New to gardening (flowers) & need advice on how to start out.

MarlaIMarch 21, 2012

Hi there!! I am new to flower gardening & I just need a little advice!! I'm looking for flowers that I can start out with & each year maybe add to them. I have 2 beds that are in direct sunlight all day (I've learned that is not a good spot for Impatients). I also have 3 beds that my husband & I built around our Bradford Pear trees that get shade most of the day because of the trees. I'm also concerned about what needs to be added to the soil while planting in the hard Georgia clay. If I do well with the flowers this year then next year I will be building a raise bed veggie garden, but that's for the future. Any advice on how or when to start will be greatly appreciated!!! Thanks!

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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Hi! Welcome to gardening & GardenWeb.

What you're looking for is perennials - plants that come back each spring. Since you're starting from scratch with perennials, don't expect to gauge your success on this year. Longer-lived plants often do not put on much of a show for the first 1-3 years. Perennials are also more expensive, enough so that some gardeners spread their purchases over several years before achieving the variety/amounts they want. You may want to get a few snazzy annuals to liven things up this year, and many gardeners add annuals every year for varied reasons but a common reason is that perennials have a much shorter bloom period than most annuals. It takes some work over the course of a few years to have a perennial garden that has flowers all summer. So, you should also attempt to find plants with interesting and varied foliage that you find attractive in addition to just the flowers.

Garden centers usually have plants separated by annuals (those that die after flowering, or after freezing) and perennials. From there, they should be separated into sun lovers vs. shade lovers.

I would also recommend starting a compost pile. There is a forum for that, if you'd like to read more about it. You should also find TONS of info there about improving your soil.

Gardening climates are called zones, and you can find your zone here by typing your ZIP code in the box and hitting enter. By including your zone info in your profile, people will be able to give you more specific help and info since not all perennials are able to live in all locations. Many people also include their 2-letter state abbreviation for an even more specific designation of their location.

Have fun!

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 12:26PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Good advice. I would add that although the idea of plants around the base of a tree is very attractive, that is often one of the very most difficult places of all to plant. You have to contend with tree roots which get in the way, need to be protected from disturbance, and which will gobble up every bit of fertilizer and water they can get their roots on, leaving your smaller plants hungry and thirsty.

I would advise you to dig one flower bed somewhere in your yard that gets at least full morning sun. Start out with a realistically manageable size, but dig it well and add plenty of amendments, any one or combination of these: chopped leaves, grass clippings (not ones with seed heads!), compost, manures from cows, horses, or chickens (well aged), soil conditioner, etc. The key is organic matter and plenty of it. When I am building a new bed in my red clay, I plan to use approximately 5 pounds of amendments to every square foot of garden space. This is an easy figure when I am buying bagged amendments. Bags are convenient and manageable but cost more. When I'm building a big project, I buy amendments by the truckload. The people at the yard can help you figure what you need.

Once your bed is built and your soil is ready, plant. If you want the bed to look good year round, include a few shrubs, evergreens, if possible. Then do some research: read books on SOUTHERN gardens (The Southern Living Gardening Book is a must), and haunt the forums here. You will be able to find lots of ideas for plants.

I am going to list some of my favorite perennials and annuals here in east central Mississippi for you. Have fun and good luck!

Amsonia taberaemontana
Verbena, Snow Flurry
Shasta Daisies
Day Lilies
Knockout, Homerun, and Drift Roses
Hydrangea Paniculatas: Limelight especially
Durantas: Variegated and Cuban Gold
Crinums (bulbs): repeat bloomers
Mystic Spires Salvias
Salvia farinacea, Victoria and Evolutiion
Rain Lilies (Zephyranthes. bulbs)
Rudbeckia Maximas
Hibiscus, Crown Jewels
Pink Muhly grass
Purple Fountain Grasses (pennisetums)

Zinnias, both great (Elegans) and Small (Profusions and Zaharas)
Celosias: This year I am trying a tall one called Cramer

I can tell you that all of these perform extremely well here with minimal care. They all have a very long bloom season.

But, the only way to know for sure what does well in your garden is to try! That's half the fun.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 9:03PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Donna, you forgot to list my favorite...Angelonia! It's been a winner for me in my hard Alabama clay in the full sun. Blooms all season long, non-stop.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 10:49PM
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