Flower Garden Maintenance
By Mary Beth Bennett, WVU Extension Service Berkley County agriculture agent
Preparing the area where you want to plant flowers can help prevent future problems. Have your soil tested before planting to see what your soil pH is. Then you can follow the recommendations to adjust the soil to make it ready for your plants.
You may till the soil before you planting flowers or you could put down landscape cloth or wet newspapers to help minimize weeds after the area is planted. If you use landscaping cloth, you need to cut holes in the cloth and plant the plants. The same can be done with the newspaper. You will want to add mulch on top to hold the newspaper in place. I have used my grass clippings so that plants receive nitrogen when the clippings break down. I don’t use any pesticides on my grass so that it can be used as mulch around plants.
Keeping weeds outOnce a flower bed is planted, you need to keep the weeds out of it. Sometimes this can be difficult if you don’t know which plants are the ones you want and which ones are weeds. You might want to mark plants with plant signs until you get familiar with your plants so that you don’t mistake them for weeds.
Remember, the definition of a weed is “any plant growing out of place.” Once you have planted flowers or plants in to a bed, the best way to control weeds is to hand pull weeds or plants you don’t want. Using landscape cloth, newspapers and/or mulch can alleviate many weed problems.
When should I water my plants?Make sure to water the plants when you plant them and to get the air bubbles out from around the roots. If Mother Nature doesn’t provide the needed moisture, you will have to provide water. You might consider installing a rain barrel on the downspout of your house and using the water collected in the barrel to water your plants. Depending on the size of the bed, you could install drip irrigation to help water the plants or water them using a hose or bucket.
DeadheadingDeadheading is the process of pinching or cutting off faded flowers while the plant is in bloom. Deadheading forces the plant to put its energy into developing more flowers instead of setting seed. Deadheading usually results in a longer boom cycle.
MulchMulch is any material, organic or not, placed over the surface of soil to conserve moisture, kill weed seedlings, keep soil temperatures down, or make the garden more attractive. The most common goal of mulch is to reduce weeding. You do not need to go out and buy mulch. You can use any of the following for mulch: grass clippings (from a weed-free lawn), leaves (shredded or composted), newspaper (shredded or flat), pine needles (for acid-loving plants), shredded bark or wood chips. Covering newspaper with mulch helps the newspaper last for 6 to 18 months, depending on the weather. Cardboard works even better than newspaper on really tough weeds.
FertilizingSixteen elements are known to be essential for healthy plant growth. Plants need carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in large quantities. Plants also need energy from sunlight for photosynthesis, the process by which plants take in carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil to produce sugars for growth. Plants depend on nature to supply these big basic requirements.
Plants also need nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash in relatively large quantities. These three elements are referred to as macronutrients. Plants take these three nutrients up from the soil. If they are not present in the soil, you can supply them by using fertilizers. The percentages of these nutrients are the three numbers that appear on any bag or box of fertilizer. They are always listed in the same order: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potash (K).
Nitrogen is responsible for the healthy green color of your plants. Plants with a deficiency of nitrogen show a yellowing of older leaves first, along with a slowdown in growth.
Phosphorus is associated with good root growth, increased disease resistance, and fruit and seed formation. Plants lacking phosphorus show stunted growth and dark green foliage, followed by reddening of the stems and leaves. Symptoms appear on older leave first.
Potash promotes vigorous growth and disease resistance. The first sign is browning of the edges of leaves. Older leaves are affected first.
Calcium, magnesium, and sulfur are the secondary nutrients, meaning they are needed in substantial quantities but not to the same extent as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. Iron, manganese, copper, boron, molybdenum, chlorine, and zinc are micronutrients, meaning plants need only minute quantities for good health.
Fertilizers come in a variety of forms, including:
For annual flowers, you should apply granular fertilizer supplemented by liquid soluble two weeks after planting. For bulbs, you should apply granular 8-8-8 or similar at planting time. Perennials can get organic fertilizer in the fall supplemented by liquid soluble.
If you notice a problem with insect pests, be sure to identify the pest before taking any action. Planting a variety of plants will encourage beneficial insects to inhabit your garden. You do not want to spray harmful insects because that will eliminate beneficial ones as well. Remember, you need to have some of the harmful insects in order to have the beneficial ones. Learn the difference between good bugs and bad bugs where your flowers are concerned.
Most of the annual plants you planted in the spring will finish producing and die when frosts come in the fall. This is a good time to clean out the beds and plant bulbs for spring color. You can also mulch the beds to provide more organic material for the next growing season. If you planted perennials, you can cover them to protect them from winter weather.