The Q&A Archives: help me grow a green thumb! please?

Question: I have never grown anything. I live in eastern pennsylvania and was looking for tips on starting a flower garden. what flowers are good for this area, how to get started, and what season are the flowers good around this area? i am really clueless but eager to get started , please help. thank you

Answer: There are many flowers that do very well in your area. Some easy annuals (these live only one season) to try in a sunny spot would include marigolds, zinnias, and salvia. Some easy perennials (these live for several years or longer) to try in a sunny spot would include perennial salvia, purple coneflower, daylilies (Hemerocallis) and sedum. Spring flowering bulbs are also easy to grow, try crocus and daffodils for bulbs that will come back year after year.

The best way to start is to select a spot that is sunny all day long and relatively flat. Then begin by removing any existing grass or weeds, loosening the soil down about ten inches, and adding organic matter such as compost. Level the soil and then plant. Plant each flower at the same depth as it grew in the container. Water thoroughly immediately after planting (or plant right before a rainy spell) to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets. Then mulch around the plants with an organic mulch such as shredded bark. This helps keep down weeds, reduces watering needs, and also helps feed the soil as it breaks down slowly over time.

Your goal in watering is to supplement rain if needed. Water as needed to keep the soil slightly moist like a wrung out sponge. To know if you need to water, dig into the soil with your finger. If it is still damp, do not water yet. When you water, water slowly and water deeply. After watering, wait a few hours and then dig down to see how far the water went. It can be surprising.

The best times to plant are early spring and early September. Most annuals are planted after the last expected spring frost. Your local professional nursery staff should be able to tell you when it is "safe" to plant in your local area.

You may also want to take a look at a gardening book or two. There are several books on flowers and bulbs in the Dummies series that are very straightforward and practical. Enjoy your flowers!

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