The first-time flower gardener may find it challenging trying to decide what to plant and where to plant it. The simplest approach is to use low growing annual flowers available from your local plant nursery since those have been chosen specifically for your area. Popular annual flowers may include petunia, marigold, zinnia, sweet alyssum, pansy and impatiens.
Why annual flowers
Annual plants are cheaper than perennials plants making them a great choice when experimenting with planting or color choices. Plus, some flowers, like impatiens, drop their seeds in early fall and those seeds may grow again in the spring.
Before you buy
Where to plant. Decide where you want to plant flowers. For a starter project, try planting flowers near the front entry way or along a walkway.
Sunlight requirements. Flowers have a preference for sun or shade, so you need to know how much sunlight reaches the area where you want to plant flowers. If you are not sure about how to determine the amount of sunlight the area receives, follow the steps in “How to Determine Sunlight Levels in the Landscape,” which is available here.
Area to cover. Measure the width and length of the area that you want to cover. Take the measurements along with you to the plant nursery. You may want to take a small calculator to help determine how many plants you will need to fit that area. Most cell phones come with a free calculator application already installed.
At the garden nursery
For an easy start to gardening, use potted plants. The annual and perennial plants may be divided at the garden nursery. Look for the section that holds the annual plants. If the section is not labeled, ask the garden staff.
Small annual plants are often sold in plastic containers that hold six plants, each in their own individual cell that is about 1 inch across. These small plants, which are typically less than 3 inches tall, are sometimes called plugs or seedlings. Larger plants may be in containers 4 to 6 inches square.
The nursery delivers the containers to the seller on a plastic tray, sometimes referred to as a flat. The plants are priced by the container, but you can take the whole tray of containers. The price indicated by the nursery may be for each container on the tray so keep that in mind when you get ready to pay.
Reading plant labels
Each container of annual flowers should have a plant description that is frequently found on a small plastic marker that is pushed into the soil of the plant container. Read the label to find out what the sunlight requirements are for that particular plant. The label may also tell you how far apart to set the plants in the ground. This is where your home measurements are used. Say the planting area at home measured 6 feet long (72 inches). The plant label may say to space the plants 18 inches apart. You would then divide 72 by 18 to find out how many plants you could put in a row, which in this case would be 4 plants.
Colors and height
If the plant label doesn’t show the plant in bloom so you know what color the flower will be, then look for plants with at least one bloom to ensure the color is what you want.
Starting out, you may want to choose only one type of flower so they are all about the same height. If you want to experiment by choosing flowers of more than one height, then plan to place shorter plants in front of taller plants, especially when the area is backed by a house or stoop. Two or more rows of flowers all at the same height also offer beautiful, full appearance.
Summary of steps
1-Determine amount of sunlight in the landscape where the flowers will be planted
2-Measure the width and length of the area to be planted
3-Read plant labels for how far apart the flowers should be planted, how tall they will grow, what their sunlight requirement is, and the color of the bloom
More from this contributor:
What Are the AHS Heat and USDA Cold Zone Maps?
How to Choose Garden Flowers that Go Together
Tips to Start a Shade Garden
Sources: Purdue University Cooperative Extension: Annual Flowers; University of Illinois Extension: Annuals