It’s that time of year when the sun starts feeling a little bit warmer and the air a little less frigid. It’s almost gardening season and if you have high hopes of a bounty of colorful blooms in the garden, it’s time to get started.
Start your seeds
If your flower garden will include plants that you’ll start from seed, now may be the time to get them going. We say “may” because seeds have differing requirements. Some need to be sown indoors eight weeks before the last frost date, while others may require a shorter or longer time period.
Check the back of your seed packets to ensure you get the timing right.
Then, there are some seeds that need to be sown directly outdoors (because the plant doesn’t tolerate transplanting).
Consult this chart at Iowa State University Extension’s website for a list of popular seeds and their germination requirements. The University of Missouri Extension’s website offers a walkthrough of the seed-starting process.
Get the bed ready
A successful garden, whether it produces vegetables or flowers, starts with the soil. Cleaning up debris from last season or junk that the weather brought in is the first step.
Pull weeds and then rake up all the debris and dispose of it. Then, go through the soil to remove rocks and anything else that may impede tender young roots.
Your plants will thank you if you incorporate some well-rotted manure or compost into the soil. Typically, about 2 inches of the material mixed into the top inches of soil is just about right.
Then, give it a good, deep watering.
Plants from the nursery
Many flower gardeners leave the seed-starting to professional growers. If you’re among them, wait until after the last frost date to head to the nursery to choose the flowers for your garden.
Not sure when you can expect the last frost? Navigate to Almanac.com to find out.
Choose a day when you have few other errands to run or make the nursery the last stop on your list. This way your new plants won’t be sitting in the car, subjected to heat and a lack of air.
Don’t plan on planting your new flowers right away because they require a gradual introduction into the garden.
This is a process known as “hardening off.” Allow the plants you bought at the nursery to sit in a shady area for about a week to gradually become accustomed to the new environment.
The hardening off process is a bit different for those plants you’ve grown from seed. Find a sheltered outdoor area for them. On the first day, leave them outdoors for about two hours. Increase the amount of time outdoors each day for about a week.
Almanac.com offers a video on the hardening off process.
Get them into the ground
When planting, allow enough space around each plant to account for its eventual height and width. This should be listed on the back of the seed packet.
Planting holes should be the same depth at which the plant is currently growing, but twice the width.
Carefully remove the seedling from its pot by turning the pot upside down over your open hand. Never pull on the plant to get it out of the pot. If it’s stuck, press the sides of the pot to loosen it and tap the bottom of the pot.
Place the seedling into the planting hole and fill the hole with soil. When its full, use your hands to gently press the soil around the base of the plant. Then, water well to help the plant settle and to remove air pockets from around the roots.
One last step
While the weather may be mild right now, summer will be here before we know it. To cut back on how often you’ll need to water and to insulate the plants’ roots, apply a layer of mulch over the soil.
Spread a 2-inch layer throughout the flower bed, keeping it at least 6 inches from each plant to avoid rot.
There you go – your new spring flower bed. As long as you keep an eye on the moisture in the soil (don’t under- or over-water), you’ll have a blanket of color all season long.