Beautiful Flowers
You Don't Need A Green Thumb!

By Todd Wessel

Well designed and maintained landscapes turn heads and stop people in their tracks. The use of plants, the sharp edges, proper pruning, all combine to compliment one another, giving the passerby that "WOW", I want that at my house feeling.

Now, add some pockets of vibrant annual flower color throughout the design and now imagine the reaction.

Instant impact, Instant notoriety, instant best friend of every neighbor.

This is what should happen when you add annual flower color to your landscape taking out the best friend part and this can be easily achieved by following a few simple tips.

Start With Planting design Always try to design flower beds to be planted in mass. Mass meaning planting in large, consolidated groupings. This makes the color very strong and dramatic, expressing a greater finished impression or explosion.

Example; A bed with 50 flowers should be no longer than 6' long and 6' deep. Make that same bed 25' long and 2' deep and you stretch the same color out ,achieving less impact.

Think of some of the flower displays you've admired in theme parks like Walt Disney World or the Cherry Blossoms that bloom in Washington D.C.. All planted in mass or large groupings for an incredible effect.

Mix Colors? Is there a difference in bed size?
Small beds should have one color only. Don't get fancy in small beds by using different colors. There is not enough room to add enough flowers of differing colors to make a dramatic affect.

Keep small beds simple.
In larger beds, experiment, have more fun, make elaborate designs and use multiple colors. Remember, even in larger beds, try to make the colors too choatic. When in doubt keep it simple and use one or no more than two colors.

Use the right flower in the right environment. Sun flowers in sun and shade flowers in shade.

Planting in the proper environment encourages future success. It makes all the difference.

Know your plants and your gardens environment. If you are unsure, ask an expert.

Planting under mature trees
When planting flowers under mature trees, remember you are planting into a mature root zone. The tree and flowers will battle for water and fertilizer and the tree will always win. Extra attention, meaning water and fertilizer, will be needed all season for the flowers to survive and give a great show. Make sure you spend extra time preparing this soil deeper to give the flowers a better chance for survival.

Bed Prep
Always prep (till) your planting beds, adding compost or peat moss to clay soils and a topsoil/compost mix to sandy soils. Try to get to a depth of 8"-12".

Annual flowers need to establish themselves relatively fast to survive up coming seasonal changes and stress associated with each planting season (summer heat, winter cold). Tilling each bed before you plant provides a planting medium that is loose and perfect for young plants to grow and mature in quickly.

Always use a slow release fertilizer (example 14-14-14) for flowers, spreading generously but evenly around the bed before planting. Don't be afraid to add a little extra, just don't leave clumps of the granules massed together in one spot in the bed. By spreading before you plant, some of the granules fall in for the roots and some will stay on the soil surface, ready to be watered in. Perfect.

Why use slow release fertilizer?
When flowers are installed, they are hungry and looking for food. With a slow release fertilizer, every time you water, a small amount is released for flowers to use. After establishment, they continually need that little boost to keep their color and continue their show. Slow release will consistently feed plants over a 8-12 week period.

Should I water a lot?
When you water a lot (and you better if you want great flowers), you will need to add more fertilizer about every 6-8 weeks. Your flowers will need it and they will thank you with continued great color.

The more you water the faster the fertilizer reserves will deplete. This is especially true for pots and hanging baskets. Pots and hanging baskets need watering more often and need fertilizer every month.

Quick release fertilizers, (not recommended for installation) will release all of their nutrients at one time, giving a quick boost but are gone in about 3 weeks. Usually this type of fertilizer achieves more green leaf growth than flowers because of its high nitrogen content and is quickly washed thru the soil.

Quick release can be used as a liquid, sprayed over the top, for a quick green up in the summer but you still need a slow release to get that continuous feeding. Because quick release leaches so fast, you need to re apply every week to two weeks. This is the major reason why it is not recommended for flower beds.

Why are my flower leaves yellow?
Flowers that were planted without fertilizer or not enough fertilizer will show signs of yellowing on their leaves. Also, flowers planted in soils not properly prepared, will also show signs of yellowing because of lack of oxygen from poor, wet soil.

Lack of proper prep and fertilizer will produce flower beds with reduced vigor, reduced flowers and an all around unhealthy appearance that go hand in hand with a frustrating, very dull flower display. Take your time, start right and you'll be rewarded.

After you prep, fertilize and plant your flowers, apply at least a one inch of mulch over the entire planting bed. It is important to apply at least one inch or as much as an 1 1/2 inches, because the roots need constant moisture and protection from the sun. Also, with the amount of water that will be applied to this bed over the season, this will help keep the mulch in place and not allow it to run off.

If you take your time and follow all of the above steps, then please water and continue to water your flowers at least every other day for the first month. There are many flower varieties that are drought tolerant but no flower is drought resistant until it becomes established.

Newly installed flowers need supplemental watering from the start, rain or shine, no excuses. Water, even if it does rain unless it's an all day affair at a slow pace. Depending on the weather (meaning cloudy compared to sunny), flowers need to be watered at least 3 times per week for the first month.

After about a month, flowers will have established their root zones and their increased spread will start to shade their root zones. This shading of their root zones helps reduce water, eventually totally covering their root zones and giving the plant the ability to survive longer between watering.

How much water after they are established?
Once established, water drought tolerant plants once a week and less drought tolerant plants twice a week. Watch the weather and your plants, they will tell you what they need.

Recognizing Stress in Flowers
Flowers that are wilting and showing water stress are suffering root lose. Don't let your annuals get to this point. Once the root system starts to die, the plant will struggle, develop slowly if at all and require a lot more of your time.

Common Flowers For Full Sun

  • Petunias

  • The regular petunias grow in clumps, 12" high-- plant about 12"-14" apart, when established water once a week..Many colors-red, blue, white, pink, rose, purple

  • Wave Petunias

  • They grow flat to the ground and spread. One plant can grow 2' around 4"-6" tall. Give plenty of room, they grow fast. Plant about 18" apart from plant centers. May look a little thin at first but they will grow fast. Over plant and you will have problems with disease in the late summer from overcrowding. Many colors-lavender, rose, pink, purple, misty lilac.

  • Begonias

  • These require a lot of water, but once established a beautiful flower; plant about 9" apart, fertilize and water, water, water. The plants will look like they are just sitting there for about 2-3 weeks, but continue to water and they will start growing. Leaves stay a vibrant shiny green when healthy. can grow to1.5'-2'. These flowers will grow to different heights in the same bed. When this happens, simply prune the tops off of the taller flowers and even the bed. Flowers will resume growing. Colors; red, pink, rose, white

  • Flowering Vinca

  • This grows to about 1.5' and likes it dry. Plant about 12"-14" apart and let grow together. Plant grows from shoots on the sides and if planted too close, will rot in late summer from overcrowding. Give this plant room and do not over water. Need to wait to plant this flower until late in May, does not like cool weather, will yellow out. When established, water once a week. A very dark green shiny leaf means a healthy plant. Yellow leaves means lack of fertilizer, too much water or cool weather, shows signs fast Many Colors-red, pink, purple, white, peppermint, blue and others

  • Salvia

  • This grows to about 1.5'-2' and likes it dry. Plant 12'-14' apart and let grow together. Plant grows from shoots on the sides and if planted too close will rot in the summer. Give this plant room. When established, water once a week. Many colors; red, blue, white, purple

    Some other flowers are Marigold, Sweet Potato Vne, Setcresha and many others.

    Knowledge is Flowers.

    All the best, Todd

    Visit: Todd Wessel Certified Professional Horticulturist Certified Landscape Technician Certified Maryland Pesticide Applicator e-mail - website -

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