As the year draws to a close and our fourth anniversary approaches I've been reflecting a lot on the gift of the community of designers and aspiring flower gardeners that has grown through my classes and wedding work.
One of the things I've been hearing a lot from friends and former students is how to become a better flower gardener. There's nothing like nearing the end of the growing season and reflecting back on a successful year in the garden. But as anyone who has dabbled in gardening knows, it's not without it's challenging. And sometimes the things we think are helping, are actually hurting...
Below I've shared the 3 mistakes flower gardeners make and how to avoid them.
mistake #1: watering by hand
Some of the most common garden problems arise as a result of ineffective watering. Its easy to over-water, under-water, or water at the wrong time; all of which can lead to stressed out plants, which can then lead to a host of problems including disease, pest infestation or complete plant failure. No fun.
Most of the time, people who hand by water (either with a hose or watering can) underestimate the amount of water needed by their plants. I get it. You stand there for 10 minutes, the ground looks wet, you think everything is o.k. and you move on. But what’s most likely happened is that you’ve just barely soaked top inch of soil. And the roots are usually many inches, sometimes several feet deep, so the plants aren’t getting the moisture they need to thrive. If you do this consistently, you end up training the roots of your plants to stay at the top of the ground and spread laterally. This means a. you end up having to water way more often; b. you are putting your plants at greater risk of stress in times of drought; and c. if your flowers are planted close together, they will have to compete for their share of water.
What you want to do when watering is encourage the roots of your plants to go downwards, deeper into the soil where they can find reserves of moisture. Once established, the plants will be far more tolerant of stress and drought. Not only that, but by training the roots downward, they will be stronger and more likely able to access minerals and other nutrients that are buried deep in the ground.
To water effectively, you need to get the water all the way down to the roots of your plants.
Hand watering can be o.k. if you have a very small garden or patio, or are watering newly started annuals, but otherwise, your really need to invest in a more permanent irrigation system. Don’t be intimidated! All you need is some way of getting the water from your outlet to the plants on a consistent basis. If you have the $, spring for a good drip irrigation system. If funds are limited, opt for soaker hoses and you can always upgrade down the road. Also consider investing in a timer. Combined, this will ensure that your flowers are watered regularly and more deeply.
mistake #2: neglecting your soil
It’s easy to make the mistake fussing over your plants and neglecting the soil they grow in. But in order for any plant to truly thrive, the #1 most important thing it needs is health soil. When you ignore our soil, you are almost assured of limited success.
Improving soil health is a pretty big topic. As you work overtime to develop soil health through composting, amendments, nurturing the soil food web. Instead of tending your plants, tend your soil (and the plants will take care of themselves).
One of the best ways to tend to your soil is through composting. High quality compost acts as both a fertilizer and an amendment, meaning if done right, you shouldn’t have to add anything else to your garden. Successful gardeners consider compost the life-force of the garden. But there are also some incredible new discoveries taking place at the forefront of horticulture that can help you to create a beautiful, healthy and productive flower garden; one of the most exciting being mycorrhizal fungi, another being fermented microorganisms. These two things may sound complicated and intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. They are simple ways to restore the health of your garden ecosystem.
mistake #3: being impatient
We’ve all been there. Standing at the nursery, completely blown away by the beauty of a plant that we didn’t plan to buy. On a whim, we purchase it, take it home and plant it wherever there’s room in our garden. It looks great for a couple of weeks but then it starts to struggle. It might become infested with pests, look diseased…and then…it dies. This is the worst! There’s a number of things that lead plants to failing to thrive in our gardens - soil imbalances, transplant stress, insufficient drainage or water, etc. Whatever the reason, the plant is stressed.
You know how you’re more susceptible to a cold when you’re feeling run-down and over-taxed? Well, its sort of the same with plants. Their ability to withstand drought and pests will suffer if they are placed in stressful conditions. When you see these types of problems with our plants, The common reaction here is to freak out and try to immediately fix things. But the best thing you can do is to stay calm, and do nothing but watch and wait. Taking guidance from Vita Sackvillle-West, “When a plant doesn't seem to be happy, reject your instinct to move it.”
The thing to understand is that most problems in your garden will take care of themselves over time, particularly if you are slowly working in other ways to improve the overall health of the garden (see mistakes 1 & 2). Be patient, give it time. Watch, wait…and you will likely be rewarded for your patience.
When a plant doesn't seem to be happy, reject your instinct to move it.
Now, if you have ongoing problems - plants dying or major pest infestations, it’s a sign that there is likely sort of imbalance in the garden. It’s an indication that the health of your garden is at risk and you need to take action to restore balance. The first thing to do is apply some high quality compost and again, wait.
Being a great gardener requires a humble, attentive relationship with your garden ecology. As you tend to your garden, you will naturally become attuned to its needs and to the needs of the extraordinary web of beneficial organisms at work in the garden.
What do you think? Can you related to these mistakes? Leave a comment below and let me know, and tell me what are you wondering about or struggling with in your garden. And for more insight and inspiration on organic flower gardening and design, join my mailing list.
Image by Kelly Brown