I want to start a flower garden this year. What should I know before I get started?
—Claire Atienza, Bear, DE
Flower gardening should be fun, so start small—that way, you won’t be overwhelmed as the season progresses. Start by choosing a location that has good drainage and receives direct sun for at least five hours daily. If you have your soil tested, you can fertilize based on the results.
Most flower gardens combine annuals and perennials. If you plan to grow perennials, check with your local cooperative extension service or a respected garden center to learn both your USDA hardiness zone and which perennials are most reliable in your area. Friends and neighbors who have gardened for years are another good source of local information. And don’t forget Web sites from nearby colleges and extension services. Unless you want a “cutting garden” designed specifically to provide cut flowers, avoid the rows or straight lines associated with vegetable gardens. Instead plant in clusters or drifts, and choose perennials that flower at different times in the season. While perennials typically bloom for a fairly short time (about three weeks), flowering annuals generally bloom until they’re killed by frost. You’ll probably need to rely more heavily on annuals the first few years until perennials mature.
To reduce summer maintenance, mulch the soil to help retain moisture and reduce weeds. Water regularly, preferably at the base of your plants rather than overhead. Finally, deadhead all but the smallest flowers. Nip them off as they fade, so energy isn’t wasted on seed production. Your plants will look nicer and bloom longer.