Beginner Gardener, need help with flower bed

JessBeth13June 26, 2013

Hello,
So I know nothing about gardening and I would like to know what I should do, start to finish in front of my house. There's two sort of "beds" that could be fixed up on either side of the sidewalk (see image) and they seem to be filled with pebbles and sand and wood chip mulch. It looks awful and I just want to know what I can do to the soil and what kind of plants I can plant to make it look better. I would like it to be reasonably cheap since it's a rental home and I wont be living here forever.

Let me know what I can do!

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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

When you look out from the front, which way is it facing? With no shadows in this pic, I couldn't begin to guess. Knowing how much sun, what time of day it hits, would be the first thing to know, to pick plants that like those conditions.

Is there a roof over the porch? If so, you might like a hanging basket, or a few.

I think it looks fine, nicely empty, which is a great problem to have, IMO. Ready to have what you want, not what somebody else picked before.

Being a rental, I would practice free-scaping as much as possible, set potted plants (that can go with you when you move) throughout for more interest, if that's your style.

Shepherd hooks can also provide some height interest, a place to hang a pot in full sun. A potted vine with a trellis can have a similar effect.

Annual seeds can provide a lot of wow for very little $. If there are any left on the racks, try the ones that look appealing, that indicate they would like the amount of sun you have.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 3:02PM
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JessBeth13

Thank you! those are some great ideas, I definitely like the potted plant idea a lot. And also the hanging basket idea, especially because There are hooks on both sides of the porch to hang them from (looks like the owners before us had some there). The only problem is that I'm afraid of them dying too fast, would I have to water them daily? I guess it would depend on the plant right? My mom used to have hanging plants at her house, but she was not a green thumb and neither am I, and they would always die on her.

And yes there is a roof over the porch. The front of the house where I want this garden faces towards the west, so most of the morning and afternoon the front is in the shade (it's in the shade right now and it's 11:45 am). The climate in GA is very hot and humid so I'd have to take that into account.

I am glad that the front is bare like you said, so i don't have to remove anything. I would just really like there to be some soil or some new sod or something to replace the sand and pebbles and moldy old wood chips that are there now.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2013 at 11:55AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

That pic helps a lot. With that large tree which, if I understood correctly, is west of the house, there is probably a ton of sun on the porch from about noon for 3-4 hours. Does that sound about right? If so, most plants should be happy there except some extreme shade and extreme sun lovers.

Since the sun hits during the hottest part of the day, you may see some minor wilt on plants that don't need actually need a drink of water. Try to have a routine of checking in the morning. A plant that was wilty yesterday afternoon but is perked up this morning does not need water yet.

I'm a huge fan of using wild, attractive foliage in pots in lieu of more flowering plants, which can be boring if they stop making flowers. Do you see some things you like in the link? There's also some stuff there about using hanging baskets. In that amount of sun, you would probably water hanging baskets about twice a week, but there are so many variables, it's really not possible to know. You don't want plants to wilt from being too dry, but watering too often can also kill plants. It would also make quite a difference in whether you purchased a basket ready to be hung or if you got baby plants, and put them in the basket with plenty of added soil. In that case, your basket would dry less quickly because the space in the pot is not yet full of roots.

The soil under the surface of your ground bed is probably nicer than you think. The effort, expense of removing/replacing stuff probably wouldn't make much difference, and whenever the ground is disturbed, it takes time for the natural layers of soil to be repaired. This allows moisture to evaporate more quickly than it would before disturbance, and can negatively affect the drainage until order is restored.

To add plants, I would first pull anything green that you don't want to remain there, then push the top stuff away to get to the soil to dig a hole, to a depth that results in the plant sitting at the same depth as it was in the pot, not lower or higher, after you've put the roots in the hole and replaced some of the top layer of mulchy stuff on top, depending on the size of the plant you are installing.

At this point, you may want to visit a few stores that sell plants, write down what they have that you like, then look those plants up on the internet or ask here to see how well suited they are to your spot, if you are unsure just from their names.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2013 at 1:01PM
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jcalhoun(8b Mobile County AL)

Being that close to the house I'd suggest something that stays small. Maybe some rose bushes.

You could also add more rocks and ornaments. Make a rock garden that you can simply spray with weed killer every so often.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 4:23PM
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louisianagal(z7bMS)

For a rental, pots are a great idea. However, they will have to be watered more often than in-ground plants. Hanging baskets have even more of a need for watering, as they are exposed to wind and are usually small. In winter, you will have to carry the pots indoors unless they are quite cold hardy. Some pots are very expensive. You can buy some that look like concrete or other material, but are plastic and polymer and quite lightweight. The prettier ones are pricey. What about some heat and drought tolerant ornamental grasses? Would have to be something that stays somewhat small. Carpet roses are supposed to be fairly easy to maintain and stay small, creating a groundcover look.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2013 at 11:09AM
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jane__ny(9-10)

I would put large pots of bright reds, purples, yellows, whites in front. Would really pop with the color of your house. You could plant geraniums, petunias, marigolds, etc. in the ground. They are annuals and will eventually die down. You could put long planters on top of the porch railing with flowers cascading down.

The tree gives you some shade in the heat of the day and those annuals should do fine. But you must water.

Here's a few shots of plants I grew on a deck. We had rented this townhouse for 2 years.

Even grew some vegetables mixed in with flowers. Big pot of basil and tomatoes, all in pots

You can do a lot with the space you have. The house is adorable and will look so pretty with some color in front and on the porch.

The place we rented did not have anywhere to plant in the ground, although we did plant a rose bush. Everything else was planted in containers which we took with us when we moved.

Jane

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 10:07PM
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afishlady(8b)

You have a wonderful blank slate. You can do so much with that area so I would take my time to decide rather than throw stuff in there.

Let me recommend Boston ferns for your hanging baskets. I water mine maybe once or twice a week depending on heat. I don't have to worry about them blooming, then dying because they're annuals or I didn't deadhead the spent flowers. Minimal fertilizer too, maybe twice a year. Classic look and sometimes they will last to the next year if brought in during frosts.

For the flowerbeds I second the rose idea. The Knockout type does well for me. No impressive fragrance but dependable color. You could put annuals in front of the roses with some pretty potted plants placed to add structure.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2013 at 3:06PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Many years ago, at a rental house with no landscaping at all, I planted Vinca all the way across the front of the house. From then on, every year, for the entire five years we lived there, new plants would come up from the seed that was made the year before. All I had to do was thin them out and pull an occasional weed. That was some seriously cheap and pretty landscaping. You could certainly do that in those two little beds. Or, next year, just sow seeds in there: vinca, zinnias, marigolds. Easy stuff. Just keep in mind that it's not as simple as scattering seeds. Do some soil prep and follow the instructions on the seed package. Keep them well watered. And thin them to proper spacing.

As far as the rocks and wood mulch are concerned, you may or may not need to be overly concerned. If the rocks are small pebble sized and they don't cover the area completely, you can probably just dig and incorporate them into the soil. Then casually remove them as you come across them when you are working. If there are too many to tolerate, look for a wire screen that has large enough openings to sift the soil. I have done this. It is time consuming and not fun. Only do it if there's no other way.
The wood chips will actually rot right into the soil over time, adding organic matter, so they're not a problem at all. (You may need to add some nitrogen fertilizer to the bed while they are breaking down. Just watch to see if your plants look a little puny. If so, fertilize.)

For winter, you could fill the bed with snapdragons and pansys or sweet william too.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2013 at 5:31PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

Nor sure if Boston ferns can take the heat. Sword fern grow well here and looks simliar to that fern. Vinca, lantana and portulacas can take the heat and don't need alot of water. I bought my flowers on sale at Lowe's. Mine has a nice clearance rack.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2013 at 7:57PM
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SlenderHope

I like to buy trays of easy flowers that grow readily from cuttings instead of buying the baskets already made at the nursery. So, perhaps a tray of impatiens (for shade), some of the chartreuse or purple sweet potato vines, coleus, mona lavendar...all of these are easy, beautiful plants and you can easily root them in just a glass of water, or some dirt that you keep damp...and voila!...new plants for free! Spider plants are easy peasy and again, it's easy to propagate them from the babies.

As for the dirt in front of the porch, I'd try some mulch just for appearances, and some potted plants. That's the easiest. They will require that you water them everyday in the summer and if you haven't the will to do it, you should probably stick with just one or two plants on your porch. I probably spend 45 minutes every day that it doesn't rain here in Gainesville, Florida, watering my plants by hand. Nothing irks me more than seeing plants dying for a drink of water.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 6:36PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

We may be long lost relatives, SlenderHope. What you described is so similar to what I do. I hate spending money on plants I can't keep over winter, then put together my own pots and put the excess in the ground. Here's this years' "wall of foliage."

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 8:55AM
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SlenderHope

Ha! Our walls of foliage look amazingly similar. I thought so when I saw the first shot of your house. It has such a charming cottage-y look about it.

I look upon my plants the way I look upon my friends. They add to my life immeasurably, but even better, they don't ask for anything in return except a drink of water, and an occasional bit of food.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 2:25PM
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SlenderHope

Ha! Our walls of foliage look amazingly similar. I thought so when I saw the first shot of your house. It has such a charming cottage-y look about it.

I look upon my plants the way I look upon my friends. They add to my life immeasurably, but even better, they don't ask for anything in return except a drink of water, and an occasional bit of food.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 2:26PM
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SlenderHope

Ha! Our walls of foliage look amazingly similar. I thought so when I saw the first shot of your house. It has such a charming cottage-y look about it.

I look upon my plants the way I look upon my friends. They add to my life immeasurably, but even better, they don't ask for anything in return except a drink of water, and an occasional bit of food.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 2:35PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Thanks! That's a lovely thought, I agree.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 3:18PM
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alameda/zone 8

Lowe's has great deals on pots this time of year. That rock area would be great for some very large pots - then you can get creative with all sorts of seasonal things - check out the forum on container gardens, might have some good ideas. There is a magazine called Container Gardening - it has great ideas. The "thriller, filler, spiller" concept is good - one tall plant for the thriller, some fill in plants then something that trails down the pot. For fall, I like the purple fountain grass for the thriller, fill in with mums, lantana, petunias, the spiller can be potato vine, asparagus fern. I change my pots with the seasons - pansies in winter, and in spring - so much to choose from. Take the pots with you when you move. I have found asparagus fern to be the best hanging basket plant - if ferns don't get watered, they can look ratty. Also, I like to put in pumpkins in my pots and the little stick in fall figures to dress them up. Rope lights around the bottom of the pots dresses things up at night - or the solar lights from Walmart that you stick in the ground. The house looks very neat - all you need is pots of color. Use Miracle Gro Moisture Mix soil to help keep pots wet. Have fun!
Judith

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 2:39PM
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