How to Plan and Plant a Flower Garden

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1 Week

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a novice, there’s always room for learning and inspiration. There are several things to consider when you want to plant a flower garden and I'm going to do my best to break it down and give you some simple steps to follow.

The Lasagna Method to Kill Grass & Weeds

Gardening Zones - First, figure out what zone you are in. Do a Google search for USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. You will need this information when you get ready to shop for plants and you'll need to know when it is safe to plant or the last frost date for your zone.

Garden Size - I don't always heed my own advice, especially on garden size, but I will go ahead and say to start small! Whether this is your first garden or your tenth, it's so much easier to start small and then add on the next year if you want to go bigger.

Selecting & Clearing A Place for Your New Flower Garden - Next, find a spot for your garden. Use a garden hose or rope and lay it out to mark the edge of the flower garden. Now, clear out all the grass and weeds. This is hard work and another reason to start small.

If you're in no hurry to finish your flower garden, rather than digging out all the sod and weeds, I would highly recommend what is called, the "lasagna method." This is basically where cardboard or thick layers of newspaper is laid on top of the area where your new garden will go, and then covered with layers of grass clippings, shredded leaves and compost. The area is soaked down with water and left for several weeks to kill off the grass. I have even done this in the fall so the area is ready to plant the next spring.

Cleaning out an existing bed.

Maybe you're dealing with an existing garden or gardening beds like I was when we moved into our current home a few years ago. I would recommend following the same steps. Except, in this case there may be plants you want to keep. Basically, dig up the plants you want to keep and find a shady spot to sit them in while you're completing the steps for your new flower bed. Just make sure to keep the transplants well-watered.

Sun Exposure - After you have a spot cleared out for your new flower garden, determine how much sunlight it gets. Is there shade all day, is there shade in the morning and sun in the afternoon, or is it in full sun? Are the surrounding trees fully leaved out? This step is important because you need to know sun exposure when you get ready to select plants.

Full Sun: This area will get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight throughout the day.

Partial Sun | Partial Shade: These terms are similar and generally mean an area that gets 3 to 6 hours of sun per day. Partial sun is an area that gets closer to 6 hours of sun. Partial shade is an area that gets closer to 3 hours of sun, and is also protected from the intense afternoon sun. Another term in this category is “Dappled Sun”, which means the sun is filtered through tree or shrubs, fence slats, pergolas, etc.

Shade | Full Shade: Shade refers to an area that receives less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, with the bulk of the sun exposure occurring during either early morning, late afternoon, or dappled throughout the day. Full shade is an area that doesn’t get any direct sun exposure, but might receive some bright, indirect light.

Preparing the Soil for Planting - Next you’re going to amend the soil a bit. I would highly suggest adding a layer of 3 or 4 inches of compost on top of your existing soil before you plant. Check to see if there is a compost site available in your county, where you can pick up free compost. If not, it's easy to find bagged compost at most big box stores. Once you have added the compost, rake over the entire area to level it out. Now you should have a blank slate with which to design.

Flower Types - Perennials are flowers that come back every year. Some perennials are short-lived and some will live for several years. Annuals are flowers that have to be planted every year.

Flower Garden Design - Take a break from the manual labor of getting the bed ready to plant and sit down with a pencil and paper. Sketch out your new flower bed. Using the simple rules of thumb below, graph out where your plants will be. Remember to stagger plants so you don’t have one in front of the other and no straight rows.

Now, it's time to do a little research. I have a list of Easy to Grow Perennials in the Free Gardening Printables Resource Library on my website to help you with plant selection. Along with your perennials, fill in with annuals for color throughout the summer.

I’m not a garden designer, but there are some general rules of thumb that I follow:

  • What is the shape of your flower bed? If it’s an island type bed, you’ll want to plant taller plants in the middle and work your way down with the shortest plants on the outside borders. The goal here is to be able to walk around the bed and be able to see all the different plants with none blocking the view of others.

  • If it’s a foundation or border bed (like on the edge of a building, a deck or fence, etc.), start with your tallest plants closest to the foundation and work your way down with the shortest plants on the outside edges of the bed.

If you follow these simple rules of thumb, you’ll create a flower garden that’s pleasing to the eye. As you continue to learn, there are other things to take into account when designing, like flower color, texture and bloom time. Don’t worry about those things your first year. And don’t fret too much over your design. The beauty of perennial gardening is you can move most plants if you don’t like where they are. Trust me, I do this a lot. And, as I say, there's always next year. If you'd like to learn more about Flower Garden Design, this post has some great tips.

Planting - Now the real fun begins, we're done shopping and we're ready to plant. Pull out the diagram you made and place your plants (pot and all) in the space you want them. Note that the plants you purchased are likely not full grown, so refer to the plant label and go by the size on the label. When you’re done placing the plants in position according to your diagram, step back, take a look and rearrange as needed. When you’re satisfied, it’s time to start digging and get your hands dirty. After you've finished planting and leveled out any piles of soil, give your new plants a good soaking.

Putting the Finishing Touches On Your Flower Garden

Mulch - As far as I'm concerned, mulch is not an option. Adding a good layer (at least 2 inches) of mulch is like the icing on a cake. Not only is mulch aesthetically pleasing, it helps the soil to retain moisture and it keeps weeds at bay.

Edging - Definitely add edging around your new flower garden. It really helps to define the borders between your bed and the lawn. Just because I like the look, I use a lot of field stones around the edges of my flower beds.

Decor - This is one of my favorite things to do in the garden, whether it's creating little vignettes from vintage items, or just adding a touch of whimsy here or there. I also like solar lights to add ambiance to the gardens at night. Play around with adding some decor, find your own style and just have fun with it.

For the full post with lots more tips and free printables, be sure to pop over and check out Flower Gardening 101.

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Joanna - Gingham Gardens
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3 of 4 questions
  • DJ DJ on Jan 26, 2019

    Great information! Do you have any advice on how to keep cats from using your garden as a litter box? We have neighbors that have numerous cats that roam everywhere. It's disgusting. And we have cat allergies. We have to wipe down outdoor furniture before we can even sit on it due to allergies. We've tried store bought deterrent and it doesn't help. Any advice to keep them out of the garden and off of our furniture would be greatly appreciated. It's become easier to just give up and stay inside. Thanks in advance.

  • Natasha Natasha on Jan 27, 2019

    What happens to the news papper an cardboard does it wrot were do you by mulch

  • Sara Sara on May 30, 2020

    I have reoccurring grass that keeps coming up in my beds. I think I pull it all out but it's hard t I get all the white roots

    Does anyone recommend using the woven plastic. I have used cardboard, but the grass slowly comes back.

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4 of 12 comments
  • Joanie Joanie on Jan 19, 2019

    Your ending results are beautiful. So pretty and nice to look at.

    • Joanna - Gingham Gardens Joanna - Gingham Gardens on Jan 19, 2019

      Thank you, Joanie. It takes some time to get a flower garden that looks like that, but the getting there is so rewarding and fun!

  • Danielle Danielle on Jan 21, 2019

    What a great tutorial for people just starting out with gardening. The lasagna method is the bees knees here in my neck of the woods where it's nothing but bermuda grass and clay so hard you can break a shovel trying to dig it out!

    • Joanna - Gingham Gardens Joanna - Gingham Gardens on Jan 21, 2019

      Thanks Danielle! I agree lasagna method is the way to go when starting a new bed. I’m happy I don’t have to deal with Bermuda grass and clay, but I do have very sandy soil. Gardening is not for wimps! 😩