Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].
Question from Cicely in FL: Hi Brian. I’m a fanatic for flowers but have never been able to grow my own garden until this year. I’m sitting here picturing a spring and summer full of luxurious flowers that I can enjoy outside and bring indoors from my garden every day. But then the reality sets in that I’m a city girl that has never grown anything in my life. I hope that I’m not too late to get started this year but where do I start? I have two large areas in my yard that receive plenty of sun. I also have a patio that doesn’t get much sun but I’d like to grow flowers near where I’ll be relaxing this summer. What’s first?
Answer: Hello Cicely. I get it. Flower gardening can be a passion but it can also be overwhelming. There are thousands of flowers to choose from and even more ways to combine them in beautiful flower gardens. Be brave your first year. Almost anything you start with will improve from one year to the next.
If there isn’t a flower garden in the yard, you’ll need to begin by removing the part of the lawn where you want to plant. There are several ways to do this that can involve anything from a sod cutter to applying herbicide. Although an herbicide will do the job, it’s my least preferred method because it can damage nearby plants and kill beneficial organisms in the flower garden. If you want more ideas on how to set up your garden, see here the new online catalog from custom decks in Colorado.
The method I prefer is smothering the grass with layers of cardboard or newspaper because these are biodegradable and you can plant flowers almost immediately. Decide where the garden will be and lay about seven or eight layers of newspaper down (B&W ink, not colored ink). Cover the newspaper with grass clippings, leaf mold, mulch, or compost to hold the layers in place, keep in moisture, and add organic matter. You can also add a layer of topsoil to improve the growing conditions for the flowers. The reason I like smothering with newspaper is that you can start planting flowers right away. You may want to add that topsoil first but you can plug mature plants into holes that you punch through the paper to the underlying soil. There are two important things to consider when deciding where the garden goes. Most flowers thrive in full to partial sun and you don't want your garden in a place where it is out of the way of other activities.
Gardens should start with good soil. Start with a soil test to learn if the soil is slightly acidic or alkaline. Most plants grow best in soils with a pH between 6 (slightly acid) and 7.5 (slightly alkaline). If your soil is not, then you will need to make a choice. Choose plants either adapted to your soil's pH or alter your soil's pH to fit the plants. You can lower your soil's pH by using several products. These include sphagnum peat, elemental sulfur, aluminum sulfate, iron sulfate, acidifying nitrogen, and organic mulches. The pH of highly acidic soils can be raised by blending limestone into the soil. However, just adding mulch or compost is often the best answer for both situations. Just make sure to choose the right type of mulch for your needs before calling a mulch delivery service.
You’ll also want to add a fertilizer that is either 10-10-10 or 10-15-10. The first number is nitrogen, the second number is phosphorus (phosphate), and the last number is potassium (potash). All three ingredients are essential to the happiness of your plants.
Cicely, I’m not going to tell you how to select from the thousands of possible flowers you can grow. However, some of the most beautiful flowers in the garden are annuals, meaning they need to be planted every year. Favorites are pansies, petunias, impatiens, and marigolds, which are all prized for the brilliant color they add to the landscape. Some annuals are self-sowing or what gardeners call "volunteers." Most of the time, these will seed themselves and produce beautiful plants year after year.
There are also biennial flowers that have two growing seasons in their life cycle, one year is for leaves and food production, and the next year brings flowers and seeds. A couple of examples are foxglove and black-eyed Susans.
Another garden basic is perennial plants and flowers. These come back every year, and when cared for will look even better the next year. Perennials can be a mainstay in your flowerbeds. Caring for them is enjoyable. It includes dividing them and learning when to cut them back after the growing season.
Soon you will be venturing towards growing flowers that are a little more temperamental and require more care such as roses. Bulb plants such as tulips and daffodils are another favorite but these take more planning because they have to be planted in the autumn to bloom in the spring.
Cicely, flower gardening is super fun when you ease into it. As an experienced green thumb will tell you, there's always room for improvement and new ideas.
Lets’ hear about your favorite flowers and tips for a garden? Please add comments.
Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].