While a green thumb never hurts, planning and preparation are the real keys to a successful flowerbed.Most of us novice gardeners tend to focus more on visual elements such as plant selection and bed shape. There's certainly nothing wrong with making sure your flowerbed is pleasing to the eye. However, master gardeners consider underlying factors like location, preparation and soil condition before they ever think about breaking ground. Learn how all these components work together to create a flowerbed that will delight from final frost through early fall.
Pick a Location
The location you choose should have the right amount of sunlight for your favorite flowers, a water source and easy access for daily tending. 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 find flowers that require less.
Formulate a Plan
Use your mind's eye to visualize your new flowerbed. 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.
Draw it Out
Grab some graph paper and draw your flowerbeds 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 the seasons.
Prep Existing Beds
If you have existing flowerbeds, 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, just for good measure.
Clear New Beds
Outline your flowerbeds with specially formulated landscape spray paint directly on the ground. Remove any sod, plants and weeds from the area. 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.
Till the Soil
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.
Amend the Soil
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, will provide many of the nutrients needed for hardy plants. Add 2 to 3 inches of organic matter on top of your flowerbed 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.