This task might feel intimidating, but with our expert advice you can make a beautiful outdoor garden in a few simple steps.
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Person adding flowers to empty garden plot
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Curating the perfect flower garden is no easy task, especially if you're a beginner. With so many different flowers out there, it can be difficult to choose which ones are right for you and your region. To get started, Molly E. Williams, gardening expert and author, suggests thinking about what type of flower garden you want—a cutting garden or a purely decorative one—and to research which plants grow best in your area. Consider: "Are you looking to attract pollinators or create a garden full of bright, bold, show-stopping blooms?" says Williams. "Also, think about what kind of design you'd like. Do you prefer a more structured garden or more of a mix of color and texture?" While answering some of these questions may seem daunting, it will be well worth it once you see your vision come to life. To help guide you to success, check out these expert tips.

Pick a location

First things first: you'll want to choose a place (or places) where your plants will have access to plenty of water and sunlight. Good soil drainage is a must. "You don't want to make a flower bed or plant a ton of plants and seeds in an area of your yard that holds water," says Williams. "Everything will mostly rot if that's the case. Choose an area that drains and dries out evenly after a rain."

Figure out what your zone is

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map will show you what growing zone you live in—which determines which plants will grow best in your yard. "Choosing plants outside your growing zone means they won't tolerate the heat or cold where you live and they likely won't return next year," explains Barbara Shea, director of marketing at Tertill. Familiarizing yourself with your frost season is also important because it indicates when your flowers should be planted. When the water in soil freezes, Shea says the plants' roots cannot take up water and nutrients.

Know what type of sunlight your yard gets

Determining whether the location (or locations) in which you want to plant get full sun, partial sun, or full shade is important in helping you to decide where to plant flowers, as well as what type of flowers to plant. "Flowers that prefer full sun will die quickly in a shady garden bed and full-shade plants will crisp in harsh light," says Williams.

Choose your flowers 

To get started, Shea suggests brainstorming color schemes and deciding on two to three colors to focus on, as well as a few different types of flowers. Less is more—too many flower types or colors in a garden bed can look like a mismatched outfit, points out Shea. "Limiting your flowers or color palette can tie the garden together and help the space look more professional," she adds. Additionally, she suggests thinking about how your garden will change with each new season. "You'll want early spring, spring, summer, and fall blooms."

Map out your layout

Once you know which flowers you want in your garden, think about how you're going to arrange them. Shea notes that curved lines work better than sharp edges because they lead the eye around the space. Plants can also add beauty to an unsightly spot. "Create a flower bed around the base of a tree, mailbox, or lamp post," suggests Williams. "Flowers and shrubs can also be used to hide certain objects in your yard like electrical boxes, HVAC units, or trash cans."

Next, Shea says to consider planting in odd numbers by clustering each variety in groups of threes or fives. You also want to ensure that each flower is visible to onlookers. "Most gardens are tiered with taller plants in the back or middle and the shortest plants in the front or around the edges," Shea explains. If you've chosen a mix of annual and perennial flowers, it's important to note that perennials take about three years to flourish. For that reason, Shea recommends using annuals to supplement holes in perennial garden beds. "Annuals are also great for adding color to high traffic areas such as front walkways, pools, or decks, or other areas that you want color all summer," Shea notes. When it comes time for planting, be sure to account for how much space your plants will need once they're fully grown.

Prepare your site

Start by removing all existing vegetation, including grass and weeds, before turning the soil over using a tiller or a shovel. "On a new bed, this can take a lot of work, but it will get easier for the following years," Williams notes. "This is easiest to do when the soil is damp, but not wet."

Once the earth is broken up, Shea says to add a basic garden soil mix to replace any lost sod and give space for the plants' roots to grow. "Adding compost or manure is best done in the fall to better develop the soil's texture and add nutrients," she says. Williams recommends spreading one to two inches of compost to the top six inches of soil then raking it in.

Additionally, many people opt to test their soil to learn more about its properties before planting. This gives you insight into the sod's pH and available nutrients, which helps you better decide what other soil amendments are needed. "Based on the results of your soil test, you can add organic fertilizers or supplements to the bed to provide essential nutrients for flower growth," Shea says. "Keep in mind different types of plants may need different nutrients, so be sure to research what your plants need."

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