How to Start a Flower Garden From Scratch: 7 Expert Tips

If you see a flower garden in your future but aren’t sure where to start, we have some great advice to set you on the path to success. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares some of the hurdles to creating a flower garden and how to get on the right road to a garden filled with color and life.

A vibrant, colorful garden border curves around a manicured lawn, creating a visually appealing contrast. The border is packed with a variety of flowers in shades of pink, purple, red, and white, including petunias, impatiens, and verbena.

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If planting a flower garden is on your list of goals this year, you may be wondering how to get started. Here, I’ll share some tips from years of growing and maintaining my own flower garden.

Gardening doesn’t have to be a great deal of work, and knowledge of what makes plants grow to their full potential can prevent a long process of trial and error. Let’s dig in and talk about some steps you can take to get your garden growing and blooming this year.

Select a Sunny Location

A vast field of sunflowers stretches as far as the eye can see under a clear blue sky with a few wispy clouds. The sunflowers are all in full bloom, their golden faces turned towards the sun. The green leaves of the sunflowers contrast with the yellow flowers and the blue sky, creating a vibrant and cheerful scene.
Choose the right location with full sun exposure, observing daylight hours.

Choosing a location is the first step in starting your flower garden. If you are new to gardening, there are a few things that make selecting a space less of a daunting task. The most important element of choosing a location for your garden is to consider sun exposure and whether your site can support the type of garden you are planning. 

Most, but certainly not all, flowering plants perform best with full sun exposure. Full sun is categorized as six or more hours of direct sunlight daily. If you want to have the widest range of flowers that will thrive in your garden, selecting a space with full sun exposure is ideal for your purpose. 

The next step is to observe and record the number of hours your location gets direct sun exposure. Each hour, observe the space or spaces that you are considering for your garden. 

Take into account what time of day your garden receives the most direct sun. In general, the morning sun is cooler and less harsh than the afternoon exposure. Gardens that receive plenty of sun early in the day with some protection in the afternoon are welcoming to the greatest variety of flowering plants. 

A garden that is exposed to more sun in the afternoon will prove most successful for plants that are considerably heat and drought-tolerant, as the soil will dry faster after watering in these spaces. The afternoon sun is not a deal breaker, but it is something to consider in terms of limitations and will play a role in selecting the right plants for your flower garden. 

Test and Prepare the Soil

A close-up of a farmer's hand holding a handful of crumbly brown soil. The farmer's fingers are gently sifting the soil through their fingers, and they are looking at the soil closely. The soil is a rich brown color, and it looks moist and healthy.
Assessing soil composition, drainage, and fertility is crucial for optimal flower garden preparation, with a recommended soil test.

Once you have the location selected, it is time to see what your soil is made of. If you live in a coastal area, chances are good that your soil will be composed, at least in part, of sand or gravel. If your garden lies in what was once a riverbed or floodplain, you could encounter clay-heavy soil. 

Determine Soil Composition

Determining the composition of your soil will give you a better idea of the drainage situation, as well as the general fertility of your garden bed. Most plants thrive best in soil that is fertile, loose, and well-drained. Poor drainage often leads to root rot, and soil that is heavy and compacts easily inhibits root development. 

A soil test is a valuable tool in preparing your garden beds. A comprehensive soil test will tell you the composition of the soil, highlight any nutrient deficiencies, and tell you if the soil contains a high level of potentially complicated elements, such as high salinity. 

Amend as Needed

Once you have an idea of what you are working with, you may need to amend the soil in order to start your flower garden. For poor and sandy soil types, adding fertile, moisture-retaining amendments will increase your success with many flowering plants. If your soil is clay-heavy, adding materials that will loosen the soil promotes drainage and makes the soil more hospitable to developing root systems.

Note: If you live in an area where you are concerned that your soil type won’t support the type of garden you want to grow or that amending it to do so will be more of a labor-intensive process than you have time for, I highly recommend utilizing raised beds for your flower garden. 

Know Your Zone

A close-up of a sunflower in a field, bathed in the warm glow of sunset. The sunflower's petals are a vibrant yellow, radiating outward from a dark, mesmerizing center. The background is blurred, suggesting a vast field of sunflowers stretching towards the horizon.
Climate zones define plant suitability based on lowest temperatures; recent updates reflect global temperature shifts.

USDA Climate Zones are geographic locations defined by their lowest annual temperatures. Knowing your zone is vital to determining which perennial plants will survive your climate year-round. For example, if you live in hardiness zone 5, ginger is not the right plant for your garden, as the cold winters will kill off the rhizomes of this semi-tropical plant.

Recently, as global temperatures shift, the USDA has redefined its plant hardiness zones, with some locations now falling into slightly higher zones than the zones that they previously were classified as.

Select Flowers for Your Climate

A rustic clay planter overflowing with vibrant spring flowers. Clusters of fragrant grape hyacinths in shades of sapphire and cobalt mingle with spikes of ivory-white hyacinths, creating a textured tapestry of color. Smooth, round pebbles in shades of gray and brown line the soil at the base of the planter, adding a touch of earthy contrast.
Climate zones and local nurseries guide plant selection, with rainfall and humidity as key considerations.

Now that you have familiarized yourself with the climate zone you are gardening in, selecting plants to start your flower garden will be easier. If you are starting your garden with nursery plants, you may find that your local nursery already indicates which plants are winter hardy in your area. A good local nursery is an excellent resource for the novice gardener. 

Another important factor to consider when selecting plants is rainfall and humidity. A drier climate is not a dealbreaker for all plants, but choosing plants that thrive in your climate will certainly decrease the amount of energy and resources that you will need to expend regularly to maintain this flower garden.

Some plants thrive in high humidity, while others are more susceptible to fungal infection. It is important to know whether your plants tend to struggle with high humidity if you live in a humid climate. This isn’t always a deal breaker, but if you know ahead of time that humidity can be an issue, you are better equipped to deal with this issue and can plan to give these plants extra space for proper air circulation.

Create a Design or Layout

A close-up of a vibrant petunia bush, overflowing with a dazzling array of colors. The delicate, trumpet-shaped flowers bloom in a profusion of purple, white, and red, their velvety petals catching the sunlight and shimmering like jewels. The lush green foliage provides a perfect backdrop for the floral display, while blades of grass peek out from the base of the bush.
Garden design complements plant selection; consider your style and vision for a satisfying garden.

Selecting plants and designing the garden go hand in hand. Therefore, as you are working on a design or garden plan, you can also incorporate plant selection.

There are as many different styles of gardens as there are gardeners. Since your garden is your own, you don’t have to follow any of them down to the letter. However, starting with a basic idea of the style you are looking for in the garden may move the project along. A clear vision will also lead to a more satisfactory final product.

Personally, I adore a classic English cottage garden. Wild and whimsical might be your ideal or not. Some gardeners revel in creating neat rows, organized layers, and structurally complex gardens. This is wonderful, too!

Determine how each plant you choose will grow over time, how much space it needs, and how tall it will grow. Some plants can be more aggressive than others and will crowd out less intrusive types.

Finally, consider the watering and nutrient needs of each plant to create good neighbors in the garden. Some plants make better companions than others. While companion planting is normally discussed for edible garden purposes, the same principles apply to ornamental gardening. 

Stay On Top of Weeds

low-growing sweet alyssum works as a blooming mulch.
Use low-growing ground cover plants like sweet alyssum to prevent weed growth around taller flowers.

It is finally time to get your hands dirty. We are closer to the fun part now. When I first started gardening, I missed what I now consider to be a vital step. To save yourself time later, think about how you’ll minimize weeds in your flower beds.

Weeding is a necessary part of gardening, but it can be very physically taxing and time-consuming. Take measures to mitigate the weed population in your garden beds. There are several things you can do to control the growth of weeds in your garden, and you may decide to tackle this issue in more than one direction.

Consider planting densely so the flowers crowd out the weeds. You can also plant low-growing ground cover species to work like a living mulch. A thick layer of traditional mulch, like wood chips, can also suppress weeds while retaining moisture.

Maintain Your Flower Garden

A pair of garden scissors snips off a wilted purple petunia flower from a hanging basket overflowing with vibrant blooms. The plant has several other flowers that are still in full bloom, with shades of purple and magenta. There are also a few green leaves visible.
Maintaining a flower garden involves tasks like pinching, deadheading, and fertilizing.

There are plenty of ways to minimize the amount of work required to maintain your flower garden. However, there will always be some tasks that need to be worked into your busy schedule. 

If you are growing your plants from seeds, you may need to do some pinching in the beginning. This creates denser growth and greater flower production. Once your plants are established and flowering, deadheading will keep those flowers blooming throughout the season. Fertilizing is a must if you want to see the biggest, best, and most bountiful results in the flower garden. 

Flower gardens reflect the care they get, so get out there and enjoy being in the garden. Foster a nurturing relationship with your plants, and let them nurture you in return. Lush, healthy growth, prolific flowers, and the simple satisfaction that comes with fostering growth will reward your efforts. 

Final Thoughts

As you start your flower garden, consider sunlight, water requirements, maintenance, and plants that are hardy in your climate zone. I hope that some of my trial and error will lead you down a floriferous path toward your very own laughter-filled flower garden.

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