itself and continue to grow in circles as it has done in the pot, searching for life outside of the plastic container. To tease them apart, you can either use your hands and gently rough them up a bit allowing for the roots to fall free or water the root ball by setting it in a large bucket of water. This can help break up the dense soil that has become hardened in there. Lastly, and often my preferred way, I just cut it up. With the hori-hori knife I will either cut it in half or in quarters, depending on how dense the root system is. It feels harsh but I have seen the resilience of plants that have had their roots cut time and time again and believe they thrive on just a bit of tough love.
Watering What You Want to Grow
In planting a garden, you take on the new role of Water Bearer. You must water whatever it is that you want to grow. Water is essential especially in the beginning, when your garden is just beginning and the plants are in transition. In order to set root and settle in, the need for water daily and even twice a day if extremely dry, is crucial. We have had an extremely dry season this summer. It is to the point where grass is drying and dying and you feel it under foot. Unless you have an irrigation system set up or are in an area with lots of rain, then you will be watering your plants daily. Early mornings and early evenings are the best times to water and an aspect of gardening that I look forward to throughout the growing season. Morning mist, dew drops adorning leaves and seeing sleepy pollinators in the wee hours bookended with the most stunning sunsets, cricket song serenades and bats swooping overhead in the evenings creates calming moments in the day that are filled with beautiful, grace-filled transitions, while you pour life into the roots of your blooms.
Welcoming the Pollinators
As soon as I planted this Veronica, Veronica longifolia, into the flower bed, a few Bumblebees and a Monarch Butterfly showed up right away to inspect and collect. They both seemed to appreciate the placement of the plant and started to forage for nectar. Hearing the buzz of the bees and seeing the flapping of orange-hued wings around a newly planted perennial is evidence enough for me that the work of gardening heaps more rewards than I could ever measure.
Planting for Tomorrow
Bulbs, tucked down deep into the dark holdings of Earth, will rise forth in due time. A magical gift for tomorrow if we can simply trust their seasoning process. Life will return renewed and abloom, and just when we needed it most. Bulbs are a favorite of mine and each year I tuck in more and more of these wondrous beauties in and around the farm. Nestled up against old rock walls and down along winding, walking paths. Underneath the old Oak trees and right up in front by our front door at home, nowhere is spared from a spring-blooming patch-of-posies. Our winters are long and I know that each bulb I tuck away in the fall will return and reward me five-fold come early thaw. Our CSA begins in early spring here with Fancy Tulips and Fragrant Narcissus bringing lots of folks to the farm to pick up their flowers. This year, I have already tucked in hundreds of bulbs around the barn and within the boxes to bring a pop of colorful delight to the early flower beds and the farm surrounds.
Enjoying the Scenery
Once the flower beds are planted, the next best thing to do is to sit a spell and watch the clouds slowly meander along while listening to the hum and buzz of the happy bumblebees finding the newest source of nectar and pollen. Regular waterings, a topping of aged bark mulch if you choose to help retain water and an occasional weeding here and there should be all that you will need to do to help the flower beds grow along. Spend time looking at the plants and how they are growing. Pay attention and keep curiosity close as you watch the ways in which they change daily as the sun-loving leaves reach, stretch and grow upwards and outwards and invite in pollinators with their catchy colors and fragrant foods. Your plants, just like the gardener, are an important thread weaving beauty and joy and abundance within the ecosystems of our lives.