Guide to Buying and Planting Flowers
By the time the fresh air of spring hits, you're probably more than ready to shake off during winter's dark chill and bring your garden back to life. And while it might seem easy to just go outside and start planting flowers, it's not as simple as burying a seed, watering it, and waiting. Keep reading through our guide to buying flowers (and planting them) to help ensure your garden blooms full of bright, healthy plants this season.
First Things First: Where You Live Matters
Before you start digging and fertilizing, consider your geography. Certain plant species will thrive or struggle depending on wherever it is you live. A good resource for determining which plants are best suited to your environment is the USDA plant-hardiness-zone map, which divvies the country into 11 zones based on each one's annual extreme-low temperature. Check out this table to get a gist of each zone's climate and which plants have better odds of flourishing there:
|Zone||Avg. Extreme-Low Temperature (F°)||Example City||Suitable Plants|
|1||-60° to -50°||Fort Yukon, AK||
|2||-50° to -40°||Fairbanks, AK||
|3||-40° to -30°||International Falls, MN||
|4||-30° to -20°||Fargo, ND||
|5||-20° to -10°||Denver, CO||
|6||-10° to 0°||Cleveland, OH||
|7||0° to 10°||New York, NY||
|8||10° to 20°||Atlanta, GA||
|9||20° to 30°||Houston, TX||
|10||30° to 40°||San Diego, CA||
|11||40° to 50°||Key West, FL||
Consider Your Space
Whether you're planting flowers to fill an entire backyard or a modest flowerbed, it never hurts to do some homework on your planting area. Here are some basic garden planning considerations you should keep in mind before selecting your flowers:
What will they look like, ultimately? Flowers look pretty, so this one's kind of important. Visualize what the finished product will look like from a bunch of different angles—head-on, from inside your house, during different seasons, etc.
Where will you plant them? Planting your flowers beneath the giant oak in your front yard might sound like a nice idea, but that means they'll be shaded (see next consideration) and their roots will be sharing soil and water with those of the tree. Make sure your flowers get their own little space to flourish.
How much sun will they get? Keep an eye on how the shade in your planting area changes throughout the day. Some flowers need nearly constant sunlight, while others do best with a bit of shade here and there.
How will you get to them? Be sure you leave yourself enough room to easily access and tend to your flowers.
How's your soil looking? Flowers tend to do best in even patches that won't get flooded with a ton of standing water during rainy spells. Scout for a spot that's flat and won't drown your plants.
Consider the Growth Variety
The one-and-dones of the plant world, annuals bloom in a single growing season before dying (though some varieties do self-sow, resulting in similar plants popping up again). Despite their lifespan being a bit short, it does gives gardeners a higher degree of flexibility. Didn't like the way those marigolds looked last year? No worries—start with something else next season. The obvious downside to annuals is that if you find one you love, you'll need to replant it each growing season.
Biennials usually take two growing seasons to fully mature. In the first, they simply stem without blooming. The next season sees them spring to life, showing off their long-awaited flowers. Like annuals, though, the show's over once they flower: they'll die afterward and won't grow back next year. Also like annuals, some biennials will self-sow.
As their name suggests, perennials die back into the soil during the winter before sprouting up again during each spring or summer. That doesn't mean they have no expiration date, though: perennials can be expected to grow for at least three seasons, but anything beyond that is no guarantee. The upside to these flowers is that you won't need to replant them every year, and they'll give you a consistent growth and bloom. However, they also tend to be a bit more expensive than annuals, and their bloom doesn't usually last as long.
How to Plant Flowers: Helpful Tips
Dig the right hole. Each bulb should be planted in its own hole, but you shouldn't dig arbitrarily. The generally accepted rule is to create a hole that's about two or three times as deep as the height of the bulb itself. A 2-inch bulb, for example, should be planted in a hole that's 4–6 inches deep.
Place the bulb roots-side down. Just like a precisely dug hole, precise bulb placement can help your flower spring to fuller life when it blooms. Look for where the plant's roots are beginning to show on the bulb and place that side down when planting. Conversely, if your bulb has a pointed side, that end should face up.
Protect them from pests. You know who loves bulbs more than gardeners? Animals. Hiding your freshly planted bulbs with some chicken wire or a layer of mulch can deter hungry critters from ruining your garden.
Check the label of the seed packet. Where and how to plant your seeds may vary greatly depending on the plant. Some plants will require soil to be placed atop the seeds, while others can simply have their seeds sown on the soil's surface. You might even need to begin growing it indoors weeks earlier than you expected. In any case, the packet should give you the basics on when, where, and how to plant.
If you're growing the seeds in a pot, don't use just any soil. Potted seeds won't thrive if you simply use your garden's soil; the seeds need a sterile foundation so they avoid disease during growth. Most garden centers sell sterile potting mix that's specifically made for growing seeds—go with one of those.
If you're starting the seeds indoors, introduce them to direct sunlight carefully. Once your seeds have sprouted into things that look more like actual plants (stems, leaves, etc.), you're probably ready to introduce them to direct sunlight. Since they've been getting light through your windows, though, do this in baby steps. Give them partial shade outside for a few hours, and always remember to bring them back inside at night, especially if nights are still chilly.
Watch for root-bound plants. Take a look at the bottom of the plant's pot. Seeing a tangle of roots growing through the holes? That's not a good sign—it means the plant has been in that pot too long, and it can be a sign of a plant that won't be as healthy going forward.
Look for leaf-packed stems. Generally, the more leafy a plant's stem is, the better. It's a sign of healthy growth.
Get plants suited for where you live. Again, where you live matters. A bright, exotic-looking flower at a store might seem like a unique addition to your garden, but if it's not built to withstand your area's weather, it won't grow as easily.
Just because it's already potted doesn't mean it's ready for planting. Be sure the soil you ultimately plant your flower in is actually ready before doing so. Even a potted plant bought at the store still needs soil that's not flooded, chokingly dry, or frozen.