Start Planning Your Summer Decorative Garden

The dreary end-of-winter months are the perfect time to start dreaming up your summer garden. Now is the time to research, dream big, and create a "blueprint" of your garden design. Unless you're starting a brand new garden this year, chances are you would like to make some adjustments this year. Keep these in mind as you plan and dig out your garden journal if you have one to see what other changes you might want to make.


Perform some research, look at plenty of gardening books and magazines, and jot down the plants that interest you. Placing your wish list in categories will make it easier to keep track and ensure you don't end up with too many similar plants. Categorize by type, color, bed - whatever makes sense to you. If you're feeling ambitious, print or cut out pictures so you can make a photographic map later.


Once you have a list of plants, start to draw out your landscape (or use the pictures you cut out to make a garden map). Depending on your situation, it might be most effective to draw each bed, or to draw your full property. Don't forget to incorporate existing foliage and perennials. The drawing only needs to be detailed enough to give you an idea of how the shapes and colors of your choices will complement one another and the overall aesthetics of your yard. Try to make the plants as proportional as possible to show potential bare spots. You might even want to make seasonal drawings to show how each bed will look in each stage of the growing season.



A few tips as you plan your decorative garden:

-Plant where your garden will be easily viewed and maintained. Don't plant so close to grass that it will need to be cut by hand. Make sure your hose reaches the garden to avoid trips back and forth with the watering can. Don't plant in hard-to-reach areas and leave room for stepping stones so that all your plants can be reached without damaging the plants or soil structure.


-Plan one foot of space behind your garden beds if the bed is up against a fence or building. This not only grants you access to the plants in the back, but allows necessary air flow to circulate through the bed. Since your tallest plants should be in the back, the garden will still look full.


-For a formal garden, create a planting pattern that follows geometric patterns. Match the planting pattern to surrounding features (for example, place plants along a path equidistant from the edge in neat rows). Use one color or one color family for flowering plants.


-For an informal feel, make your planting pattern sporadic (but still full), incorporate multiple plant types in each space, and choose
vine-producing plants and massing flowers. Incorporate multiple complementary colors.


While it doesn't hurt to dream, keep in mind the amount of time and money you want to spend on gardening this summer. Gardening should be a relaxing hobby, not a chore and overstretching yourself is sure to take the joy out of your gardening experience. Once you've drawn out your ideal garden design, bring it back to reality and reduce or redesign if necessary.


When you have your design, decide whether you will buy your plants, grow them from seeds, or both. If you will buy your plants, research the best time to purchase and install each plant and make a list. While planting will always depend on climate conditions, this will give you a timeline to make sure you don't plant too early or too late.


Starting indoor seedlings

Growing your own seedlings indoors before the planting season can be a cost-effective way to fill your garden this summer. Keep in mind that it can also be time-consuming and your results will vary. If you grow outdoor plants from seeds, now is the time to start purchasing and planting indoors so that your plants are hearty enough to be transplanted in the spring.


One way to sow seeds is to place one or two seeds each into multiple individual containers - old, pre-divided plant trays work great. Seeding a flat and transplanting seedlings to individual pots later is a second option and makes seeding quick and easy - just be careful not to damage the plants' root systems when you transplant. Either way, make sure you sterilize your containers before planting to avoid disease. Disinfect in one part bleach to nine parts water.


Fill containers with starter mix and label each plant location carefully. Fine seeds can be placed on the soil and watered in. Large seeds should be inserted at a depth twice their diameter. Cover with soil and water well. Use a mist sprayer to water rather than a watering can that will move the seeds. Cover the containers with plastic and place in a warm area of your house (for example, next to a heat vent). Light is not necessary until seedlings break through.


Check daily to make sure soil is moist (not wet). Move to a light source as soon as buds break through the soil. You will probably need to supplement sunlight with artificial light, as sixteen hours of light per day is ideal. Place a light about six inches away from the plants. As they grow, you will need to adjust the light to keep from scorching your plants. Fertilize with a complete water-soluble product every other week.


Planning your summer garden is a great way to cheer up the cold final weeks of winter. And with proper planning and care, your decorative garden will have a great head start!