Look forward to flowers

May 15, 2013 

My parents must have heard the song, “A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down” from the movie, “Mary Poppins.”

My parents could not turn medicine into my favorite flavor (like Mary Poppins could), but I do remember that Mom put some sugar in a spoonful of bad tasting medicine. The medicine still tasted bad -- but I had to take it anyway.

Now that I am older, I take a lot of medicine. But I have changed the song to “A Bowlful of Ice Cream Makes the Medicine Go Down.” I like the medicines that say “Take with food,” because ice cream is food. Of course medicines do have side effects -- I think they are making me gain weight.

Considering the end result will make hard work a little sweeter. Think about flower gardens. The expectation of flowers makes the work enjoyable. Plan ahead for a beautiful garden this summer, but expect some work up front. Here are some of the basics to help you create a healthy garden:

• Analyze the site you will be planting. Is it sunny or shady, wet or dry, with good or poor soil? Do you need a cool season flower that produces flowers in winter and early spring or a warm season flower for the late spring and summer? Select flowers that match your planting conditions. The chart at the end of this publication may help you select the correct plants: www.caes.uga.edu/publications/pubDetail.cfm?pk

• The most important part of the plant is underground -- so plant so as to develop a strong root system. Take a soil sample so you will know how to add lime and fertilize.

Spread lime, fertilizer and 2 inches of organic matter over the bed and till it into the soil. Try to till at least 8 inches deep. Organic matter can be compost, finely ground pine bark, or peat moss. Organic matter you use must be well composted first.

If you use a slow release fertilizer, you may not need to fertilize again after plants get established. However, in our climate, some slow release fertilizers may run out late in the season.

If you use traditional fertilizers like 10-10-10, you will need to fertilize again every 5-6 weeks on many flowers. Use 1 pound of fertilizer per 100 square feet when fertilizing through the year. Understand the needs of your flower type before you fertilize. Some flowers need fertilizing more or less often.

• Plant larger plants, if you can afford them. They establish more quickly and fill a bed more readily. Space flowers based upon their size at maturity and how quickly you want the plants to cover the beds. Put larger plants near the back or center of the bed.

• Consider from which side(s) the bed will be viewed and plant accordingly. Lay the plants in their locations before planting and then move them around until you are satisfied. Then plant the flowers at the same level at which they originally grew.

Apply a 2-inch mulch around plants to prevent weeds and conserve moisture. You do not want to have to pull weeds later. Apply a liquid fertilizer to the bed immediately after planting to get the flowers off to a quick start. Do this even if you place fertilizer in the soil.

• I would almost say, “If you cannot water it, do not plant it.” Even drought tolerant flowers need some water to get started. Watering begins immediately after planting. Water deeply to settle the soil around the roots. Do this even if the soil is moist.

Water plants carefully until they get established. Then water twice a week with 1/2-3/4 an inch of water if it does not rain. Water is probably the biggest need for flowers.

• If you need to cut costs, grow your own plants to put into the garden. You can even seed some flowers directly into the garden. Flowers with larger seeds usually do best if you plant seed. Some flowers to seed into the garden include marigold, California poppy, amaranthus, gomphrena, sunflower and zinnia.

Well-planned and well-maintained flowers perform the best. Most failures come from lack of planning and care. Work now so you can enjoy the flowers later.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps to train the turf and landscape industry.

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