We’ve all seen gorgeous flower beds bursting with colorful blooms and thought, “I wish my flowers looked like that!” You really can have these pretty bloomers, too. All it takes is some simple steps when you prepare your beds for spring planting.

Soil test kit

A simple do-it-yourself soil test will help determine your soil’s pH and levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Spring flowers

A beautiful blooming flower bed can be yours with a few easy steps.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Phlox and Cleome

Perennial phlox and annual cleome exist happily together in a sunny garden.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Soil pH, Nutrient Levels & Preparation

It all starts with soil. What kind do you have? The best way to determine your soil needs is to take soil samples and send them to your local Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. But if you don’t have time for that, a quick soil test that you can pick up at your local garden center can provide you with general guidelines for what you need to add to your soil to make it a great environment for your spring and summer flowers. Normally these do-it-yourself soil tests will reveal your soil pH, as well as the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash. The ideal soil pH for bedding plants is 6.5-7. If your soil is outside that range, you can add amendments to adjust the pH.

After you’ve determined the state of your soil, there are some basic practices that will continually improve the quality of it and are bound to make your new plants happy. (And happy plants make happy flowers!)

Adding decomposed organic material such as leaves, coffee grounds and eggshells to the top 6-10 inches of soil is an easy strategy. Organic material adds air space to soil and improves drainage. If your soil pH is low, you can also add lime to increase it. Just remember that a few plants, including azaleas and blueberries, like acidic (low pH) soils.

Plant Selection & Care

Now that you’ve prepared the soil, it’s time to pick your plants. One major factor to consider is how much sun your planting bed gets. A simple way to determine this is to visit the bed in the morning, the middle of the day and late afternoon, so you can see whether sun or shade is the predominant factor in your planting area. Similarly, you should choose plants that can tolerate your climate. Some plants that do well in full sun in the North will be fried in the hot Southern sun. Your local Cooperative Extension can provide a list of plants that do well in your area, or you can pick up a book that specializes on plants in your climate for a quick reference before you head over to the nursery or garden center.

But the work doesn’t end once the plants are in the ground. Mulching, watering and fertilizing play important parts in the healthy, blooming success of your springtime flower bed, too!

Mulching plants is extremely helpful for reducing water frequency. Mulch retains moisture, which keeps plants from drying out quickly. It also suppresses weed growth by inhibiting weed seed germination. Though plants will need more water for two to three weeks after planting, once they’re established, their roots can gather water from the soil. (Depending on the amount of rainfall your area receives, plants may need additional watering, even after they’re established.) And regular fertilizer applications encourage healthy blooming.

Then it’s pinch, pinch, pinch! Deadheading, or pinching, spent flowers will keep more blooms coming throughout the season: When a bloom is finished, a plant focuses on producing seeds. But by removing the spent bloom, the plant will put its energy into producing a new flower instead, continuing the color show.

By following these simple steps, you can be the one with the beautifully blooming flower bed that’s the envy of the neighborhood – and one that makes people stop and think, “I wish my flowers looked like that!”