We've collected some of the basics of flower gardening on this page, and you can link directly to any of the following topics or scroll down to read through them all.
Here are some of the factors to think about when you're laying out flower beds and choosing your flowers:
Flower Life Span: Your first consideration is usually how long you want your flowers to survive in the garden.
Climate: You must also factor in the prevailing weather conditions in your area and choose flowers that will thrive in your climate. Your local nurseries will steer you in the right directions, and plant catalogues usually provide zone information for the flowers they sell.
Annuals last one season and die out, which means they have to be replanted every year but which means you're also free to change the layouts.
Perennials will survive winter and return the next summer, which means you don't have to replant them but which means you're stuck with the original layout unless you transplant them all.
Sun and Shade: Pay attention to the hours of sun and shade wherever you want to plant flowers. Different varieties have different requirements, so don't try to grow a flower that needs lots of sun in a spot that never gets any.
Flower Height: When you buy flower transplants, they're all about the same height but at maturity the different varieties will be anywhere from a few inches to several feet high. So check their heights at maturity and then plant the taller ones in the back of your beds where they won't block the shorter ones.
Time of Bloom: Most annuals bloom all summer, but many of them and most perennials will bloom for a month or two at a specific time. The trick is to group the varied blooms together so that as one is fading, neighboring flowers are just coming into full color.
Colors: One way experts take advantage of color is with mass plantings of individual colors, which create winding blocks of color in a mature garden. But it's also effective to group multi-color flowers of the same variety.
Visiting the Nursery
You can order flower seeds from catalogues and either sow them in the garden directly or start them indoors prior to the growing season and transplant them later on.
But most people end up buying flowers at a local nursery, and our advice is to make 2 trips, scouting on the first one and then buying on the second one after you've planned your beds out and made a list of flowers to buy. That scouting-only trip will save you from the impulse buying which often strikes eager gardeners. And it'll give you a chance to see what's available.
But gardening's getting more popular all the time, so be sure to get back quick for that buying trip or the best flowers will be gone.
Planting Dry Run
Once you've prepared your beds (as described in Preparing Beds) and purchased your flowers, it's not a bad idea to lay the flowers out in their respective beds before actually planting them.
Just set each flower in its container on the ground where you plan to plant it. (Transplants only--it doesn't quite work with seeds!)
That gives you a chance to space them properly (as recommended on the tags that usually come with each flower) and to see if your groupings are working.
Planting transplants is pretty simple:
Dig a hole just a bit bigger than the plant's rootball.
Tap the sides of the flower's container to loosen the rootball.
Place one hand over the top of the rootball and turn the container upside down, so the rootball is resting on your hand.
Pull the container off with the other hand.
Set the rootball in the hole right side up.
Cover the rootball with loose soil and press down firmly.
Water the rootball thoroughly.
(Well, it's not as difficult to do as it is to explain. Really!)
Once the flowers are all planted, water them thoroughly and make sure the soil stays moist till they're established.
Most annuals and perennials can get through a season with just the fertilizer applied to the soil in the early spring.
But a mid-season feeding of a high phosphorous fertilizer will help them through the summer. That'll promote flowering. (Always follow package directions)
Be sure to pinch back flower blooms once they start to fade. Just nip it off back at the stem so you don't leave a stub.
That'll promote further blooms elsewhere on the flower, and it also leaves the remaining foliage more attractive.
Preparing for Winter
After the first frost, the garden will pretty much be history (except for any cold-loving perennials like sedum or chrysanthemums, which will survive several frosts).
To save work in the next spring, it's a good idea to pull out the debris.
With annuals, pull the roots and stems both, but with perennials, just pull stems. Leave the roots for next year!
Spread organic amendments like peat moss, manure or compost over the soil as needed along with any fertilizer to replace nutrients used up over the summer. (Always follow package instructions)
Then turn the soil over to mix in the new elements, being careful not to disrupt the perennial roots, and rake it smooth for next spring.