How to Plant Flowers:
5 Methods for Planting a Flower Garden

Knowing how to plant flowers that grow healthy blooms and full foliage first requires you to choose a starting point: seeds, transplant, root division, cutting or bulb. Regardless of which you choose, purchase your seeds, plants and bulbs from a trustworthy dealer to be sure you know what you’re planting.

This page first discusses some basics about growing annual flowers, then we’ll dive into each of your five starting points for annuals and/or perennials…

Basics about Planting an Annual Flower Garden

Before we review your planting options for annual and perennial flowers, there are a couple things to know about annual flowers:

  • Crop Rotation: Perennial flowers die off and grow back in the same location year after year, but annual flowers must be replanted each year. Never plant the same type of annual flower in the same location that it grew in the previous year.

    If possible, wait at least three years to replant the same type of flower in the same spot. This will ensure that your soil is not depleted of any plant-specific nutrients and will help keep pests and diseases at bay.

    See Vegetable Crop Rotation for more on the importance of crop rotation.
  • Plant hardiness is used to categorize the cold tolerance of annual flowers into one of three categories: hardy, half-hardy or tender (each annual flower’s specific hardiness can be found in our Flower Planting Guide). Consider your annual flowers’ hardiness when deciding planting times:
    • Hardy - can tolerate light frosts after hardening off without being killed or badly damaged (hardening off plants is discussed in the transplanting section below).
    • Half-Hardy - can tolerate cold, wet, damp weather but can be damaged or killed by frost.
    • Tender - need warm soils to germinate and grow properly.

Now on to your five options for planting a flower garden (for either cut flower gardening or flowers that you plan to leave in place)…

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How to Plant Flowers from Seed (Annuals or Perennials)

We have an entire page dedicated to this topic. Click here to learn all about growing flowers from seeds.

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How to Plant Flowers by Transplanting (Annuals or Perennials)

Transplanting refers to taking a pre-grown plant and replanting it into your garden.

When purchasing plants for transplanting, look for the following characteristics:

  • Generally “healthy looking” plants
  • White and “fleshy” roots (as opposed to brown roots) that fill the container
  • Dark green foliage
  • Plants without full blooms (they’ll look much better a couple of weeks after planting)

    Interested in learning how to plant flowers earlier?

    If you want to push your flowers’ limits by getting them into the ground before the last frost, cold frames or row covers can be used to get your plants the warmth they need.

When transplanting flowers…

  • Do so as early as possible in the spring after all danger of frost has passed
  • Harden off your flowers - Flowers purchased for transplanting have been tenderly nurtured in a greenhouse since they were seeds, and they need to be gradually introduced to the harsher outside environment before going into the ground. This process is called "hardening off plants".

    To harden off your flowers :
    • Day 1 – Leave them outside for 4 hours in sun levels that fit each plant’s guidelines (i.e. full sun, partial-shade, full shade)
    • Day 2 – Leave them outside for 6 hours
    • Day 3 – Leave them outside for 8 hours
    • Day 4 – Transplant into your garden or flower bed
  • The day before you transplant, water the plants with approximately one inch (2.5 cm) of water
  • Just before you’re ready to plant, remove the soil clump from the container with the roots and soil structure left intact. If multiple flowers are growing in the tray, cut the soil between the plants before removing each plant.
  • If the roots are tightly surrounding the soil clump, make several shallow cuts around the clump to encourage the roots to grow out into the soil
  • Gently water the hole before transplanting to the point that it’s consistently moist (about the texture of a wrung-out sponge)
  • Plant at a depth that matches the depth of the plant when it was in the container (same goes for planting peat pots... place the entire peat pot into the ground so the soil level of the peat pot matches the garden's soil level)
  • After placing the clump in the ground, pack the surrounding soil around the clump then fertilize with a liquid organic fertilizer.
  • Until they are established (at least a couple of weeks), keep the plants well-watered to the point that the surrounding soil remains consistently moist.

Continue reading below to learn other techniques for planting a flower garden or click here to jump to our Flower Planting Guide for further instruction.

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How to Plant Flowers from Root Divisions (Perennials Only)

Whereas starting a flower from seed, transplanting and starting from cuttings can be used for both annual and perennial flowers, only perennial plants can be propagated from root divisions.

Planting root divisions serves two purposes:

  1. It reinvigorates the flowering perennials that are currently in your garden, producing fuller plants and more flowers.

    Why would removing a plant from the ground and cutting its roots help it rather than hurt it?

    Throughout each year of a perennial’s growth, it continues to sprout new roots and new shoots. All of those new plant parts are competing for the same water, sunlight and nutrients, so each part gets proportionately less of what it needs as time goes on. Dividing the roots and replanting them allows each part of the now larger root system to get what it needs to thrive.
  2. Free plants - Since each plant’s root clump can be divided several times, it will give you additional plants for no extra cost.

    Don’t want to expand your flower garden? Share with a neighbor! No neighbors? Add the extra to the compost pile.

Generally speaking, perennial flowering plants should be divided every three years, although there are exceptions. Rather than setting a division schedule, it may be better to observe your plants and divide them when telltale signs begin to appear:

  • Weaker or smaller stems
  • Fewer flowers
  • Yellow or lighter green stems or leaves
  • Plant starts to die at center of clump

To divide the roots…

  1. Wait until just after the plant has flowered when your climate is cool and wet – usually in the spring or fall. This will vary by region and the perennial that you are dividing. If done in the fall, give the roots at least two months to reestablish themselves before the ground freezes.
  2. Prepare the transplanting location ahead of time to keep the out-of-ground time to a minimum. The hole should be two times larger than the original root system with a little liquid seaweed fertilizer added to the hole in preparation for its new resident.
  3. Water the plant the day before you divide it.
  4. Cut the above-ground growth down to about 6 inches (15 cm) above the soil.
  5. When digging up the plant, keep the root ball together by digging down with a spade about a foot (30 cm) around the base of the plant and prying it up from underneath.
  6. When hauling it out of the ground, do NOT shake out any soil.
  7. Divide the roots based on the type of root system (indicated for each plant in our Flower Growing Guide):
    • Clumping – compact root system with shoots that emerge from buds attached to the original crown. Use a spade or machete to cut the crown into as many pieces as you'd like, but be sure that each piece has at least a few buds attached.
    • Spreading – roots are relatively shallow, spread away from the original crown and are separate from the original crown with a partially separate root system. Just pull each separate root system away from each other using your hands.
    • Rhizome – very thick stems that spread away from the original plant (ginger is a rhizome). Use a knife to divide them into portions that each have a few buds.
    • Root Tubers - a "modified lateral root" that has been converted to a food storage organ (a yam is a root tuber). They serve to store nutrients for plant use outside of the growing season.
  8. Plant the divisions right away with the crown sitting just above its previous level above the soil.
  9. Water and pat down the soil to the point that that there are likely no underground holes remaining. The level of the crown above the soil should now be at the point of the original plant.
  10. Keep the soil consistently moist for at least the next few weeks.

Continue reading below to learn how to plant a flower garden from cuttings and bulb flowers, or click here to jump to our Flower Planting Guide for further instruction.

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How to Plant Flowers from Cuttings (Annuals or Perennials)

While shrubs are the most common plant to be started from plant cuttings, some flowers such as roses, chrysanthemums, and dahlia can also be started this way as long as the cutting is taken from a plant that is currently growing.

Starting your flowers from seed, root division or transplanting is recommended for more consistent results. But if you’re feeling adventurous, here’s how it’s done…

  1. Choose a healthy plant and cut off a stem that grew no earlier than last year... the younger the stem, the better (leftover stems after pruning are perfect).
  2. Using a good pair of pruning shears, remove the stem cuttings in the morning when the plant is cool and moist. Each stem cutting should be about 5 inches (13 cm) long
  3. Remove all flowers and buds from the cutting.
  4. Prepare your cuttings for planting by removing all leaves from the lower half of the cutting (the half that was closest to the base of the plant).
  5. Place your prepared cuttingsin a cool, moist place (such as on top of cool, wet towels placed in a cooler) until you’re ready to put them in the ground.
  6. When you’re ready to plant, dip the bottom end in growth stimulator or rooting hormone.
  7. In a pot filled with organic potting soil, place the cutting into the potting mix vertically so that the half without leaves is fully submerged in the soil. All leaves should be above-ground.
  8. Gently water the cutting and soil.
  9. Place the pot in a warm, well-lit spot (not in direct sunlight) and cover it with a clear plastic bag to maintain proper moisture levels.
  10. Keep the cutting and soil well watered (soil should be kept consistently moist but not soggy) until the roots emerge.
  11. Transplant any time after the roots have become well-established (time varies by plant, but it will take at least a couple of weeks). The longer you wait, the more likely their chance of survival.

Continue reading below to learn how to plant bulb flowers or click here to jump to our Flower Planting Guide for further instruction.

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How to Plant Flowers: Bulb Flowers (Usually Considered Perennial)

Planting flowering bulbs such as tulips, lilies, hyacinths and others requires some additional considerations. While all bulbs are technically perennial, some are considered annual in colder climates where they can't survive the winter.

Click here (coming soon) to learn all about how and when to plant bulbs.

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