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Gardeners' Dirt: Small, spring flower beds add spots of color to gardens

By By Iustina Iznaola - Victoria County Master Gardener InternEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
March 13, 2014 at midnight
Updated March 12, 2014 at 10:13 p.m.

Location and light are among considerations for proper plant selection in any growing setting. The dianthus is an annual that does well in both sun and shade. Shown here in direct sunlight in a hanging basket with alyssum and blue pansies, the scarlet red dianthus will also bring color to a small, spring flower bed.

Components of a Basic Gardening Plan

•  Size and layout

•  Location

•  Soil preparation

•  Plant selection

•  Tools

•  Planting

•  Maintenance

Examples of Organic Matter

•  Fallen leaves

•  Pine bark mulch

•  Home compost

•  Composted manure

Partial Shade/Shade Annuals

•  Dianthus

•  Geranium

•  Impatiens

• Salvia

Full-sun annuals

•  Dianthus

•  Zinnia

•  Petunia

•  Marigold

•  Periwinkle

•  Portulaca

•  Salvia

• Note: Dianthus and Salvia work well in both shade and full sun depending on variety.

MASTER GARDENER SPRING PLANT SALE

•  8 a.m. to 2 p.m March 29

•  Watch for plants offered in the next two upcoming articles.

As winter is fading away, we get excited about creating a spring flower bed of annuals.

A few times, excitement might have changed into disappointment because new plantings did not do well despite of all the work done.

However, following a plan can help you to create a wonderful flower bed worth admiring every day.

Use as a focal point

A petite flower bed is less overwhelming to manage and can provide a very pleasant view.

A small area, such as 3 by 4 feet, can be a colorful focal point in front of a house or near a French glass door complementing patio greenery.

When choosing the location, consider the degree of shade or sunlight because it affects the type of annuals selected for planting.

Prepare soil

Before plant shopping, prepare the soil first because texture, drainage and fertility greatly affect plant performance. Experts advise to create a garden soil with a minimum depth of 12 inches consisting of 50 percent organic matter and 50 percent soil from the yard. Tilling about 6 inches of organic matter into the top 6 to 8 inches of yard soil creates an ideal environment for the plant roots to adequately grow and receive nutrients.

The organic matter should be added to the soil every time you replant - not just for annuals but any kind of plants.

Choose plants carefully

An annual flower bed is an excellent way to spice up a garden. Plantings can be rotated between warm and cool seasons. Warm-season annuals can be planted after the last frost.

According to plantmaps.com, the average last frost for the Victoria area occurs between Feb. 11 and Feb. 20. This year, however, the cooler weather conditions have continued into March.

When selecting and purchasing the plants from the local nurseries, think about the color, texture and size of the plants. Choose plants that look healthy, have no signs of environmental stress and are free of pests.

Many nurseries provide one-year guarantees and replace some dead shrubs, trees or perennials. You may want to inquire about policies regarding annuals.

Tips for planting

On transplanting day, gather the necessary tools such as gloves, a garden rake, small and large shovels, a wheelbarrow, a bucket and a water hose.

Small plants should be planted 8 inches apart, whereas larger plants need to be planted about 12 to 14 inches apart. Avoid overplanting because these will grow crowded and compete for nutrients and space. This can lead to fewer blooms.

Adding 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch such as pine or cypress bark over the planted soil can help conserve soil moisture and prevent weed growth.

After all flowers are planted, water immediately and then every other day for the first week. A soaker hose is preferred over the sprinkler system because water from sprinklers wets the flowers and foliage, leading to increased susceptibility to diseases.

A conventional or organic fertilizer may be added at the time of the planting as well as monthly applications that are necessary to ensure continuous blooming.

Caring for plants

Once the plants are established and growing well, deep and infrequent watering is preferred. Any dried-up flowers should be removed by hand or with small scissors. This technique called deadheading encourages more blooming.

Remove weeds to prevent competition over water and nutrients.

Aphids, spider mites and white flies are common insects that infest annuals. An organic or chemical insecticide may have to be applied when populations are low; otherwise, plants are likely to die.

Even though annuals live only one growing season, a small bed of such flowers can be very attractive, inexpensive and easy to maintain. They add variation to an existing garden and produce vibrant colors and many blooms.

Small flower beds are areas of instant beauty that even the most inexperienced gardeners can create in their garden.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com.

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