Tips for Starting a Simple and Beautiful Flower Garden

Last year I received a hefty amount of messages about flower gardening – now, let me be clear. I am a newbie…at best. Very new to this whole “flower gardening” thing…and it truly will only ever be a hobby I fumble through. However, I wanted to share with you all how I got started and what I did to grow flowers this year – it was SO easy. Truly…the easiest thing. I think it can feel daunting and intimidating…but once you try it you’ll realize it’s pretty easy!

Here are the steps I followed last year that you can try! Now again, there are probably experts out there who would look at my advice and laugh…but that’s ok – I don’t consider myself an expert and my guess is that you could Google a lot of ideas on your own too my only hope is that this encourages you to give it a try!

Selecting Flower Seeds and/or Bulbs – Which Should I Do?
I would select your seeds and/or bulbs first…a lot of how you care for flowers and the success of growing them depends on the flower type itself and what it needs to thrive! I LOVE for seed and bulb selection. The way they set up their site is so user-friendly. I picked out dahlias last year by color. I knew I wanted peachy and pink toned flowers – they have an awesome tool built into their website that allows you to narrow down your search! Seeds are an easy way to go when planting flowers but I’m a huge fan of going big with bulbs…I was intimidated with bulbs at the start but once I read up on how to care for them and got started growing them…I realized I was missing out this whole time! Don’t be intimidated with bulbs – go for it, even as a beginner! You’ll feel the reward is SO much more worth your effort and you’ll be so proud of your hard work and care.

What Zone Am I In?
When selecting bulbs it’s important to consider the “zone” or the area you live in and when you’ll be planting and harvesting. But don’t over think it…most zones can do just about any flower. In Northern Michigan, we are a zone 5 based on this map. They even have a great zip code entry feature to narrow down your zone easily!

What is an Annual and What is a Perennial?
This is a common question with newbies and one I found myself mixing up ALL of the time.
Annual – is a plant that lives for one growing season and then dies – example: most veggies, zinnias, sunflowers, watermelon, etc.
Perennial –  lasting or existing for a long or apparently infinite time; enduring or continually recurring. – example: peonies, hydrangeas, lilacs, etc.
Tuber and/or bulbs – these are neither annuals or perennials really…they are something in between which can get confusing. Their life cycle is basically over after the growing season but you can store them properly over winter (more to come on this) and use them again the following year. So in a sense…they are kind of both!

How Much Does Flower Gardening Cost?
This varies based on how intricate you want to get…for starting up I would guess about $200 or so dollars. However, that’s if you don’t already have a garden bed! If you do – then it should be around or under $100! It cost me exactly $99.99 to purchase the below flowers last year from and they had a 20% off sale going for Mother’s Day – I’ll be sharing exactly how many of each I purchased and what my yield was by the end of the season.

What Bulbs and/or Tubers Should I Buy?
I went with Dahlias last year and these were the first tubers I ever planted. What is a tuber you ask? (definition: a much thickened underground part of a stem or rhizome, e.g. in the potato, serving as a food reserve and bearing buds from which new plants arise.) For simplicity sake…consider a tuber as similar to a bulb 🙂 I had a lot of success with Dahlia Tubers and they turned out beautiful! I bought two bags of ten of these, two of these dinner plate dahlias (grow as big as your face -really!), and then I bought one bag of these smaller ones. It’s important to remember that one tuber can grow a bunch of dahlias! So if you go with about as many as I purchased here…you’ll have plenty for a season worth of regular bouquets. All the pinks, peaches, and creamy colors! And of course, browse away – there are SO many options to choose from on their website.

What Seeds Should I Buy?
When it came to picking out seeds I went with “filler flowers” in mind. My goal was to be able to use the flowers and seeds I planted to make homemade bouquets and bouquets to gift to friends and family. So once I picked out my bulbs/tubers – the Dahlias which would be my show stoppers…I then browsed for “filler flowers” and their seeds, for me, filler flowers were most important by look, height, and color – and they were much less expensive than bulbs/tubers. I went with one packet of Foxglove (in a mix color), two packets of Sweet Pea (in white), one packet of Snap Dragon (in Rose), and one packet of Delphinium (in white). You get a lot of seeds per packet!

Where Should I Plant or Have My Flower Garden Bed?
This is definitely dependent on your home and space you have available. Our current home has a very large backyard with a lot of sunny space. Our new home will have more limited space and limited sun due to a lot of large trees nearby. It’s important to look at the needs of your tubers, bulbs, seeds, etc…and how much sunlight per day they will need. Then…scope out your hard on a sunny day and see which space seems to get exactly what they would need – and go with that space! Most of the time “full sun” is preferred for dahlias specifically, but read the growing info before you buy and make sure you’re good to go! You can also do smaller scattered beds around your yard vs one big one. I did one big one because of the space already available by the previous owners.

How Do I Prep a Garden Bed and Create the Best Soil?
This is likely the most difficult (in my opinion) task of all when it comes to gardening. Soil composition will make or break your success. I am not an expert by any means with perfecting garden soil but here is what we used for planting tubers last year that worked really well. First, I went off of concepts I learned from the book Square Foot Gardening. This book is SO great and walks you through really specific gardening details – not necessarily specific to flowers but the fundamentals in it about veggie growing, etc was a great starting point for me…especially their section on soil composition. If you want to bypass the book check out this online resource on creating great soil for planting. You’ll see they talk about compost – some local communities have resources for buying compost from…but you can easily make your own – SO EASY. We bought this compost bin for our backyard and used these steps and no it did not smell and we did not get critters – doesn’t mean you can’t/won’t but we did not. Your initial startup costs might be more the first year vs your second and/or third year. I felt like we put the most money into our gardens the first year we did them because we were starting from scratch…the second and third year was really just adding to what was already there. But if you follow the above directions for soil composition you will have success! It worked for us!

When Do I Plant My Bulbs and/or Tubers?
Follow the directions on the seed/tuber/bulb packet – when I ordered from they also sent along with a little pamphlet of info – but you can review detailed info on planting time on their website prior to purchasing! I believe I planted my Dahlias in late May/early June and I do remember that there was a couple of weeks where I had to watch the weather because our temps at night dipped close to freezing and we had to go out with old blankets and tarps and cover them (because a little piece of the Dahlia tuber sits above the soil when you plant)! Typical planting info for Dahlias includes: Unlike other bulbs such as TulipsDahlias like warm soils so plant Dahlia bulbs during the warmer and longer days of spring. Dahlias are usually planted about the same time you would plant your vegetable patch. Dahlia bulbs can be planted as late as mid-June in most parts of the country.

How Do I Plant My Bulbs and/or Tubers?
Once I got my tubers in the mail I was able to eyeball specifics on how many would fit in each row I had created in my garden bed. I literally set them out on top of the soil so I could see exactly where they’d be buried. It’s important to try and plant them after the last frost. But that can be hard, especially if you live in the midwest! I planted mine on Mother’s Day weekend/end of May and had to keep a close eye on the temps for the evenings because we did have a few final nights where the temp got close to 32 – and your tubers will be sticking up out of the soil and you don’t want them to freeze! If you plant early be sure to watch the forecast religiously, if the temps seem suspect, go and put a tarp or old sleeping bag or sheet over the flower bed – simply covering them is enough to give them heat to keep from freezing overnight! We did this a few times last May and they survived fine – just make sure to uncover in the morning 🙂 Dahlia’s need a large hole to be buried in so spacing was important and they literally come about as big as your hand! They also need to be buried about two feet from one another (although I did more like a foot or so and they were still fine) I had read a blog post about sprinkling some bone meal powder into the hole to help provide nutrients to the tuber…I did this but if your yard isn’t fenced or it’s exposed to dogs etc…the plant could get dug up in its early stages. We didn’t experience this…but I was holding my breath. First, dig a hole twice as deep and wide as the dahlia tuber – put the tuber in the hole with the “eye” (the larger little stem) facing up out of the top of the soil – you don’t want the eye of the tuber to be covered by too much soil. As it rains and you start seeing growth happening from your tuber you may need to add some extra soil on top and around them – because they are so big they can sometimes become exposed over time. Unless it is a very dry spring, it is not necessary to water at the time of planting. The tubers will begin growing with the warmth and moisture in the soil – making them super easy to grow! It is vital that they form a root system early in their planted life to assure a strong and healthy plant. Watering at the time of planting may encourage rot but as soon as your dahlias are growing above the ground, water deeply to encourage strong roots.

How Do I Care for Them?
This is the best part…once their roots take place and so long as you have good soil composition – again check out my tips above! You let mother nature take hold and they thrive with little attention – I even left them for a whole month due to family travel and they were fine. If there was a more dry week or few days I’d go out and give them a good drink of water…but you don’t want to over water because they will get root-rot if you do. I recommend watering in the early morning or during the sunset/dusk hours – if you do it during the afternoon sunshine you might crisp them up a little. They actually prefer drier well-drained soil…making it pretty hard to kill them! I did some weeding too – they don’t like to compete with other plants and need a lot of nutrients…so making sure they aren’t overcrowded and that you’re weeding out some of the things that pop up around them is very helpful! As for bugs and beetles that can sometimes attack your flowers…we didn’t experience this yet…so I don’t have great firsthand advice – but check out this link for more info!

You’ll know when it’s time to harvest your pretty blooms because well…they’ll have bloomed! There was nothing quite like that first evening when I walked out and saw their radiant colors lining my garden bed. I could have screamed with excitement, truly! The great thing about Dahlia’s is that they last quite a while. When I create a bouquet I typically do a couple that has a little more room to open and then some that are fully open 🙂

End of Season Tuber/Bulb Harvest
Right before the first frost! Again, this means keeping an eye on temps and knowing the area you live in…for us…it was mid-end of October that we needed to harvest our tubers/bulbs. I went out and took trimming shears and trimmed all of the tops off of the plants and started weeding out any grass/other misc plants that had grown so I could find their main stem…then I took a pointy shovel and gently started to break up the soil around where each tuber was planted – do this SO carefully so that you don’t break or injure the tuber/root. Gently lift the soil around where each is buried and then gently pull up out of the soil by the main root. Gently shake excess dirt off of the tuber and place in a box or tub for storage. You can rinse them off with a hose but make sure to let them air dry before packing away! If some of the more little tubers fall off of the big root, don’t worry – that’s ok! Just discard it. The great thing about tubers and bulbs is that if they are stored correctly, you can replant the next spring and get the same beautiful blooms year after year!

Winter Storage
This is where I am SO SAD. We ended up killing my Dahlia tubers this winter…and here is how. We stored them in our heated garage – sounds reasonable – we keep it heated around 40 degrees in the winter. Well…one day…we lost power, and there was a switch we had to remember to go back out and put on after the power went out in order to get the garage heat kicking again…we didn’t realize this…and we went about a week with 20 or below degree temps in our garage. My tubers froze 🙁 and then thawed, and then rotted. SO – if you don’t have a heated garage store in a basement or somewhere that is a bit more insulated. I was so bummed when I opened the box up a few weeks ago and smelled rot 🙁 big lesson learned in gardening!

Documenting Success and Ideas for the Following Year
When it comes to being serious about gardening the important thing is to document what you planted, how it went, and what you’d do better or different the next year. Ask yourself a handful of questions like: Did I love my bouquets? What other colors do I want to incorporate? How did my flowers do? Do I need better soil? How did winter storage go? etc etc…

Woohoo!! Now you’re ready to give it a try – I promise, it will be the most rewarding thing you do all summer! Please feel free to send me an email, message, or post a comment below with questions. Happy Planting!

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