When learning how to plant flowers or “annuals”, there are a few things that must be prioritized before you start.
Annuals come in a wide variety of colors and sizes, and are only in your garden for one growing season.
You’ll want to educate yourself about the nuances of each type of flower that you’re considering adding to your garden…each plant exhibits unique features, requires different amounts of maintenance, and has different sunlight needs.
Find out about the differences between some of the more popular annuals to make sure you have the right fit for you!
Then, take the following points into account when learning how to plant flowers in your annual beds or container gardens to maximize the qualities that your plants have to offer.
And don’t forget, if you’re growing your flowers from seed you’ll need to harden them off before putting them outside full-time! Most nurseries will have already taken care of this for you, but if you’re buying from a small operation, be sure to ask if this process has already been done.
Step #1 Location, location, location!
Where do you want to plant your flowers? Is there a planting bed on the south side of the house that you’d like to fill with annuals? Do you have a planter near your front door you want to be filled? Are you looking to add texture and life to the area under your white birch tree?
This is probably the most important of all your decisions. Take notes about each area that you wish to fill with plants, along with the size of the area, and then identify the amount of light each area receives each day.
- Full sun = direct sun for at least 6 hours
- Part sun = direct sun for 3-5 hours
- Light shade = only filtered shade reaches the area, such as shade of honey locust tree
- Full shade = less than 3 hours of direct sun
So your notes would look like something like this:
- 3 containers – 12 inches in diameter each – light shade
- Planting bed – 3 feet wide by 3 feet long – full sun
And so forth…
You will need to take this information with you to the garden center where you intend to purchase your plants.
To identify the amount of light any particular area gets, it will need to be monitored for at least one full sunny day. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, get a sun calculator to help make this job a bit easier.
Step #2 How much time will you dedicate to plant care?
All flowers will require some level of maintenance in order to survive throughout the season. Are you someone who wishes to be out in your garden on a regular basis or do you want to spend as little time possible working on it, and more time sitting back and enjoying it?
Some annuals will require nothing more than water to survive, and even thrive, while others will require regular dead-heading, watering, staking, etc. in order to look their best.
Knowing how much maintenance you want to provide will help you determine which plants are right for you.
Step #3 Identify a color scheme.
- Do you prefer a monochromatic color scheme in which all of the colors are essentially the same, or do you prefer a polychromatic color scheme in which multiple colors are used?
- Do you like warm colors – red, orange, yellows, or the cooler colors of blue, green and purple?
- Are you planting the flowers in a bright orange pot? You’ll need to take the colors of the pot into consideration when selecting the flowers.
- Or are you planting your bed against a house or structure that contains colors you will need to consider when selecting your plants?
Even if you are using different colors, you will select several plants of the same variety and color to group together, otherwise the colors will wash out and won’t have the dramatic impact you’re looking for.
Step #4 Identify the height of your plants.
If you’re planting a small border garden along a solid wall, for example, you’ll want taller plants at the back of the bed, medium sized plants in the middle, and the shortest plants along the edge.
It’ll probably work best if you select plants that vary in height at least a bit to create movement along your bed. Beds that contain plants that are all the same height can look boring.
If you know, for example, that you want plants at the back to be about 4 feet high, select some that are over 4 feet and some that are slightly below, gradually decreasing in height as you move closer to the front of the bed.
Step #5 Informal or formal?
Most people have an understanding of the difference between a formal garden bed and an informal garden bed.
An informal bed is one that has a variety of plants that look well together, but utilize “curves and free-flowing forms” as described by the Proven Winners website. Plants don’t necessarily follow a specific color scheme, and the bed usually displays varying heights and plants of interest.
A formal bed is much more symmetric and “even” with regard to plant selection and spacing.
Step #6 Purchase your plants.
Take all of the information with you to your local garden center, and seek advice from one of the staff members. (If you are relatively new to this, I’d recommend visiting a garden center that has staff who are horticulturists or master gardeners. Some retail stores hire temporary staff for the summer months who may not be particularly knowledgeable about plants.)
You will need to share, for example, I have a bed along the south side of the house that receives full sun, and is 8 feet by 2 feet. I’d like to plant annuals (as opposed to perennials) in that location, and want the lowest maintenance plants I can find. I prefer an informal design, and want a polychromatic (or multi-colored) scheme. I’d like to have taller plants along the backside of the bed, with shorter varieties in front.
Step #7 Prepare the soil.
It’s a good idea to add some organic material to the soil before you plant, and of course, clean up any weeds, dead plants, sticks or other matter on top of the soil.
Organic material such as compost, peat moss, composted manure and grass clippings can all help to create more nutrient rich bedding for annual plants. Till the soil with a power-tiller, or by hand, and turn the added material into the top several inches of soil. Rake smooth.
Amending the soil for a container garden is a bit more specific. Plants that are secured in a garden bed have access to more nutrients than those planted in containers. The soil in containers must be nutrient rich before the plants go in because no more nutrients will be added. What you add to the container initially is all that gets added, so you have to do it right from the start.
Follow this link to learn more about the specifics of planting a container garden and how to establish a healthy growing environment for your plants.
Step #8 Plants go into the soil.
Remove the plants from their containers to determine whether or not they are root bound.
Plants that are root bound look like this – the roots are very tightly bound up around each other and it is often difficult to separate the root ball with your fingers.
In these situations you will need to loosen the root ball before planting, otherwise the roots will fail to lodge into the soil properly.
First, cut through the root system on each of the 4 sides. Start cutting about 2/3 of the way up and slice through the bottom. Gently pull apart the root system on the bottom and spread before placing it in the ground. This will encourage the roots to establish themselves in the soil as they should.
Assuming your plants are NOT rooted bound, simply pop them out of their containers and place them into small holes you can make with your hands. If you’re buying “flats” of plants with very small root systems, you should not even need a small trowel to place the flowers in the ground. Do not separate the root system unless it is root bound!
Be sure to plant the flower at a depth equal to the current root system. Meaning, the top of the soil in the pot should be level with the soil in the ground. Don’t let the root system come up out over the soil in your garden bed. It’s probably safe to place it slightly lower in the ground, but not slightly higher, otherwise the roots can dry out.
IMPORTANT: Space plants away from each other at the distance that is recommended on the growing tag, and not any closer!
While your garden will look a bit stark initially, the plants will grow to fill in space. If the tag says to space plants 12 inches apart. For example, make sure that that’s how far you space them apart.
A small amount of milorganite could be added to the planting bed if you’d like. Be sure to fertilize at the recommended amount.
Use fertilizers sparingly, or not at all. (Relying solely on the organic material in the soil for nutrients is fine.) Fertilizers may encourage heavy foliage, but can decrease flower production.
Step #9 Pinch back any plants that would benefit.
Several annual plants benefit from being “pinched back” at planting time. When purchasing your plants, ask about this at the garden center, including information on how to do it.
Plants are pinched by removing the flowering stem down to the next growing point, which is usually two off-sprouting leaves or branches. While this will remove the flowers that are present on the plant initially, it will encourage thicker growth and more profuse flowering as the season goes on.
Lay mulch around the plants to help prevent weed growth until they reach maturity. Cocoa beans are a good option. Annuals do not respond well to wood mulch, and this should be avoided. Do not allow the mulch to come into much contact with the plant stem. This will allow air to circulate and help prevent the development of disease.
Step #10 Hydration!
Initially, you will need to water your plants 1-2 times per day.
The fragile root systems have been somewhat damaged by the planting process, and they will need time to establish themselves. So for the first few weeks watering should be done frequently and shallowly. After this period, begin to water deeply but infrequently, encouraging the roots to go deeper in search of water.
Watering should be done approximately 2-3 times per week depending on the weather conditions.
It is best to water from underneath with a soaker hose, or a drip irrigation system to prevent the foliage from getting wet. Wet foliage can develop fungal diseases. If overhead watering is your only option, water in the morning so that the foliage has time to dry out.