Even the toughest plants require some care to survive and look their best. Basic lower care and maintenance includes watering, mulching, fertilizing, and pruning.
Fortunately, many of these chores require little time, and for the most part none need to be done on a daily basis. Other techniques you may wish to incorporate include staking wayward plants and providing winter protection for perennials.
Flower Care & Maintenance Guide
Watering is the most important garden requirement, even for drought-tolerant plants. How much you need to water will depend on how dry and hot your climate is and how water-retentive your soil is. Clay soil holds water well; sandy soil lets it drain quickly. Obviously, gardens in areas with frequent summer rains will need little, if any, supplemental water; those in arid climates will need regularly scheduled irrigation.
Water established plants when the top couple of inches of the soil are dry. Make the most of your watering sessions by being sure you thoroughly soak plant roots rather than just providing water to the top of the soil. This forces the plants to grow deeper roots, which in turn allows them to go longer without water, even in hot climates. Established plants, even those that like regular watering, may be able to go several days without water.
Newly planted plants, no matter what their normal water needs, will need additional water to help them get established. Water these plants when the top inch of soil is dry.
Mulching helps hold moisture in the soil around your plants, letting you go longer between watering. It also helps prevent weeds, and as it decomposes it adds nutrients to the soil. Any number of mulches are available, including compost, wood chips, and pine needles. Add about 2 inches of mulch around your plants, but be sure to keep it away from the plants’ crowns.
Fertilizer supplies the plants with nutrients. Fertilizer comes in a range of formulas, from natural to chemical and from liquid to dry. You can find fertilizers specifically designed to increase blooms on plants.
Pruning, for annuals and perennials, generally consists of pinching, deadheading, thinning, and cutting back. All of these techniques encourage compact growth and help in flower production.
Pinching is exactly what it sounds like: pinching off a tip of a plant. It keeps the plants shorter and bushier, and helps encourage flower production. Late spring or early summer is a good time to pinch back most annuals and perennials; you may need to pinch back some plants, such as geraniums and petunias, more often throughout the growing season to keep them in check.
Deadheading is the term gardeners use for removing old flowers. Not only does this improve the look of the plant, it also encourages the plant to keep producing more flowers rather than setting seed. If you do want to encourage seeding, leave some spent flowers on the plant. You may also enjoy the look of these seedheads, especially in the fall.
Thinning refers to removing stems from a plant at ground level. This can keep a rangy plant from taking over its neighbor’s space; it also can let air circulate, which is essential for plants that are prone to mildew.
Cutting back is the term used for clipping or shearing both flowers and stems all at once. Not only does this remove dead flowers, it also helps to improve the plant’s overall appearance. In addition, it can encourage re-bloom, especially with low-growing annuals. As flowering diminishes, cut back the plant by about half, then water and fertilize. For perennials, cut back after flowering but before new growth begins.
Providing support. Tall plants can become floppy, and bushy plants can overtake their neighbors. Keep them in place by adding some support early in the season, before they get out of hand. For tall plants, place a stake next to the stem and then lightly tie the stem to the stake. For spreading plants, contain them with stakes and string or loops. There are many commercial products, or you can make your own with bamboo or pruned limbs.
Protecting perennials. Tough as they are, many perennials will still need some winter protection. They can survive the cold surprisingly well, but they don’t like temperature fluctuations. Newly planted perennials can also suffer their first year in the ground. If you have season-long snow, your plants will probably be fine. If you’re subject to periods of freezing and thawing, cover the exposed plants with an organic material, such as evergreen boughs, pine needles, or burlap, once the soil has frozen. Avoid any material that will not allow air circulation. In spring, expose the plant gradually as the temperature warms.