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Why Flowers Die, Plus 5 Ways to Keep Them Alive

Flower Garden Problems and Solutions

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If you've experienced failure in the flower garden, perhaps you've written yourself off as having a brown thumb. However, even experienced gardeners make mistakes resulting from impatience and excitement. When we come home with a trunk full of greenery, we can't wait to see what our gardening endeavors will produce. We set out tender seedlings without a hardening off period, and they get scorched by the sun. We burn our young transplants with excessive fertilizers. Protect your investment by avoiding these five common flower gardening problems.

1. Planting Too Early

Photo © Charles Hutchins

It's not fair: Winter has hung on three weeks too long, and the nurseries are tempting us with all those lovely dahlias and New Guinea impatiens. If the nursery is selling these flowers, it must be time to plant, so you bring home a flat and set them out the first time the thermometer hits 60 degrees F.

The problem with this approach is that the nursery was tending these tender tropicals in its greenhouse, and now you've slapped them into spring thaw mush. The plant never recovers from this shock to its system.

Solution: Contact your local county extension service to find out your average last frost date. If the plant marker says put out two weeks after last frost, follow this advice, weather anomalies be darned. For the earliest flowers stick to stalwarts like pansies and primroses.

2. Watering: Feast or Famine

Photo © Dan Hurt

Flowers are as particular about their moisture needs as they are about sun exposure and fertilization. Go beyond your plant's care tag to learn about your flowers’ irrigation needs before you find them a permanent home in the garden. “Moisture-loving” may mean an inch of water per week, or it could describe a bog plant like the cardinal flower. Other flowers may fail because they're loved to death: plants that don't like wet feet like the lavender cotton in this photo will experience root rot with excessive watering.

Solution: Plant flowers with similar needs together. The landscape around your mailbox and far away from your faucet may be perfect for a xeriscape garden. Install moisture loving plants in the garden bed by the downspout to avoid the possibility of root rot.

3. Location, Location, Location

Photo © Jamie McIntosh

Some flowering plants need full sun to get enough energy to produce blooms. Without this source of photosynthesis, these plants will stop blooming, weaken, and become susceptible to pests and diseases. Other, shade-loving flowers evolved in woodlands and on forest floors, and excessive sun will cause scorching and brown foliage.

Solution: It’s OK to push the envelope a bit on a plant’s exposure, for example, allowing your astilbes to get an hour of morning sun, but as a general rule you should follow the exposure suggestion on the plant’s care tag.

4. The Grass (and Flowers) Are Greener on the Other Side

Photo © Dan Hershman

… The other side of the country, that is. If you live in Phoenix, and you order those lush lupine plants from a Maine-based nursery, prepare for bleached foliage and cessation of blooming before the plant breathes its last gasp. Similarly, if your garden plot overlooks wind-swept San Francisco bay, your zinnias may shiver in their pots with nary a bloom.

Solution: Visit a local botanical garden to see what grows well in your region. Shop for plants locally, and ask your nursery for flower advice. Realize that cool weather annuals, like pansies, will peter out before the summer solstice arrives.

5. Handle With Care

Photo © Keith Williamson

How to get those rootbound specimens to loosen their grip on their nursery pots? Not by yanking on the stems. Many plants, especially non-woody herbaceous plants, are very vulnerable at the stem level. When you pull and tug on your new delphinium stems, you’re introducing injuries that provide a portal for fungi, insects, and other pests to enter.

Solution: Never pull a plant out of the container by the foliage or stems. Tap on the bottom of the pot to loosen the plant. If it’s slightly rootbound, squeeze the pot to loosen the rootball. If it’s really rootbound, get out your box cutter, and carefully slice the container off the plant.

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