A splash of seasonal color is an easy way to spruce up any landscape. Whether you install the plants yourself or hire a professional company, there are a few guidelines to follow for successful, long lasting flower displays.
There are several factors to consider when designing an annual garden bed or container beyond the color of the flowers, texture, and scale. Location, soil conditions, availability of a water source and the presence of slugs, rabbits and/or deer in the planting area determines the type of plants that could be planted there.
Location: Consider visibility when choosing a location. Containers at front entries, back decks, pools, and patios add a welcoming feel. While in-ground displays at entries and driveways guide the eye toward the building.
Is the area for the plants in the sun or shade? All plants bloom better when exposed to at least 4 hours of sunlight. A hot, dry, full sun area along the edge of pavement or in front of a south facing wall will quickly dry out the ground and plants. These sunny areas can still have plants, one just needs to be mindful of the plant selection.
Soil: Without well-prepared soil, the plants will not thrive. All gardens benefit from the incorporation of organic matter to help improve soil texture, tilth, aeration, and drainage. The garden will need approximately 3-4 inches of organic matter tilled into the top 6-8 inches of soil. The area should also be fertilized using a general all-purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10, at a rate of 1 ½ – 2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden bed. After working all of the material into the bed, rake the area level and the soil is ready for plants.
Selecting plants: Consider sun or shade requirements, color combinations, and eventual height and width specifications of the desired plants. Tallest plants are usually best placed in the back of the display and stair-step down to the lowest in front. For further assistance on plant selection please refer to this guide to annuals.
Bedding plants are sold in a variety of ways. Whether it’s packs, individual 4” pots, or 1 gallon containers, make sure the foliage is bright green, not faded yellow or scorched bronze or brown. The sturdiest plants will be compact, with short stretches of stem between sets of leaves. A lanky, skinny plant is weaker and less desirable than a short, stocky one. The best way to judge root quality is to pop the plant out of its container and check to see how matted the roots have become. Ideal roots will have filled out the container without growing cramped.
Planting: There is no rush to plant too soon. Most annuals prefer warm soils and stable temperatures to grow well. Summer annuals can be planted around Mother’s Day, while fall annuals are usually planted around mid-September while the soil is still warm enough for the pansies to get a good start before the cold weather moves in.
When ready to plant, water the plants while they are still in their containers. This helps keep the soil around the roots when they are lifted from their pots. If the roots are extremely compacted, loosen the roots slightly by breaking the soil ball apart.
Set the plants at the same level or slightly lower than how they were in the container. Once in the soil, carefully firm the soil around the plants.
Watering: After planting the annuals, be sure to water them deeply. Deep watering is preferred over light watering because it promotes deep root systems. Automatic sprinkler systems are ideal, as they save time and money.
If the annuals are planted under trees or near large shrubs be aware that they pull large quantities of moisture from the surrounding soil. Therefore, annuals planted near or under them need more frequent watering than those not planted near large shrubbery.
Grooming & weeding: Many annuals require ‘deadheading’ on a regular basis to allow the plant to produce more flowers. Remove the spent flowers before they go to seed and remove all weeds so they do not compete for space and nutrients in the bed.