Flowers are one of the top reasons for gardening--providing color, fragrance and interesting textures. Annual flowers grow, bloom and die within a year, returning again from seed. Perennial flowers send up leaves and flowers each spring from an established root system but die to the ground in winter. Bulbs such as tulips and daffodils die back during the summer, surviving until the following spring as an oval, onion-like bulb. Each type has its own special needs, as well as a unique niche to fill in the landscape.
One of your main jobs as a gardener is providing the right supply of water to your flowers. Water deeply and then let the soil dry a bit before watering again. Roots need air as well as water; most plants will die if the ground is constantly wet.
Know the water preference for the plants you grow and try to group them with others of similar needs. For instance, succulents and other drought-tolerant flowers need much less water than fuchsias and tuberous begonias. Mix them together and one group or the other will die.
Because of their larger root systems, established perennials can often be watered less often than annual flowers. Bulbs, because of their summer dormancy, may be extremely drought tolerant.
Fertilizers have three main components: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Although plants manufacture their own food by photosynthesis, these elements are often in short supply. Nitrogen fosters lush, leafy growth, while phosphorous and potassium are needed for flowering and fruiting.
Use a low-nitrogen fertilizer for most plants if you want an abundance of flowers. 5-10-10 is a good formula to look for. Liquid fertilizers are good for annuals because they're absorbed quickly. Perennials do best with a pelleted slow-release fertilizer that supports growth all season. Use a bulb fertilizer in the base of the hole when planting tulips and daffodils to help them grow large bulbs for the following year.
Deadheading is the process of removing spent flowers before they set seed. This tricks the plant into sending out more flowers rather than putting its energy into seed production. Annuals, in particular, can bloom for months if constantly deadheaded.
Perennials often bloom for three or four weeks, but may bloom again if cut back when the flowers fade.
Deadhead tulips and other bulbs to encourage more blooms next year.
Perennials often benefit from being divided every few years. This gives you a constant supply of new plants and the perennial benefits by receiving fresh soil and room to spread. Some, such as Shasta daisies, can be pulled apart into small plants. Others, such as daylilies, need to be cut with a shovel or a knife. Consult a good gardening encyclopedia for details on specific plants.
Pest and Disease Control
Vigorous, healthy plants are resistant to pests and diseases, so giving each one the right combination of sun, soil and water is key to keeping them free of problems. Know the conditions they need and meet them.
Set aside a time each week to examine your flowering plants. You'll be able to spot insect damage or the beginnings of disease before they get out of hand. Remember that a few aphids or leaf spots aren't going to seriously set back your plants. Remove diseased leaves, wash insects off with a strong spray of water and you may not need to use chemicals to control infestations.