By Ed Dunphy
May is the time to think about flower gardening. The threat of frost will be behind us by the 10th and the instant gratification of setting out plants that are already beginning to bloom just feels good.
Annual flowers in flats of 6 -packs are available at many garden centers and greenhouses in our area. This time of year, Marilyn and I enjoy walking through the greenhouses at Windmill Heights, located at 1901 Broad St. in the town of Culpeper. The colors and varieties of plants available give you a real itch to get digging in the flower beds! Selecting plants makes me feel a bit like a kid in a candy store. The general impulse is to buy a trunk full of flats that are bursting with color. We then work all weekend putting these beauties in the ground. When Monday morning rolls around the aches and pains make me wonder why we succumbed to the adrenaline rush of weekend planting. As I enjoy my flowers in the ensuing weeks, the memory of the toil is distant and the pleasure of the colorful view is relaxing.
Preparing the Bed
Work up your flower bed by turning the soil with a spade and breaking up the clumps with a hoe or rototiller. If the soil is very heavy and contains a lot of clay, you can mix in some peat moss and sand. The soil in our yard has really good structure. Even though it is quite red it crumbles nicely when worked.
I am a big advocate of Espoma Organic Bio-tone Starter Plus. I use it with everything I plant. Bio-tone Starter Plus contains beneficial bacteria, along with endo- and ecto-mycorrhizae. This product increases the root mass and helps to prevent transplant loss. Your plants will withstand the hot dry weather of summer much better as a result. I consider this investment an insurance policy and it produces amazingly healthy plants! Flowers will simply grow like nothing you have ever seen before. For individual woody and other perennial plants, simply sprinkle a handful in the hole and mix additional Bio-tone Starter with the fill dirt. For flower beds mix 4 pounds (12 cups) per 100 square feet into the top 4” to 6” of soil. I also drop a small handful in the hole as I set my annual plants in.
Planting a pollinator garden is a great thing to do. As folks replace native vegetation with houses and lawns, they may not have given much thought to what this type of landscape can look like to a pollinator. The reality is monoculture like this can represent miles and miles of nothing to eat. Most garden centers sell pollinator seed mixes that take the guesswork out of what to plant to keep our bees and other pollinators happy and healthy. When selecting a mix don’t be fooled by the package size. Some smaller packages may be more expensive than larger ones. Check to see if the larger, cheaper packages contain fillers. Look at the area that the package covers to compare apples to apples. The packages with filler are not necessarily bad; just don’t be confused by the price discrepancy. These seeds are often very small and the filler can make it easier to spread the seed more evenly. A good mix will contain annual and perennial native plants and a variety of flower shapes and colors. Quality mixes are also designed to bloom at different times, providing food sources throughout the year. A good healthy stand will often reseed itself year after year. One of the packages that CFC Farm & Home sells is Olds Pollinator Mix. While this pack contains only 2 oz. of seed, it can cover a 200 square foot area.
- Place your garden in an area that gets sun at least half the day.
- The seeds are often small so prepare a clean seedbed that is smooth and free of debris and large clods of dirt.
- Work in some compost and Espoma Bio-Tone Starter Plus.
- Broadcast the seeds and pack them lightly into the soil by walking on them or pressing them into the dirt.
- Cover lightly with straw to maintain moisture until the seeds germinate and the plants begin to develop a healthy root system.